FYI: LOL, yes. PMS, no.

Earlier this year the Air Force inadvertently moved six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from North Dakota to Louisiana, which wouldn’t have been a news story except for the facts that no one removed the warheads first and for a few hours no one was quite sure where the missiles were. Details, I know.
Could this whole near-disaster have been avoided? Absolutely. And while the Air Force has made it clear that the problem was that existing procedures simply were not followed, I would suggest they take a page from the playbook of the commercial airlines, and in the future treat nuclear missiles as if they were passengers’ luggage. I know, that sounds like a lot to ask because it’s clear that our nation’s airlines watch over our luggage the way a mother bear protects her cubs.
And as a first step in that transition, I would encourage the Air Force to rely more heavily on the three-letter designations that the International Air Transport Association uses for airports. In other words, if they are sending a couple of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to — for instance — Burlington, they should put a luggage tag around them with the failsafe letters BTV: The worldwide code for Burlington International Airport.
I like those codes a lot. I first noticed them a few years ago when I was arriving in Bradford, Pa., to speak at a small college. I grabbed my suitcase in baggage and saw that Bradford had the following three-letter airport designation: BFD. I have the maturity of a 7-year-old, and so instantly I thought of what BFD really stands for: Big Freaking Deal. (Some people, of course, use a more colorful and adult adjective than “freaking,” but you get the point.) BFD is the sarcastic shorthand for news or information that someone else thinks is momentous and you believe is a snooze-fest.
Yes, even before the brave new world of cell phone text messages, I was getting in touch with my inner teenage girl and thinking in three-letter abbreviations.
And ever since that trip to Bradford, those airport codes have been taking up a lot of the precious (and, apparently, diminishing) space in the hard drive behind my eyes. Now a lot of us know the basic codes, such as the fact that BTV stands for Burlington. This one makes complete sense. Many of us also know that Los Angeles International Airport is LAX, which also make sense: The LA is for Los Angeles and the X is for cool. But then there are those codes designed for aviation history geeks. To wit: O’Hare International Airport is ORD, which makes absolutely no sense unless you know that O’Hare once was called Orchard Depot Field.
My personal favorites among the codes? There’s LOL, which is not Laugh-Out-Loud Airport, but is actually Derby Field in Lovelock, Nev. There’s DIE (an airport that must give even the calmest flyers among us the creeps) in Madagascar. For the sports aficionados, there’s PGA in Page, Ariz. and NFL in Fallon, Nev. There is SOB — a reference either to tears or cads, depending upon your take — in Hungary. Rockford, Ill., has RFD. And Sioux City, Iowa, has SUX, which city boosters once tried and failed to have changed, but now leverage with their special “Fly SUX” marketing campaign.
No one, alas, has FYI, XXX, BBQ or PMS. I checked.
In any case, attaching stickers with airport codes to nuclear missiles will go a long way toward restoring the nation’s confidence in the men and women who control our nuclear arsenal.
Unfortunately, it won’t solve the problem completely. Once those missiles arrived in Louisiana, the planes sat on the runway for four hours before anyone noticed there were live warheads on the wings. And the only way to solve that sort of human error is to bring in the very best people, the sort of dedicated individuals who would never leave luggage sitting around an airport for four hours: It’s time for the Air Force to put our nuclear arsenal in the capable hands of our nation’s baggage handlers.
Can anyone out there spell DOA?
(The column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on December 9, 2007.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

2 thoughts on “FYI: LOL, yes. PMS, no.

  1. Jim Daley says:

    A couple of thoughts on LOL – PMS.
    Worldwide airport codes are developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) not the International Air Transport Association.
    All codes are 4 letters with the first designating the country….K for the USA, thus KBTV.
    Jim Daley
    If luggage tags read only BTV, the luggage might well end up in SBVT, Goibeiras, Brazil.
    As for BFD, I think (not sure) there is a designation YBFD in Nanning, Southwest China.
    Might be a bit of a wait for lost and found returns.
    The (K)ORD designation came from the Orchard Place/Douglas Field name where a manufacturing plant for Douglas C-54s was built during WW2

  2. IMO (International Madhouse, Officially) says:

    Well, here are some of abbreviation suggestions of my own, and I’ll even make up some (pointless and inexplicable) meanings for them:
    DUH (Duluth Airport Haven)
    OMG (O’Reilly Mismanagement And Guile)
    DIRT (Danbury International Raging Transit)
    BYOB (Bridgeway Youth Oriented & Barely-trained)
    None of it makes any sense. It’s probably due to the fact that I’ve only been on a plane *once* in my life, *pre* 9/11. Well, either that or the early-onset Alzheimers is kicking in with ever greater ferocity…)

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