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Jewish World Review April 12, 2002 / Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

What's a 3-letter word
that means Sioux City? | With all the serious aviation-related problems the federal government is facing, this would seem to be a small one.

But not for the people of Sioux City, Iowa.

As the war on terror continues, the Federal Aviation Administration is consumed with planning better security systems, with trying to minimize flight delays, with making certain the skies stay safe.

As this is going on, Sioux City is approaching the FAA with a request that is very important to the town.

It doesn't have to do with air safety. It has to do with the Sioux City airport's three-letter identifier.

You know what an identifier is. It's the three capital letters that form the code for each airport -- the three letters that appear on baggage tags, in printed flight guides, on tickets. The three-letter identifier is the calling card for a town, as far as air travel is concerned.

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is ORD; Los Angeles International is LAX; John F. Kennedy in New York is JFK.

Which brings us to Sioux City. Its airport identifier is:


You see the problem. In an era in which every town in the United States is doing everything it can to portray itself in a good and welcoming light, the men and women who run things in Sioux City -- as well as the everyday citizens of the town -- would prefer that every visitor heading there did not look at his or her baggage-claim tag, and see, in big capital letters: SUX.

It just gives the impression that Sioux City. . . .

Well, you know.

"This city has had that airport code for as long as anyone can remember," said Glenn Januska, the director of Sioux City's airport. "I assume it was because those three letters were a shorter way to say 'Sioux.'

"But maybe back then, the word didn't have the bad meaning it does now."

Paul Eckert, city manager of Sioux City -- which is in northwestern Iowa, and has a population of 85,013 -- agreed that in the days of his parents and grandparents, those three letters did not convey the same meaning they do now: "I think it wasn't until the '70s and '80s that people began using that word in a way that isn't so nice," he said.

Sioux City's government and business leaders are all supporting the effort to ask the FAA to change the three-letter code. "This is a very community-oriented town, with good, strong, traditional Midwestern values," Eckert said. "We have great pride in our city, and in our quality of life. So when people fly in here, and the first thing they see about the town is. . . ."

Well. You know.

At the FAA, officials said they are willing to take a look at Sioux City's request, but that changes in three-letter identifiers for airports are extremely rare, because such changes can be confusing for pilots -- and expensive for airlines, which have to revise printed matter. "But we are open to talking with Sioux City," FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said.

In Sioux City, officials are not completely optimistic about their chances. "I have been told the only reason the FAA ever accepts for changing an airport code is if it's a safety issue," airport director Januska said. "I'm not sure how a three-letter identifier can be a safety issue -- unless pilots are laughing so loud when they hear it that it distracts them from doing their jobs."

This is not the first time Sioux City has tried to get rid of the SUX designator. In the '80s, the city asked the FAA to change the code, Januska said, and it almost happened. But Sioux City was not overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the replacement options the FAA gave it, and decided to stay with what it had.

"One option the FAA gave Sioux City in the '80s was to change the identifier to GAY," Januska said, without comment.

A big reason that Sioux City wants to change the identifier now is that the airport has added the name of a highly decorated living war hero to its title -- the airport is now officially called Sioux Gateway Airport/Col. Bud Day Field. Eckert said:

"We just think that, especially with the airport honoring Col. Day, it's not the best thing to have people look at their baggage-claim tags and think that the city. . . ."


This week, Sioux City's civic leaders are preparing their written request to the FAA. They know that, in a time of nervous travel and America at war, this is not the biggest issue the FAA has to deal with.

Still, they'd really like their code to be changed.

"It's like a burr under your saddle," Januska said. "It just hangs around and hangs around."

City manager Eckert said that the current identifier is not much of a help in attracting new businesses to Sioux City.

"We do everything we can to show our best side," he said. "But that's difficult when the first thing people see when they're coming here is. . . ."

You know.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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