What’s in a name: Why airports end up with so many of them

Dec 14, 2021

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John F. Kennedy International (JKF). George Bush Intercontinental (IAH). Reagan National (DCA). Baltimore–Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). Daniel K. Inouye International (HNL). Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta (ATL). It’s typically known that these airports were renamed after three presidents, an iconic Supreme Court justice, an influential senator who was a hero in World War II and two mayors, respectively.

Related: The votes are in — readers pick the best airports for the 2021 TPG Awards

Airports are named after people who make major contributions to the United States that may also have a tie to the community where the facility is located. But as times change, sometimes airport names can change, which is the case of Las Vegas’s airport. McCarran International (LAS) — named after Sen. Pat McCarran (D-Nev.) for his contributions in growing Sin City — will now be called Harry Reid International Airport after the former Senate Majority Leader who represented the state for 30 years and retired in 2017.

There are dozens of airports across the U.S. renamed after prominent people. Below we list some of these airports and the names behind them.

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Arnold Palmer Regional Airport (LBE): The city of Latrobe, Pennsylvania — about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh — changed the name of the airport from Westmoreland County Airport to the golf legend and pilot in 1999. Palmer grew up less than a mile from the runway where he watched the world’s first official airmail pickup in 1939.

Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT): The airport serving the state capital of Arkansas was renamed in 2012 after the 42nd president of the United States and the First Lady and former secretary of state in the Obama administration.

(Photo by Forge Productions/Shutterstock)

Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM): This Alabama airport was renamed in 2008 after Civil Rights icon the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jackson-Evers International Airport (JAN): Jackson, Mississippi, renamed the airport for Medgar Wiley Evers, a Civil Rights activist who served as Mississippi’s field secretary for the NAACP. He was assassinated on June 12, 1963, and his murder set the stage for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CHM): The city honored the pioneering Mercury Seven astronaut and a four-term U.S. senator representing Ohio by renaming Port Columbus International Airport after him on June 14, 2016.

The new terminal at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. (Photo courtesy of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport)

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY): Originally named Moisant Field, after aviation pioneer John Bevins Moisant, the airport adopted the name of the legendary jazz trumpeter in August 2001 in honor of his 100th birthday.

Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF): The airport was originally named Standiford Field. It was named for Dr. Elisha David Standiford, who played an important role in Louisville transportation history and owned part of the land on which the airport was built. It was renamed to honor the iconic boxer — and hometown legend — in 2019.

Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport (SJC): The airport was renamed in November 2001 for the former congressman, civil rights activist, Commerce secretary during the Clinton administration and DOT secretary during the George W. Bush administration. He has received awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, awarded for significant public service of enduring value to the field of aviation.

Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport (AMA): This Texas airport was renamed after NASA astronaut and city native Rick Husband, who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in February 2003.

Ted Stevens International Airport (ANC) in Anchorage. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC): The Alaska Legislature renamed the airport in 2000 after the state’s U.S. senator who served for 41 years, retiring in 2009. He survived a plane crash at the airport in 1978 that killed his wife.

Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport (ICT): After the old Wichita Mid-Continent Airport terminal closed in 2015, the new terminal opened. It was renamed after the five-star general considered one of the heroes of World War II who also became the 34th president of the United States.

Yeager Airport (CRW): Based in Charleston, West Virginia, and formerly the Kanawha Airport, it was renamed in 1985 after the Air Force pilot and general who broke the speed of sound on Oct. 14, 1947.

Related: How US airports continue to recover from the pandemic

Featured photo by Bettmann/CORBIS/Bettmann Archive

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