hidden europe 55

Bag Tag

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Baggage tag showing the IATA code DME for Moscow Domodedovo airport (photo © Gh19 / dreamstime.com).


Frequent flyers know that it's perfectly reasonable to fly from JFK to WAW via AMS. Just as they appreciate that it makes no sense at all to fly ARN to HEL via CDG. Those innocuous codes on airline baggage tags are the key to the geography of air travel and some have a dash of history too.

No airline has ever offered direct flights on the route from AAL to ZYR. Those three-letter International Air Transport Association (IATA) codes used on airline baggage tags can be enigmatic, evocative or just puzzling. Some are easy to decode. It’s no surprise that AAL is the Danish town of Aalborg, where this summer’s destination list includes AMS, OSL and STN — all easily guessed as the code derives directly from the city or airport name, viz. Amsterdam, Oslo and Stansted. Some airline codes make perfect matches. LTQ could only ever be Le Touquet, just as nothing could fit Nice more nicely than NCE.

But what of the airport code ZYR? Well, that’s not an airport at all; it is a railway station in Belgium. The Dutch airline KLM will gladly book you a ticket from ZYR to Berlin or Bujumbura — or, indeed, to dozens of other cities across the world, provided you don’t mind taking a train for the first part of your journey. The code ZYR is assigned to Brussels Midi station, from where passengers booked though KLM can travel on a direct Thalys train to Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam to join their flight.

So some IATA airport codes refer to places far from any airport. QYG ranks as one of the quirkiest ‘non-airport’ codes.

This is just an excerpt. The full text of this article is not yet available to members with online access to hidden europe. Of course you can read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 55.
Related article

Marking Time: New Train Services for 2020

The hidden europe award for ingenuity in creating new European rail travel opportunities is awarded to Austria's state rail operator, Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB). We look at what ÖBB will offer anew for 2020, and examine too what's new on the rails in Russia, Germany and elsewhere across Europe.

Related article

Making Tracks for Sweden

As winter slipped slowly into spring in 1917, Lenin passed through Berlin on his journey back to Russia from Switzerland. His onward route from Berlin took him by train to Sassnitz, then on by ferry to Trelleborg in Sweden. These days it's still possible to follow the route taken by Lenin, using the occasional direct trains from Berlin to Sweden.

Related article

At the water's edge: Germany's Wadden Sea

Within just a few centuries, the geography of the Frisian region has been reshaped by storms and tides. Paul Scraton is a regular writer for hidden europe; here he explores Germany’s Wadden Sea coastline. It’s a tale that shows the power of the sea.