Secret Codes and Non-existent Airports
originally published July 20, 1999 on http:www.travelthenet.com
copyright 1999 by Joe Harkins - all rights reserved
          The Orphan Annie "Secret Decoder Badge" I bought through the mail at 10 years old for 25 cents plus the label off a jar of Ovaltine drink mix is probably worth more now to a collector than the cost of a few semesters of tuition, room and board at an Ivy League college. At the end of each week's episode broadcast on radio, a coded personal message was announced to Annie's Friends in Radioland. The device allowed listeners to decode such bulletins as, "Be fair and square" and "Love God and Country."

    But that badge, which one of the kids in the neighborhood ridiculed as "for girls," was quickly traded off to Eddie Donahue for the first issue of Batman and the Superman comic book that introduced Superboy. Even so, that badge would not be much help in deciphering the arcana of Airport Identifier Codes (AICs). That knowledge often comes in handy in making sure your checked baggage is labeled with the three or four letter code of your personal destination.

    The AICs for most of the world's airports can be found in differing formats on various web sites.

    Landings (www.landings.com/_landings/pages/airports.html) is likely to be more interesting for pilots. It offers links to weather, flight planning, aircraft service and news affecting flying professionals and avid amateurs. You'll also find a long list of links to related activities such as helicopters, gyrocopters, home-built aircraft, soaring, hang gliding, skydiving, paragliding and ballooning. For those who ride in the front cabin of the plane, Landings is as good a taking-off spot as you'll find on the web.

    For the passenger in most of us, AirWise (www.airwise.com) is more than adequate. In addition to listing AICs for the major airports, the site is linked to current news and recent press releases for each facility. Some of the info is pretty mundane, such as the multi-billion dollar upgrades being planned for Newark Airport (EWR) and reports of a dramatic drop in noise complaints from the neighbors around Chicago's O'Hare Airport (ORD).

    If you make it a habit to regularly visit the AirWise page for your own local airport, you'll have a better understanding of what is happening there and why. For example, the news page for Los Angeles (LAX) reports on incidents that might not have made your newspaper or nightly news, such as a recent spate of on-the-ground wing-clippings.

    Those codes for the airports are sometimes as fascinating as they are obscure. Some are simply an abbreviation of the name of the major city the airport serves. SIN is Singapore; MIA is Miami; SYD says Sydney and SLC identifies Salt Lake City. BOS identifies Boston and ATL marks Atlanta.

    Initials of an airport's name also play a role. Baltimore - Washington International becomes BWI. Haiti's capital, Port au Prince is PAP, but be careful. POP is the code for Puerto Plata, the international airport on the same Caribbean island of Hispaniola but a few hundred miles away in the Dominican Republic. It's important to know, going into Paris, France, if your bags are headed for CDG (Charles de Gaulle) or Charles Lindbergh's famous transatlantic destination, Orly Field (ORY). London bound travelers should pay careful attention at check-in to be certain the luggage is aimed for Gatwick (LGW), unless they actually do want it at Heathrow (LHR).

    You'll find most the simplest and most complete lists of AICs at either ForWorld (www.forworld.com/travel/air/airports.htm) or 1st AirNet (www.1st-air.net/). The list at QuikAid is less complete but provides links directly to the official home pages of the major airports.

    Some codes refer to local history or other strange tales. An airline pilot, writing in an article (www.webcom.com/skygod/abc.html) in Airline Pilot Magazine, the Journal of the Air Line Pilots Association, explains the ABCs of some AICs. He reveals why some Airport Identifier Codes have four letters while certain AICs identify destinations that don't exist anywhere exception in the imagination.

    Those "mirage" AICs should be retained in your memory. I suspect that my luggage containing those two comic books, now worth more than any ole' sissy Orphan Annie badge, were routed to one of those non-existent airports a few years ago.

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