airport/aircraft/flight identification

All airports have an airport identifier. The identifier is actually four letters or a combination of letters and numbers. Since the first letter of all continental United States airports is "K", it is just omitted from the remaining identification letters. If you have flown into any of the destination airports listed below you might recognize the three-letter airport identifier that is also found on the luggage tag.

Sample Luggage Tag
A. Bar codes contain four characters signifying the final destination.
B. Carrier initials (Speedy Flight) and a six-character bag number are followed by a three-character abbreviation for the final destination (FWA = Fort Wayne, Indiana).

Final flight listed first, carrier initials, flight numbers, and date for all parts of the journey show a mini-itinerary. Destinations for initial flights are listed in smaller type (DTW = Detroit, Michigan).


SFO San Francisco International
DEN Denver International
MCI Kansas City International
STL Lambert-St. Louis International
CLE Cleveland-Hopkins International
DCA Ronald Reagan Washington National
SJC San Jose International Airport
JAN Jackson International Airport

Cars have license numbers and airplanes have registrations commonly called "tail numbers." All aircraft registrations begin with a letter followed by more letters, or a letter followed by a number. Aircraft registered in Canada have a "C" followed by a hyphen with 3 additional letters. So an aircraft registered in Britain could be "G-DOG." Aircraft registered in Mexico have registrations that start with "XA," "XB," or "ZC" followed by a hyphen then three additional letters.

"N" is the beginning letter for all aircraft registered in the United States. During verbal radio communications the complete U.S. registration is given on first contact with air traffic controllers. Usually in subsequent communications only the last three numerals or numeral and letter combinations are used.

Let's take, for example, a Grumman American TR-2, a small aircraft, registered as N9919F. "N" indicates aircraft registration in the United States. When it is verbally identified to air traffic control (ATC) it is not identified as "N - 9 - 9 - 1 - 9 - F." The correct way to identify the aircraft N9919F is "Grumman American, November niner - niner - one - niner - Foxtrot." After the initial contact with air traffic control, it is then shortened in verbal communication to "one - niner - Foxtrot". If a controller is working two aircraft with the same last three tail numbers, the controller will use the complete registration.

Commercial airliners usually use the airline's name followed by the flight number. For example, "United Airlines Flight 1291" would be listed as UAL 1291 on the routing strip used by controllers while spoken as "United - one - two - niner - one".