Lawmakers in India want to change the official airport code for the holy city of Gaya in the state of Bihar because they believe it is “offensive” and “embarrassing”. Gaya’s internationally recognised three-letter airport code is GAY.
Airports have been known by coded letters since the 1930s when pilots in the United States started to use the same two-letter codes that the National Weather Service had developed to identify different cities.
It soon became apparent that two-letter wouldn’t be enough so a three-letter code was developed independently of the National Weather Service that could be used around the world. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) took on responsibility for maintaining the registry of airport codes when it was formed in 1945.
The registry currently contains 9,158 codes but the system could be stretched to 17,576 permutations. Along with airports, bus and ferry terminals can also be assigned an IATA location identifier if “these locations are involved in intermodal airline travel.”
Gaya got its location identifier by using the ubiquitous naming convention of the first three letters of the name of the location. Lawmakers have suggested Gaya’s airport code could be altered to YAG to avoid embarrassing people with the “inappropriate and unsuitable” GAY identifier.
Airport codes generally don’t follow the conventional naming standard if there is a conflict or other good reason. For example, Newark is named EWR because the N code is reserved for the U.S. Navy.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles (LAX) and Phoenix (PHX) are so named because they kepot their original two-letter National Weather Service code and simply appended X to comply with the IATA standard.
And Canada’s seemingly bizarre airport codes which feature Y’s and Z’s with no connection to the city are connected to an old weather reporting system as well.
India’s Committee on Public Undertakings has urged the government to take the necessary action to change Gay’s airport code but IATA has already made it known that such a request is likely to be rejected.
Location codes are considered permanent and a report from the government noted that “without a justifiable reason primarily concerning air safety, IATA has expressed its inability to change the IATA code of Gaya airport”.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.