Well done to the Daily Mail here

Some three letter airport codes are blatantly obvious while others can be completely cryptic. Some make perfect sense like Sydney’s SYD while others are just confusing such as Beijing, PEK.

“Peking” seems reasonable enough doesn’t it?

48 thoughts on “Well done to the Daily Mail here”

  1. Age thing here – to someone in, hmm, their thirties perhaps, it’s always been Beijing and they may not even be aware of the former transliteration….

    I wonder what % of Brits think Peking and Beijing are two separate cities.

  2. It’s very hard indeed to ever get them changed, because the IATA wants to avoid the possible confusion that would come from the change. Getting airports mixed up with one another could conceivably cause things to happen that would be bad. Therefore, there’s a whole host of anachronistic ones. Beijing, Mumbai (BOM), Chennai (MDD), Ho Chi Minh City (SAI), St Petersburg (LED), Guangzhou (CAN), etc.

    It is sometimes possible for a code to be transferred to a new airport if the old airport is permanently closed – hence both the new and old Hong Kong airports being HKG. This accounts for the only case I can think of in recent years when an airport has managed to change codes. When the new Suvarnabhumi airport opened in Bangkok, the existing Don Muang airport was closed, and the government swore definitively that this was permanent, so its BKK code was transferred to the new airport. When Don Muang re-opened a couple of years later, it was given a new code DMK. It is very unlikely that the IATA would have allowed the code to be transferred if they new Don Muang was going to re-open. Given the way the Thais do thing, the re-opening was inevitable, though. (It was a serious re-opening, too. In five more years it may be busier than it was before it closed).

    Also to avoid confusion, no two airports near each other can have more than one letter in common, so when a city has more than one airport, the code of the second airport often has little connection to the name of the city.

  3. MJ: ” no two airports near each other can have more than one letter in common”

    This sounds very sensible but why is Toronto City Airport YTZ?

  4. There’s also the problem of airport names being similar, and only one can have the obvious code. For example, Dubai is DXB. Why not DUB? Ah, because that’s the code for Dublin.

    Once you travel enough in a company full of people who travel a lot, you start referring to destinations by the airport code, particularly in written form. It is not unusual to ask people when they are next in HKT (Phuket) or to read somebody is on their way to ABZ (Aberdeen).

  5. In the early days of aviation, airfields in the United States and Canada used the two letter codes of nearby weather stations that had been assigned by the national weather services. It became clear after a while that airports needed their own codes distinct from the weather stations (and two letters did not give enough codes). In the US, many airports simple added an X to the end of the existing weather station code. Hence Los Angeles became LAX and Phoenix PHX. There are quite a few more like this. In Canada, they put a Y on the front. New airports in the US did not follow this convention, so it is now only a minority of airports that are like this. In Canada, though, all airport codes ever since (even the new ones) have started with the letter Y.

    This is only a partial answer, but it’s as much as I know. I fear I too much about this stuff already.

  6. On the subject of name changes to cities. I have some friends from India who only arrived here 10 years or less. They all call Mumbai, Bombay which is a little surprising.

  7. bloke (not) in spain

    “Why is this even a problem?”

    I’d say TimN illustrates the triviality of it. It’s the snobbery of the frequent flier brigade or rather, pretenders to. Airport codes are simply an industry convenience. Outside, use of them is a status exercise. Like referring to a ’92 Ford Escort silencer by its part number or an obscure computer component by its. It’s a cognoscenti thing.
    Mail journalist conclusively proved they aren’t one but aspire to be.

  8. bloke (not) in spain

    Incidentally, I haven’t the slightest idea why Malaga airport’s AGP or any interest in finding out. This is not a hint.

  9. David: Do you know what language they speak? Mumbai is the Marathi name for the city, and the change of name was something of a Marathi nationalist exercise. Mumbai is a very multilingual city full of groups of immigrants from all over India. The Marathi speakers were there first, and the change of name was perhaps a statement of their foremost claim to the city. Speakers of other Indian languages are sometimes therefore less keen on it.

    There’s a difference between situations where the name has actually been changed (Bombay/Mumbai or Leningrad/St Petersburg) and situations where the local name is the same but the English/Latin form of the name has been changed (Peking/Beijing or Calcutta/Kolkata).

  10. Well, Berlin’s still-failed new airport (opening 2023, possibly) will be changing codes, from SXF (Schönefeld) to BER. It’s technically a new airport but uses the old runways, so is possible. SXF remains operational, but as the former DDR Berlin airport is mostly favoured by Ryanjet and co. Berlin’s good airport – good as in turn up in cab 20 minutes before departure and you’re fine – and which therefore has to be forced to close to make BER viable, is for some reason “TXL” (Tegel).

  11. @b(n)is, indeed, it’s a frequent flier status thing. You’ve truly arrived once you are regularly taking the banker shuttle to or from LCY, rather than the dreaded LHR, LGW, or, God Forbid, STN. Triple bragging points for a day return.

  12. They buggers referred to Sir Cliff as “Sir Richards” the other day. Clearly they employ people who don’t really speak English – or the young, which amounts to the same thing.

  13. Yes, the “This is a new airport” thing in Berlin is pulling a quick one, I think. (Although it has turned into pulling a very slow one indeed). I don’t personally think that building a new terminal and using the same runway is actually a new airport, but they seem to be working on the basis that if you say it enough times, people will believe you. And they seem to have convinced the IATA, or successfully lobbied the IATA to believe them, or some such.

    It’s still a special case, though. As well as IATA airport codes, there are IATA city codes possessed by cities with more than one airport. “LON” for London, “NYC” for New York, “PAR” for Paris, etc. These are quite useful to know about, because if you type the city code rather than an airport code into a reservation system or reservation website, you will then be presented with a list of all flights to that city, regardless of which airport they fly from. Berlin has the city code “BER”, which at present applies to flights from both (formerly all three) airports. Once Tegel is closed. Berlin will only have one airport, and it will no longer be necessary to have a city code as well as an airport code. Therefore the decision has been made for that one airport to use the existing city code BER rather than the existing airport code SXF. I suspect it took some heavy lobbying from the Germans for this to be allowed, just the same.

    Truly, though, this is a breathtaking demonstration of how to foul up a major construction/engineering project.


  14. BiG. The last time I flew to the UK (LHR) the fucking bus to Cambridge went via the fucking M25 in the fucking morning rush hour via STN. I would much prefer to fly direct to STN than LHR. Door to door that was a 30 hour trip.

    Similarly, bloke not in Spain, Luton is preferable to Heathrow. This applies to all people not living in fucking London and not wishing to travel to or via fucking London

  15. Ranting on……..

    This is where Boris defines himself (to those in the UK who don’t live in fucking London) as a narrow minded tosser.

    Boris Island requires everyone who doesn’t live in Kent or fucking London to pass through fucking London or around the fucking M25. Boris Island might suit Boris, but it is a disaster to the 40-50 million Brits who don’t live in fucking London

  16. Dearime:

    I had a conversation recently with a Belgian who referred to Bradley Wiggins as “Sir Wiggins”, so I expect it is a quite common error amongst foreigners.

  17. fwiw, Orchard Field Airport is the original name of the airfield that was subsequently named O’Hare and explains its three-letter IATA code ORD.

  18. “Mumbai is the Marathi name for the city”: the last account I read of the name change said that “Mumbai” was a made-up name imposed for bogus, nationalistic reasons.

    I suspect that this may be one of those topics on which Wikipedia will be useless.

  19. It’s a name imposed by Marathi speakers for nationalist reasons. I am not qualified to commend on the bogusness (or not) of this. It’s certainly the name used the Marathi speakers now, though, and non Marathi speakers are less likely to use it.

  20. @BniS. I have family in East Anglia. I started studying at Reading Uni in the mid-80s. Since about 1990, I’ve lived abroad. In all that time I have never been able to travel on the fucking M25 between the M4 and the M1/M10 without disruption/ roadworks /contra-flow. That is 30 years of roadworks. In 10 years time, people who have spent their entire lives working on that quadrant of the fucking M25 will be coming up for retirement. And they still won’t be finished.

  21. @”Michael Jennings
    September 5, 2014 at 11:57 am
    David: Do you know what language they speak?”
    Tamil speakers from the South of India.

  22. bloke (not) in spain

    Thanks to the M25 it has taken me longer to get from Dover to North London than from Rouen to Dunkerque. (569km)

  23. I always thought that Toronto chose YYZ simply to avoid people wandering about with a big label saying “TNT” on their hold bags…

  24. Bloke in Costa Rica

    There’s only 17576 three letter abbreviations but you start running into collisions long before that point.

  25. Tempelhof closed several years ago. Berlin has two (in the case of airports, three) of everything for obvious historical reasons. Tempelhof was one of the western sector airports (alongside Tegel) and post-reunification, it was clearly nonsense to operate 3 airports in a city that’s big by European standards but not that big by global standards.

    Schoenefeld, the former DDR airport, was technically outside Berlin so had a certain attraction in that German airlines were allowed to fly directly to it (they weren’t allowed to fly direct to airports in Berlin itself – though obviously in the DDR times that attraction was greatly reduced by its being in the east, with the attendant travel problems. The DDR could have capitalised on that big time by running direct buses to west Berlin for passengers arriving from West Germany without passing through eastern border checks, but for ideological reasons never did so.

    Tegel is pretty central, is a 20 euro cab ride from downtown, and there is a 5 minute bus ride to the nearest underground station, the next best thing to having its own station.

    Gates are in pairs each with their own security checkpoint, which is why it is so fast to get through. There is a balcony on each gate which used to be business lounges, now with bigger planes they are just part of the gate, and those in the know go up there to sit down while the proles stand downstairs.

    That arrangement trashes “duty free” sales, which is now the primary reason for airports to exist so it will close, Schoenefeld is being “closed” to be replaced by “Berlin Brandenburg International Airport”. In practice, they are just building new terminal buildings (I think one new runway as well). So it will be the usual crap of 50 euro cab fare to downtown, forced gauntlet of “duty-free” shop, and getting there an hour ahead of departure will be cutting it fine, rather than the aforementioned 20 minutes at TXL.

  26. As My Burning Ears says above, a certain generation and younger simply won’t remember when Beijing was Peking or for that matter when Mao Zedong was Mao Tse T’ung. I was brought up on the Wade-Giles system of transliteration and remember how strange and simple Pinyin seemed.

  27. Michael Jennings
    September 5, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Truly, though, this is a breathtaking demonstration of how to foul up [Berlin Airport] a major construction/engineering project.

    When I read about this earlier in the week I thought that if this had been UK all the usual smug bastards would have been going on about how crap we are at major civil engineering projects and holding Germany up as a shining example.

    The truth is that if the smug bastards and politicians would stay out of the way these projects would get done in half the time and half the budget.

  28. Think of the huge amount of self-flagellation at Britain’s national uselessness that came when Heathrow Terminal 5 had a few teething problems, too. While it would have been nice if everything had worked perfectly on day one, everything was fine a couple of months later and it was really very little to worry about.

  29. The Marathi for “Bombay” is “Mumbai”. The is whether that comes from the goddess Mumba Devi, or is a corruption of the English (originally Portuguese) Bombay.

    The factually correct answer is almost certainly the latter, but the politically correct answer in Marathi nationalist circles is the former.

  30. @Michael Jennings

    IIRC, the problem at T5 was that the baggage system was left in test mode (volunteers had worked that test mode and found no issues) and didn’t deliver bags to the aircraft at the gates, but elsewhere and that screwed everything up.

    My missus flew long haul BA Business Class on day 2 of T5 and got her bags no problem, colleagues that flew economy on the same flight didn’t get their bags so the manual override was working if you were important enough!

  31. I seem to remember a lot of the criticism of T5 came from the fact that it is basically a shopping centre with departure gates, designed for retail more than transport.

  32. There is that as well. Unless you are flying BA First and can get direct access through the special door into the Concorde Room, you have to yomp from South security to the middle of T5, down an escalator then back to the south end to go to the lounges, essentially forcing you to walk past shops even if you don’t want to. IIRC, it costs BA £1m pa for that direct door to the Concorde Room to make up for lost shopping revenue.

  33. Noel:”… so the manual override was working if you were important enough!”

    “… so the manual override was working if you had paid enough!”

    Fixed that for ya!

    @Tim Newman, all successful airports are now primarily shopping malls with runways. That phraseology is (c) the former CEO of Frankfurt airport.

    Re BER construction delays, they should do what the Chinese did when the new HKG was behind schedule – threaten to pull the plug on the whole project unless it got finished quickly. Therefore, HKG got finished quickly.

  34. As regards Toronto – Major Canadian Airports all begin with Y as they bagged them when the codes were being given out.
    The obvious YTO actually serves as a metrocode for all the Toronto airports.
    Bloke in Germany – was there not actually 4 aerodromes in Berlin? IIRC RAF Gatow also took civilian aviation for a limited period. The aerodromes existed for the purpose of the 4 power agreements to allow access to Berlin.
    Obviously the Russians had more available space in the DDR to use Schonefeld so didnt’ build in their Berlin Sector.

  35. When I was in Bombay a couple of years ago, the Indian lawyers and accountants I was working with still called it Bombay.

    Nor was the Royal Bombay Yacht Club (Indian members now, not expats) about to change its name.

    The highly politicised change to Mumbai was regarded rather as most of us would if the English Defence League won a council election and changed the name of Newcastle back to Monkchester.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *