A Fun History of Airport Codes - United Hub

A fun history of airport codes

By Benét J. Wilson

Have you ever looked at your baggage tag, seen the three-letter airport code and wondered what it meant? Some, like SFO — San Francisco International Airport — make perfect sense, while others, like PIE — St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport — are less intuitive. Airport codes can seem unusual at times, but they all have a meaning and in most cases a good story to tell. The International Air Transport Association, which advocates on behalf of the world's airlines, oversees and creates these airport codes. Below you'll find a list of 10 airports with unusual codes and an explanation of how they were created.

Chicago O'Hare International Airport: ORD

Chicago O'Hare, our home base, was originally known as Orchard Field Airport. It was renamed in 1949 to honor local Medal of Honor recipient Edward O'Hare, the Navy's first flying ace during World War II. OR comes from the first two letters of Orchard, and D comes from the last letter in Field, making up the airport code ORD.

Beijing Capital International Airport: PEK

Beijing's airport code comes from the first three letters of Peking, the original English translation of the name of China's capital city. United began flying to Beijing in 1986, with service now available from Chicago, New York/Newark, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

Orlando International Airport: MCO

The gateway airport to Central Florida was originally home to the McCoy Air Force Base, named after Colonel Michael Norman Wright McCoy, who was killed in a jet crash in 1957. After the base closed in 1975, it became Orlando's main airport. The M, C and O come from the name McCoy.

Louis Armstrong International Airport, New Orleans: MSY

The New Orleans airport was originally named Moisant Field after John Bevins Moisant, an aviation pioneer. The airport is located on what was previously known as Moisant Stock Yards, hence the MSY airport code. It was renamed Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in 2001 to honor the jazz musician's 100th birthday.

Guam International Airport: GUM

This United hub was originally built by the Japanese as a military base in 1943. Its name comes from three of the four letters of the country's name.

Sioux Gateway Airport, Iowa: SUX

Before embracing its airport code, Sioux City tried several times to get what it saw as an offensive designator changed. But after seeing alternatives, it decided to embrace the code and turn it into a marketing tool. The Sioux City Airport now sells merchandise using the "Fly SUX" brand.

Singapore Changi Airport: SIN

There's nothing sinister about this airport's code, derived from the first three letters of the island city-state's name. It has been named the world's best airport for the past four years by the Skytrax ratings.

Fresno Yosemite International Airport: FAT

This airport's code has nothing to do with its size. The gateway to California's iconic national park got its airport code from its original name: Fresno Air Terminal. When the airport took on its current name in 1996, it applied to the Federal Aviation Administration for a new code, but it was turned down. The FAA only gives out new codes when an airport moves from one location to another.

Madrid–Barajas Airport: MAD

The code for the Madrid airport is pretty simple. It's the first three letters of Spain's capital and most populous city. The Barajas part of the name comes from the district located near the airport, which is considered a gateway to the rest of Europe and the world.

United Cargo operates more than 11,000 cargo-only flights in one year

By The Hub team, March 19, 2021

On March 19, 2020, United operated its first flight carrying cargo without passengers on board. While the passenger cabin was empty, its cargo hold was completely full, carrying more than 29,000 pounds of commodities from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).

A year later, United Cargo has operated more than 11,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 570 million pounds of freight. To support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, United Cargo has also transported more than 113 million pounds of medical and pharmaceutical products on both cargo-only and passenger flights as well as approximately 10 million COVID-19 vaccines, providing global communities access to the items they have needed most.

10 tips for spring travel

By The Hub team, February 24, 2021

Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your spring trip, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive at the airport travel-ready:

1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, travel assistance and more

Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check.

Don't forget to use Agent on Demand for help with any and all questions you may have before your flight. This new capability is available at all our U.S. hub airports and allows you to use your own mobile device to contact a customer service agent via phone, video or chat to help with day-of-travel questions while you're at the airport. Learn more about Agent on Demand here.

United joins UNICEF COVAX initiative

By The Hub team, February 19, 2021

This week, we were honored to become the first U.S. airline to join the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by transporting the vaccine and other critically needed supplies to underserved areas of the globe.

"We are committed to helping the global community in any way we can, and we all must work together to do our part to bring this health and humanitarian crisis to an end," said Director of Cargo Specialty Products Manu Jacobs.

We will leverage our expertise to transport these critical pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments around the world safely, efficiently and expediently. We are proud to partner with the United Nations to support this global effort and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

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