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What Is an Airport Code?

Luggage is typically tagged with an airport code for both the departing and arriving airports.
Nearly every airport in the world is identified by a three-letter code, called an International Air Transport code.
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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2014
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An airport code is typically a three-letter code associated with nearly every airport in the world. These codes are known and used by the customers who fly on the airlines, and are often used when researching ticket prices, purchasing tickets, or placing luggage tags on baggage to be certain it arrives at the correct destination. A second type of airport code is a four-letter code used between airports internationally, though these codes are typically never used by the general public.

The most common three-letter code is known as the IATA code, for the International Air Transport Association. It may also be referred to as a location identifier. This code is typically associated either with the city in which the airport is located, or the proper name of the airport itself. For instance, the Dublin, Ireland airport code is DUB; Heathrow in London is LHR; and the John F. Kennedy airport in New York City is JFK. These airport codes may be found easily by searching online. Many websites list the codes by city and state to make it simpler to find the information.

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People may use this airport code to verify that their ticket information is correct, both for departure and arrival airports. In addition, it is a good idea to take a look at the baggage tag once it is placed on the piece of luggage to be sure that it is intended for the correct airport. This simple and unified system of location identifiers works well because it can be understood by people who speak many different languages, and because it is successfully used around the world.

The second type of airport code is the four-letter ICAO code, set by the International Civil Aviation Organization and used in a more official capacity. Air traffic controllers and pilots might use these codes, for example. These codes are broken up into regional, often continental divisions, where the first letter of the code indicates the region; for example, the northern European countries are designated by the letter E, while South America is designated by the letter S. The next letter indicates the specific country within that region, and the following two letters designate the specific airport.

Some airports feature corresponding IATA and ICAO codes; for example, ATL and KATL are the respective codes for Heartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. For the most part, however, the two codes are not similar in any way; the codes for London-Heathrow, for example, are LHR and EGLL, respectively. It is rare that one who does not work in the industry would need to learn the ICAO code for a specific airport. However, it can be helpful if trying to determine the location of an airport, or when trying to understand aviation related documents.

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