In 1903, when the Wright brothers first took to the skies, airport codes were unheard of. Any open field with strong enough wind counted as an airport.
But as the airline industry continued to take off in the 1930s, military – and later, commercial – airports around the globe needed proper identification. Today, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), based in Montreal, Canada, is in charge of administering the three-letter codes for the world’s major airports.
Most of the time these codes are easy to figure out. Many are simply the first three letters of the city name: HEL is Helsinki and MAD is Madrid. LAX, meanwhile, goes back to the early days of commercial air travel when airports used two-letter codes. Some airports simply added an “X” to their name to conform to the new standard.
Sometimes, the city’s initials – such as Salt Lake City (SLC) or Port au Prince, Haiti (PAP) – are used. In certain circumstances, a capital’s former name can offer vital clues. For example, Beijing (Peking) is PEK, St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) is LED and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) SGN.
So, do you think you know enough about airport codes?