We've used IATA codes for airport tags since forever, but is it time to re-examine the policy and see if a change is warranted?

@Gilles argued previously and also recently to adopt a [city-iatacode] naming convention.

Arguments FOR change:

  • Discoverability: By far, the most important argument. Searching for a city in a tag field will display tags for airports in the vicinity -- something that's valuable and is not possible with the current naming scheme.

Arguments AGAINST change:

  • Potential for ambiguity: Some airports serve more than one city or region, and can have conflicting names. Nothing that can't be solved with tag synonyms where necessary.
  • Weird/redundant tag names: For example, looks strange and somewhat redundant.

As for how the transition will take place: moderators can gradually rename the tags using synonyms, keeping the original tags which will point to the new ones. Such renames will not flood the front page with old questions as would be the case if the tag is changed for each question individually.

I'm pretty much convinced that the scheme proposed above is superior to what we have now, but since the change will be significant, I'd rather hear other opinions (or support) before taking any action.

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    What's really needed here is better tag search. If I type in "toronto" in the tag field, I should see both toronto and yyz come up as possibilities. Commented May 26, 2014 at 18:10
  • Do we really need airport tags?
    – Bernhard
    Commented May 30, 2014 at 6:59

6 Answers 6


I wouldn't use the city name in the code. It will touch quite some patriotic sensitivities. Antwerp International airport is sometimes called Brussels north, which considering stansted is called a London airport only makes sense. However that decision wasn't well received in Anterp itself. What will we do with Mulhouse (French airport serving Basel)? Or what about Maastricht-Aachen Airport (MST)? Then I haven't even touched the Ryanair airports where it is not uncommon for an airport to be labeled to a city km away (e.g. Reus being Barcelona airport).

No I really think the combination of city-iata tag is a bad idea. I am perfectly okay with the iata code, but then again I am a airplane/airport lover. Also if you hoover over a tag, the description is given. I would propose to review these description if necessary and, if missing, add the city name in the short description.

A second possibility is to add the ICAO codes to the tag. Sofia would become "lbsf-sof", although that this specific case looks weird.

My final proposition would be to leave the iata code as they are and add synonyms containing both the serving city and the word "airport". So "MST" would have two synonyms, "Maastricht airport" and "Aachen-airport". However, can paris-airport be a synonym of cdg and ory?

But please, please leave the iata codes as proper tags. I would be happy reviewing some of the tag descriptions to make them more more descriptive

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    +1 for the examples Commented May 23, 2014 at 7:33
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    Mulhouse is easy, it's Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg EuroAirport and almost everybody seems rather happy about it. It's neither a politically sensitive issue nor a feat of Ryanair's deceptive marketing. Plus it's really not a French airport, there is a treaty between the three countries and some interesting legal cases.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 8:38
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    Seriously though, couldn't the handful of problematic cases be dealt with using synonyms? Meanwhile the rest would become easier to find for mere mortals.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 8:43
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    Synonyms are a one-to-one relationship, but there's no reason why we couldn't make them even more explicit, so they still show in the autocomplete: "berlin-tegel-airport" for TXL and "berlin-schönefeld-airport" for SXF, and maybe in the next decade or two we'll add "berlin-brandenburg-airport" for BER. I wouldn't endorse ICAO codes, which are far less widely used and understood. If an airport is too minor to gain an IATA code, it probably won't have many questions either; better to tag it with the city or region.
    – choster
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 14:55
  • @choster I like that, but the IATA codes remain master right?
    – user141
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 14:59
  • Having said that if there is only a one-to-one relationship how would you tag Maastricht-Aachen airport?
    – user141
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 15:01
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    @andra Oops, I meant many-to-one (in the sense of many synonyms to one tag). The idea is to assist users by tying airports to their major cities or regions, not simply to provide alternative names; I would use 'san' as the tag for San Diego International Airport, with 'san-diego-airport' as a synonym, but see no need for 'lindbergh-field-san-diego'; unlike O'Hare or Narita, only locals use this name. So for MST, I would think 'maastricht-aachen-airport' should be sufficient.
    – choster
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 15:12

If we did this, we would need to explain (and be prepared to edit to fix) when to use the city name tag and when to use the city-airportcode tag. A person wanting to ask a question about Toronto who types tor into the tag spot is today offered only . If becomes then as they type they will be offered both and might always choose both, even if their question has nothing to do with the airport.

Folks on flyertalk routinely say "I'll be in YVR all next week" and they don't mean they'll spend 5+ days in the arrivals terminal. So a newcomer starting to type a city name might choose an airport code and we'll need to edit it to keep everything straight.

  • That implies that people don't know what that yyz thing is. In which case it isn't a good tag name on its own either. Commented May 25, 2014 at 9:02
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    I don't think so. Imagine a very new user. They start to type a city name and are offered a tag like Rome-fco. They don't know what fco is, they will probably take just plain Rome. But if they know yyz is Toronto, they might take Toronto-yyz and wonder what the plain tag means. Commented May 25, 2014 at 11:25
  • That's precisely my point: if they see yyz they'll wonder what it is. If they see toronto-yyz they'll at least know it's related to Toronto. Commented May 25, 2014 at 18:22

Keep the current naming, its more professional and if new users are confused, pro users are there to help. Plus, everyone with a ticket will have the IATA code shown in the ticket. The proposed naming is ugly and confusing, IMHO.


When I saw the title my first reaction was "hell no, it's way too late to change it" - as there are so many questions that use the IATA codes even in the title or description.

However, your proposed city-iata solution is probably the cleanest. If you're a newbie adding an airport tag, you have two possible paths:

  • you know the iata code, type it, and will match on it.
  • you know the city name, type it and will see the airport.

HOWEVER, the implementation of, I disagree with. I feel we should keep all the current tags, and make them synonyms for the new MASTER city-iata tags.

  • 1
    Perhaps I wasn't clear enough - all existing tags will be made synonyms to the new ones, where possible, they won't go away. I've clarified it in the post. Commented May 23, 2014 at 4:16
  • I disagree. The codes are canonical so work best for the main tag. Each tag can have as many synonyms as we want so airport names that are ambiguous or contentious won't be fought after. We can have all possibilities as synonyms that point to the unambiguous uncontentious codes. Commented May 25, 2014 at 5:26

@TRiG in a Comment asked where the Hell is ork? (amongst other things it is the IATA code for one of the three principal international airports of Ireland, Cork Airport or Aerfort Chorcaí).

If in use as a tag here (ork isn't, at the moment) and unclear to anyone, just hovering over the tag should answer that question.

However there is also What is the tag for Cork Airport?. If such already exists then reference to the tag wiki for should help. All IATA codes currently in use are listed there, with airport names in alphabetical order.

If such does not yet exist, then Googling iata cork for me returns "Code: ORK" in the sidebar.

While IMO it is always "time to re-examine the policy and see if a change is warranted" there are higher priorities at present regarding tagging so for the moment would prefer "IATA codes" to remain 'as is'.


Potential for ambiguity isn't a concern. Most airports have a clear city of attachment. For the rare case where an airport serves multiple cities, we can use synonyms.

“Weird” tag names speaks in favor of using the city names. What the hell is ? At least orients the reader in the right direction.

What I don't understand with the choice of using bare IATA codes as tags is that I haven't seen any argument for that as opposed to the city-tla format. I've seen arguments to use the IATA codes in tag names, and I agree with them. But they don't justify that the tag should be the TLA only. With the city-tla format, typing the TLA still autocompletes to the full tag name, and reading the tag name still informs the reader of the TLA.

  • Further, where the Hell is ork?
    – TRiG
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 14:37

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