Most Airport Codes In Canada Start With A 'Y' — Here's Why

Soon YUL get it. ✈️

MTL Blog, Associate Editor
​The "YUL" sign for Montreal-Trudeau Airport. Right: The cockpit of a plane.

The "YUL" sign for Montreal-Trudeau Airport. Right: The cockpit of a plane.

When booking a flight for your dream vacation, you may have noticed that almost every airport code in Canada begins with a "Y" — the most curious letter in the alphabet. A flight from Montreal to Toronto becomes "YUL to YYZ," Edmonton to Saskatoon is marked "YEG to YXE," and Vancouver to Ottawa shows "YVR to YOW."

Historical records do not indicate a ouija board or alphabet soup factory explosion involved in the confusing code selection. It actually all dates back a century to when airport codes across North America were just two letters and Morse code featured in airline navigation.

For a long time, Montreal carried the code "UL," a two-letter identifier for air terminals selected by the Royal Canadian Air Force and a radio beacon tapped out the letters on a loop over the airwaves.

Toronto's main airport code has a slightly different background since "YZ" stems from the code once used by the Canadian National Railway to reference the train station in Malton, Ontario, where Toronto International Airport is now located.

As the number of airports around the world began to grow in the 1940s, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which took over assigning airport designations, decided to add an extra letter to existing airport codes to make room for new codes.

The letter "Y" for "yes" was tacked onto the front of two-letter stations across Canada to indicate the presence of a weather or radio tower.

If more airports crop up in the coming years, four-letter airport designations may join the fleet at some point. We can only hope that those will make more sense.

Sofia Misenheimer
MTL Blog, Associate Editor
Sofia Misenheimer is an Associate Editor for MTL Blog focused on gas prices in Montreal and is based in Montreal, Quebec.
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