When you arrive at the airport, a quick glance at the departures board should tell you which gate your flight is departing from. But you may be stymied by the array of codes: letters and numbers that are used as shortened forms of the names of airlines. If you don’t know that your easyJet flight has the airline code U2 (isn’t that an old rock band?) then this list of airline codes is just what you need to help you make your flight.
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What are airline codes?
There are actually two sets of airline codes. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) issues each airline with a three-character code that is unique for every airline. British Airways, for example, is BAW. These codes are never seen by the traveling passenger and are used for internal purposes within the travel industry. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) dishes out two character codes. Under their system British Airways is BA, and that’s the code that will appear on your luggage receipts, boarding pass and the departures board.
The largest and oldest carriers tend to have intuitive designations under both the ICAO and IATA systems. But as the number of airlines increased, the possible combinations of two-character codes started to be used up and newcomers were issued less intuitive IATA codes. That’s why easyJet, for example, ended up with U2.
Knowing on what airline you booked your flight might not be enough to let you know what code will appear on the departures board. Agreements between airlines allow one company to market the flights of another under its own airline code. Your flight might be designated by two or more different airline codes. A British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport might be identified as BA097, AA6199 or IB4722. Whether referred to by its British Airways, American Airlines or Iberia codes, it is the same flight flown on a British Airways jet. Here are lists of some of the largest airlines and their codes.
The UK’s largest airlines and their codes
The ten largest UK passenger airlines and their IATA codes are: British Airways BA Virgin Atlantic VS easyJet U2 Thomson Airways BY Thomas Cook Airlines MT Monarch Airlines ZB Jet2.com LS bmi BM Flybe BE Titan Airways ZT
Europe’s largest airlines and their codes
Ten of the largest passenger airlines in Europe (excluding those in the UK) with their IATA codes are: Lufthansa LH Air France AF KLM KL Ryanair FR Turkish Airlines TK Scandinavian Airlines SK Alitalia AZ Aeroflot SU Aer Lingus EI Swiss International Air Lines LX
Largest Airlines beyond Europe
Ten of the largest non-UK, non-European airlines are: United Airlines UA Delta Air Lines DL American Airlines AA Emirates EK Southwest Airlines WN US Airways US China Southern Airlines CZ Singapore Airlines SQ Air China CA Cathay Pacific Airways CX
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