The Wacky Logic Behind Airport Codes


As for the Knoxville airport, it was built on land donated by a wealthy resident name Bettie Tyson. She asked that the new facility be named for her only son Charlie, who was killed in action during WWI when his plane went down off the English coast. Even though Lt. Tyson died more than ninety years ago, his name lives on at TYS.

Origin of Three-Letter Airport Codes

But if you really want to see a lot of great airport codes, head to Alaska. The word transportation pretty much means flying for a lot of folks there, since the state itself notes that 82 percent of Alaska's communities are not served by roads. Mind-boggling, huh?

So they fly. And while Alaska has big airports like Ted Stevens International in Anchorage (ANC), the state's Department of Transportation & Public Facilities also owns 253 rural airports -- many of them one-runway affairs with landing strips made of dirt or gravel. And great code names.

Like EEK, a fitting code for the little community of Eek in western Alaska. Then there's WOW for Willow, GNU for Goodnews Bay and UNK for Unalakleet Airport.

Now let's look at tiny Chicken, Alaska (according to its folksy website, the population is "usually between 17 and 37, depending on who you ask.") You might expect its graveled-runway to proudly boast the CHK code, but alas, Chickasha Municipal Airport in Okla. was already using that one, so Chicken settled for CKX (remember those "X's"). And forget FWL; Farewell, Alaska already had dibs on that.

Back to the lower 48 and another mystery: why is Cincinnati called CVG and not CIN? Well for one thing, CIN belongs to the municipal airport in Carroll, Iowa. For another, Cincinnati's airport is not actually in Cincinnati, or in Ohio, for that matter; it's across the river near Covington, Ky. Get it? Covington = CVG (I can hear the groans now).

I could go on and on, listing my favorites, like Harbour (Eolie Island) Airport in Italy (ZIP) or the airport near Dumai, Indonesia (DUM) not to mention HIP (Headingly, Australia) and HOT (Hot Springs, Ark.) or Norway's Bodo Airport (BOO) or…well, as noted, I could go on.

Fair warning; if I ever ask you to play a friendly game of "guess-the-airport-code", better put your hand on your wallet. I'm pretty good, or, you might say I'm AOK (airport code for Karpathos, Greece).

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website,, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.

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