When the Wright brothers took their inaugural flight in 1903, it would be hard for them to imagine how many airports there would be just over 100 years later. According to the United States Department of Transportation, there are 382 major airports in the United States, each with their own code. With so many airport codes and abbreviations, you may have difficulty identifying the airport in the city of your destination. However, there are a few easy ways to learn many of these codes.

Learning Airport Codes

All major airports in the United States have a unique three-letter code. This code is known as its International Air Transport Association (IATA) Location Identifier or IATA code. For many airports you may be familiar with, the code is simply the first three letters of the city. Atlanta’s main airport is ATL. Boston’s is BOS, and Miami’s airport is MIA. Others are the first three letters of multiple cities. Dallas and Fort Worth is DFW, MSP for Minneapolis and St. Paul. Others like Salt Lake City use the first letter of each words in the city’s name, SLC. If you’re traveling to one of these cities, the identifier should be easy to remember.

But what if you’re traveling to the main airport in Chicago? Its identifier is ORD. If you’re going to Nashville, it may be tough to remember BNA. Sometimes airports are named after interesting or historic areas around it. The identifier ORD was derived from a small, quiet airstrip northwest of Chicago called Old Orchard Field.. BNA was named after Colonel Harry S. Berry, thus Berry Field, Nashville (BNA). If you are trying to remember an identifier that doesn’t resemble the city’s name, research a little about the airport's history. These interesting facts will stay with you, and you’ll remember the identifier.

You may notice some major airports are named after celebrities. This is an easy way to remember the identifier for one of the airports in New York City, John F. Kennedy International. Its identifier is JFK. These acronyms may be easier to identify.

If you’re still having trouble, be creative with the identifiers. For example, the main airport in New Orleans is MSY. New Orleans is known for the Saints of New Orleans. Try using a play on words, like New Orleans has the "Most Saints Yawning" (MSY). Orlando’s main airport is MCO. Orlando is home to Disney World, so "Mickey’s Climbing Onboard" (MCO). The sillier the better when it comes to remembering these tough identifiers. You can also use flash cards to match the name of the airport with the letter airport codes on the back.

Here are some other airport codes, for easy reference:

  • Chicago O’Hare: ORD
  • Denver International Airport: DIA
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston: IAH
  • Los Angeles International Airport: LAX
  • San Francisco International Airport: SFO
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: DFW
  • Portland Internation Airport: PDX
  • LaGuardia Airport: LGA
  • Newark Liberty International Airport: EWR
  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in Louisiana: MSY

Some international examples:

  • Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport: YUL
  • Heathrow Airport: LHR