Interesting facts
about airline code

  • The IATA code for EasyJet is ‘U2’, which coincidentally shares its name with the famous Irish rock band.
  • The IATA code ‘NZ’ for Air New Zealand reflects the country’s international code, which is also used for sports teams, license plates, and website domain names.
  • IATA codes tend to avoid using combinations of letters that form offensive or inappropriate words in any language. This practice ensures the codes remain neutral and not inadvertently offend users.
  • Airline codes can be sold or traded between airlines, such as when Alaska Airlines purchased ‘QX’ from bankrupt Quebecair Express, and British Airways bought the code ‘BA’ from the now-defunct Brazilian airline Bavex in 1974.
  • Some IATA codes have been retired out of respect for tragic events, such as ‘TW’ for TWA (Trans World Airlines), which ceased operations after the TWA Flight 800 disaster in 1996.
  • IATA codes are not unique to airlines; they are also assigned to railway companies for use in combined rail-air travel itineraries – where passengers on trips involving those stations can be ticketed all the way.

Learn more

The purpose of an airline code

Airline codes are essential in the aviation industry, as they streamline communication and coordination between airlines, airports, air traffic control, travel agencies, and passengers.

Airline codes are used in flight tickets, baggage tags, flight schedules, and other travel-related documents. They also facilitate the automation of travel arrangements, such as booking flights, checking in, and tracking baggage. Airlines also use codes to differentiate themselves from competitors and create brand recognition.

Types of airline codes: IATA and ICAO

There are two primary types of airline codes: IATA (International Air Transport Association) and ICAO ( (International Civil Aviation Organization). They serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics.

  • IATA assignstwo-letter codes. These codes are usually assigned based on the airline's name, abbreviation, acronym, or location. For example, the IATA code for American Airlines is 'AA', which is based on the first two letters of the airline's name. IATA airline codes are commonly used in commercial airline operations, including ticketing, baggage handling, and flight schedules. They are widely recognized by the general public and commonly appear on boarding passes, luggage tags, and travel itineraries.
  • ICAO assigns three-letter codes that representing the unique aspect of airline's branding, country or region. For example, the ICAO code for the American airline is 'AAL', which is based on the airline's stock ticker symbol. ICAO airline codes are used for air traffic control, route planning, and aviation regulatory purposes. These codes are more commonly utilized by aviation professionals and authorities.

Some IATA codes are based on the airline's name, like 'AA' for American Airlines and 'BA' for British Airways, while others are less intuitive, like 'WN' for Southwest Airlines, which comes from its original name, "Western Airlines" or 'AY' for Finnair – derived from the airline's former Finnish name, "Aero O/Y".

While IATA codes are more common, and they can also be assigned to railway companies for use in combined rail-air travel itineraries. On the other hand, ICAO codes are specifically used for aviation-related entities.

How many airline codes are there?

There are hundreds of active airline codes used around the world with new ones being created and old ones being phased out regularly. The exact number of codes in use at any given time can vary depending on certain factors, such as the number of airlines in a specific region, and the regularity of code re-assignments and retirements.

IATA had assigned over 11,000 two-letter codes for various entities so far, while ICAO has over 7,000 three-letter airline designator codes in its database. However, not all of these codes are active or currently in use.

Common airline codes

Some of the most commonly used airline codes (IATA / ICAO) include:

AC / ACA .......... Air Canada
AF / AFR .......... Air France
AA / AAL .......... American Airlines
NH / ANA .......... All Nippon Airways (ANA)
BA / BAW .......... British Airways
CX / CPA .......... Cathay Pacific Airways
DL / DAL .......... Delta Air Lines
EK / UAE .......... Emirates
KL / KLM .......... KLM
LH / DLH .......... Lufthansa
SQ / SIA .......... Singapore Airlines
QF / QFA .......... Qantas Airways
QR / QTR .......... Qatar Airways
TK / THY .......... Turkish Airlines
UA / UAL .......... United Airlines

How can I look up an airline code?

There are several ways to look up an airline code. The easiest method is to search for the airline's name, including the words "IATA code" or "ICAO code" on a search engine.

Another way to look up an airline code is by visiting IATA or the ICAO website.

Various websites and mobile applications are available that enable you to look up airline codes by name or by entering the code directly. Some examples include Airlinecodes.info, and World Airport Codes.

Wikipedia has a handy alphabetical list of all airline codes.

Where to find airline code on my ticket or boarding pass?

The airline code is usually mentioned before the flight number on your e-ticket or itinerary confirmation email. It's typically a two-letter IATA code, for example, 'MH' for Malaysia Airlines, or 'JL' for Japan Airlines.

If you have a traditional paper ticket, the airline code is usually printed near the top of the ticket, alongside or preceding the flight number.

On your boarding pass, the airline code can be found near the flight number, which is typically located at the top or in the center of the pass. It can be part of the flight number itself (for example, AA1234, where AA is the airline code for American Airlines).

How do airline codes relate to airline alliances?

Airline codes are often used within airline alliances to market flights operated under code-sharing agreements.

While only one airline operates a flight, it can be marketed under multiple airlines' codes, so it can be offered to customers of all these airlines. For example, a flight operated by American Airlines (AA) might also be marketed under British Airways' code (BA), so you could see flight numbers like AA1234 and BA5678 for the same flight. This allows passengers to book flights on multiple airlines using a single airline code, making it easier to plan their travel.

Frequent flyer programs are another example. Alliance members typically allow passengers to earn and redeem frequent flyer miles or points across all airlines in the alliance, using the respective airline codes to identify and credit the correct frequent flyer account.

Finally, airline alliances often grant access to their member airlines' airport lounges, using the airline codes to identify eligible passengers and their associated airline or frequent flyer status.

Do budget airlines have different codes than full-service airlines?

Budget airlines' codes are not fundamentally different from full-service airlines' codes, as both types of carriers use two-letter IATA codes and four-letter ICAO codes. The assignment of codes does not depend on the type of airline but rather follows a systematic approach. The airline codes themselves do not indicate whether an airline is a budget or full-service carrier.

Some examples of budget airline codes (IATA / ICAO):

G9 / ABY .......... Air Arabia
AK / AXM .......... Air Asia
EW / EWG .......... Eurowings
6E / IGO .......... IndiGo
JQ / JST .......... Jetstar Airways
FR / RYR .......... RyanAir
TR / TGW .......... Scoot
WN / SWA .......... Southwest Airlines

References

Flying soon?

The ultimate guides to cheap flights.

More