America’s Airports – IATA codes and more

Not all of the travelling public knows that every airport has a three letter code designated by IATA (International Air Transport Association). Some are easily memorable and others make no sense at all. One of the things that has always aided me in my job is to know the IATA codes for the regions that I am responsible for. There are some interesting facts behind some of these codes. Obviously I can’t cover them all so here are a few that are worth a mention.

Did you know that according to last survey there are over 14,000 airport and airfields in North America? Only around 5,000 are paved. Every State has an airport but Delaware has the least. In 2015 it closed the only air service from Wilmington New Castle Airport.

5 Largest Airports in America by Area

  1. Denver International – (DEN) – 33,500 acres

Runway 16L is 16,000 feet long and is the longest public use runway in America

2. Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) – 17,000 acres

3. Orlando (MCO) – 13,000 acres

4. Washington Dulles (IAD) – 12,000 acres

5. Houston (IAH) – George Bush International – 11,000 acres

5 Busiest American Airports by passenger volume

  1. Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson (ATL) – 101,491,000
  2. Chicago O’Hare (ORD) – 76,949,000
  3. Los Angeles International – (LAX) 74,937,000
  4. Dallas/Fort Worth – (DFW) 72,074,000
  5. John F. Kennedy New York (JFK) – 56,827,000

Airline Hubs 

Most major American Carriers concentrate their operations to connect international to domestic (and vice versa). Here are some notable hubs by Airport.

American Airlines 

Dallas (DFW)

Charlotte (CLT)

Chicago (ORD)

Philadelphia (PHL)

Phoenix (PHX)

Miami (MIA)

Ronald Reagan Washington (DCA)

Los Angeles (LAX)

New York (JFK)

Alaska Airlines

Seattle Tacoma (SEA)

Portland (PDX)

Anchorage (ANC)


Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson (ATL)

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County (DTW)

Cincinnati (CIN)

New York (JFK)

Boston Logan (BOS)

Los Angeles (LAX)

Minneapolis/St Paul (MSP)

Salt Lake City (SLC)

Seattle Tacoma (SEA)


Chicago (ORD)

Houston (IAH)

Denver (DEN)

Los Angeles (LAX)

New York Newark (EWR)

San Francisco (SFO)

Washington (IAD)

Some of the airport codes are obvious and others make no sense at all. So here are some reasons why airports have been issued their codes.

Chicago O’Hare – ORD 

The city code for Chicago is CHI so how come Chicago O’Hare isn’t COH or CHI but strangely ORD?

The answer is that is was originally called Orchard Field before being named after ‘Butch’ O’Hare the US Navy’s First recipient of the Medal of Honor during World War II.

Nashville – BNA

I guess the NA is Nashville but what is the B about? Well for military planes using Nashville it is still known as Berry Field Nashville.

New Orleans – MSY

The airport is called Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport but was named after dare devil aviator John Moisant who died in an airplane crash on the agricultural land that the airport occupies today. The code is taken from Moisant Stock Yards.

Ronald Reagan Washington – DCA

Renamed from Washington National Airport after the 40th President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Planes take off and land right over the monuments of Washington.

New York JFK was called Idlewild with IDL as it’s three letter code. It was renamed in honor of the assassinated President in 1963. It was called Idlewild after the golf course that is replaced.

Orlando – MCO

Not Mickey’s Corporate Office (Orlando is obviously the nearest airport to Walt Disney World) but McCoy Air Force Base which used to operate there.

Los Angeles – LAX

Apparently when airport codes were increased to three letters LA was added an X. It doesn’t stand for anything.

Newark Liberty New York – EWR

Airports cannot use N as this identifier is reserved for Naval use hence the dropping of the first letter of the destination revealing nEWaRk. Similarly Norfolk in Virginia is ORF nORFolk.

Kahului – OGG

Named after the aviatior Captain Jimmy Hogg and Hawaiian Airlines pilot.

Louisville Kentucky – SDF

Louisville International Airport was originally named Staniford Field


Washington – IAD

Named after John Foster Dulles the Secretary of State under Eisenhower, it stands for International Airport Dulles. It is located in Fairfax and Loudon Counties in Virginia approximately 26 miles west of Washington D.C.