SUX, WOW, OMG and More Airline Codes to Make You LOL

Guess the airlines: WOW, BAM and POW.

ByABC News
February 1, 2013, 8:29 AM

Feb. 1, 2013— -- No one will ever confuse yours truly with James Bond, but ask me to crack a code and I'm a happy man. Luckily, the air travel industry is loaded with them. An all-time favorite: the airport code for Sioux City, Iowa: SUX.

But the carriers that fly you places have great codes, too. Guess the airlines: WOW, BAM and POW.

For more travelnews and insights, view Rick's blog at

No, those aren't codes for Batman Air; WOW represents Air Southwest (a now-defunct UK carrier and not to be confused with Dallas-based Southwest) while BAM is Business Air Services of Canada and POW is assigned to the planes of Hagondale Limited, a British financial company.

Sorry, kids, there's no LOL code, but there is an OMG (but sadly, the UK's Aeromega is no longer in business). There is also a WTF (ditto for West African Air Transport).

Most of us are familiar with the two-letter airline codes seen on plane tickets and bag tags: AA for American or DL for Delta. Such bland and boring codes are doled out by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for use in reservations and ticketing.

Much more fun are the three letter codes like WOW used by air traffic controllers and pilots. These codes are designated by the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and are assigned to both airlines and "aircraft-operating agencies," which explains BAM and POW. The list includes current carriers and those from by-gone eras, which is why you won't hear WTF in a control tower today (unless, of course, things get particularly exciting).

Some of my favorite ICAO designees are ACK, which reminds me of a cat getting rid of a hairball but is actually the code for Massachusetts' Nantucket Airlines. Then there's IRK (Iran's Kish Air), and KFC, although I'm sure there are no chickens at the Ukraine's Kremenchuk Flight College.

Seeing as how it's Super Bowl time, how about the code NFL? That stands for Michigan's Northaire Freight Lines. I was hoping POE had some connection to the Baltimore Ravens but unless they moved north when I wasn't looking, there is no link because it's the code for Canada's Porter Airlines.

And since we're also close to Valentine's Day, how about BOI meets GRL? That's Manila's former carrier Aboitiz Air and Air Greenland, respectively.

Some of these codes sound like a party: FUN (Funtshi Aviation Service); FAB (First Air), EZY (the discount carrier EasyJet) and AHH (an Irish company called Airplanes Holdings).

And some codes sound scary: BOO (Bookajet Limited); GRR (Agroar-Trabalhos Aereos), and the truly unsettling DOA (assigned to a Dominican Republic airline that has been out of business for years). Really scary codes: TAX (TravelAir) and FEE and you're forgiven if you thought that last one was code for Spirit Airlines. But it's actually assigned to Fly Europa Limited.

Some are just odd. Although the code AWW sounds like something you'd expect to see on the DogShaming website, it's the code for Air Wales. Then there's NPR, which has nothing to do with public radio and, all things considered, doesn't really sound much like New Zealand's Air Napier either. But that's what it represents. Then there's the trendy HIP, which is attached to an outfit called Starship. But I can find no information on this company (perhaps it's based in another galaxy).

As for FAT, it has nothing to do with being "passengers of size" and everything to do with Switzerland's freight airline Farnair. Speaking of Swiss carriers, I'm sorry to say that the incomparably named Baboo (BBO) no longer exists, having been taken over by Darwin Airline. I guess you could say it evolved.

Some codes are as confusing as those airline miles program rules and Southwest is a good example. The carrier's stock ticker symbol is LUV, but the ICAO assigned LUV to Luxembourg Air Rescue and gave Southwest plain old SWA.

But Southwest's IATA code is the somewhat inexplicable WN. According to rumor, IATA officials told Southwest that SW was already assigned (to Air Namibia) and asked whether they'd like the next random code, to which the airline execs supposedly responded, "Why Not?" Well, it's a good story.

Keeping track of all this can more difficult than finding legroom in coach but I'm sure there's an APP for that (Aerolineas Pacifico Atlantico). Maybe I'd better quit while I'm ahead, so thanks and BYE for now (Bayu Indonesia Air).

The opinions expressed by Rick Seaney are his alone and not those of ABC News.