What's in a Name? 15 Airline Acronyms Explained

The airline industry loves its acronyms from the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) to IATA (International Air Transport Association). It would only make sense that a bunch of airlines would follow that pattern by shortening their often-lengthy names into just a few simple letters. While airlines like British Airways or Air France take all the guesswork out of their monikers, other like TAME and LIAT can leave even the most avid airline enthusiast #avgeek baffled.

Airline Acronym Names Spelled Out And Their Meanings

Even though it seems like the heyday of airlines acronyms has passed, with legends like TWA, PSA, BOAC, and PAN-AM having all merged or gone the way of the dodo. There remain quite a few airlines that have kept things going with their capitalized multi-lettered handles, including the three oldest operating airlines in the world. Below I will break down the meaning of some major (and minor) airline’s acronymic names and provide a little background history on how they came up with those abbreviated company titles. 

QANTAS

Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Services

Qantas is the flag carrier of Australia and third oldest airline in the world. Founded in Winton, Queensland in 1920 flying mostly taxi and joy flights Qantas has grown out of its corner of Australia.  Qantas now serves 85 destinations worldwide including nonstop flights to Dallas (DFW) and San Francisco (SFO). Since it is a proper noun, it’s one of the few words in the English language with no U directly following the Q.

KLM

Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij 

Bonus points if you guessed it and can pronounce it correctly. Translated, Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij means Royal Aviation Company in English, but it’s commonly referred to as Royal Dutch Airlines. Started a year before Qantas in 1919; KLM has the distinction of being the world's oldest airlines still operating under its original name. Annually rated one of the top airports in Europe, KLM flies to 145 destinations from its hub at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS).

LATAM

LAN – Linea Aérea Nacional & TAM - Táxi Aéreo Marília

LATAM is a portmanteau of two previous South American Airlines LAN and TAM. Chile’s LAN Airlines and Brazil’s TAM Airlines merged and rebranded in 2012 creating the conglomerate of LATAM Airlines Group. Although not official, LATAM is also considered an abbreviation for Latin America the region in which is the airline’s primary focus. 

TAME

Transportes Aéreos Militares Ecuatorianos

Initially founded by the military of Ecuador in 1962, over time TAME gradually increased its number of services and included passenger routes. In 2011, TAME formally changed its status to a state-owned airline and is no longer under the administration of the Ecuadorian Air Force but still has the military moniker in its title. Serving 25 destinations, TAME offers nonstop flights from New York (JFK) and Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) to its hub in Quito (UIO).

TAP

Transportes Aéreos Portugueses

Headquartered in Lisbon, TAP is the national carrier of Portugal. Translated from Portuguese, TAP’s acronym roughly means Portuguese Air Transportations and is much easier to decode than some other airlines on this list. TAP serves over 80 destinations and allows free stopovers at its hub airports in Lisbon (LIS) and Porto (OPO).  

COPA

Compañía Panameña de Aviación

Copa is an acronym formed by taking the first two letters of each word from Compañía Panameña. Not to be confused with “cup” in Spanish, Copa’s name originates from the blend of the official name and is commonly branded as Copa Airlines without using all capital letters. Based in Panama City (PTY), Copa Airlines serves 13 destinations in the United States including Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), and Washington DC (IAD).

TAROM

Transporturi Aeriene Române

The name TAROM is formed by taking the T from Transporturi, the A from Aeriene, and the first three letters ROM from Române. In English, the airline's official name translates to Romanian Air Transport. As the flag-carrying airline of Romania, TAROM is headquartered at Bucharest (OTP) Henri Coanda International Airport and is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance.

ANA

All Nippon Airways

Big in Japan, ANA is the largest airline in the land of the rising sun and is one of the easier acronyms to figure out. Nippon of course, referring to the country name Japan in the Japanese spoken language. All Nippon Airways has a fleet of over 200 airplanes and is the first airline to operate the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

SAS

Scandinavian Airlines System

Founding member of Star Alliance, SAS is an abbreviation of Scandinavian Airlines Systems. SAS serves as the flag carrier for three countries: Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Therefore, SAS has primary hubs in Copenhagen (CPH), Stockholm (ARN), and Oslo (OSL) international airports.

JAL

Japan Airlines Co., Ltd.

JAL is simply an abbreviation of Japan Airlines Company Limited with Company dropped from the official name. Although it is the flag carrier of Japan, it is smaller in size than competitor ANA. Headquartered in Tokyo, it uses both major airports Tokyo (NRT) and Tokyo (HND) as its hubs.

TAAG

Transportes Aéreos de Angola

The national carrier of Angola gets its acronym from the national language of Angola, which is Portuguese. Similar to TAROM and Copa, TAAG selects the first letters from Transportes Aéreos de Angola and the G from Angola to create its four-letter name. Headquartered in Luanda, TAAG has had its share of troubles including a two-year European airspace ban in the late 2000’s and constant restructuring.

LOT

Polskie Linie Lotnicze 

LOT is more an abbreviation than it is a traditional acronym. The Warsaw-based airline gets its three-letter name by shortening the Polish word Lotnicze meaning “flight” to LOT. The Polish national carrier offers nonstop flights from Warsaw (WAW) to four US airports: Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), and New York (JFK).

TUI

Touristik Union International

Standing for Touristik Union International, TUI is more commonly known as a charter travel and tourism company than an official airline. German-based TUI Group is the owner of six different European airlines and has announced that it plans to rebrand those airlines under a single airline banner aptly titled TUI in the upcoming years.

AVIANCA

Aerovías del Continente Americano 

While it doesn’t seem like a straightforward acronym, Avianca gets its name by selecting the following letters from its official title of Aerovías del Continente Americano. Previously called AerovíaNacionales de Colombia, Avianca has kept the same name but changed the letters in which the acronym is formed after many mergers. After KLM, Avianca is the second oldest continuously operated airline and has eight subsidiary Latin American airlines under its holdings group.

LIAT

Leeward Islands Air Transport

LIAT derives its name from the group of islands it serves in the northeast Caribbean. Headquartered at VC Bird International Airport (ANU) on the island of Antigua this small airline flies to 17 destinations in the Caribbean with its fleet of 10 planes. While LIAT officially stands for - Leeward Islands Air Transport locals will jokingly tell you; it can also mean "Leave Island Any Time." 

Header image courtesy of Tupungato via Shutterstock.

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