A Dutch student has flown to Sydney, Nova Scotia, a town with a population of 32,000, instead of the one in Australia, population five million. It's not the first time it's happened.

There are several other pairs of cities with similar or identical names (e.g., Manchesters in New Hampshire and the UK; San Joses in California and Costa Rica). What's the best way of avoiding this problem when booking international flights?

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    Other famous examples: London (Ontario, Canada) vs London (UK); Birmingham (Alabama, US) vs Birmingham (UK); Manchester (NH, US) vs Manchester (UK); Rochester (NY, US) vs Rochester (MN, US); San Jose (CA, US) vs San Jose (Costa Rica); Florence (SC, US) vs Florence (Italy). One good solution is to become familiar with airport codes. – Nate Eldredge Apr 1 '17 at 6:07
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    Step 1: don't be an idiot – JonathanReez Apr 1 '17 at 6:16
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    Step 2: see step 1 – Doc Apr 1 '17 at 6:47
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Apr 2 '17 at 13:18

Check the airport code. City names may be similar, but they always have unique three-letter airport codes, and these are always shown in flight booking engines. So just look them up on Wikipedia, and you won't mistake YQY with SYD.

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    Also a good way of checking you're going to, eg, the "real" Frankfurt Airport (FRA) and not Frankfurt-Hahn (HHN), 75 miles away... – Andrew Apr 1 '17 at 11:38
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    But how to know you've got the right airport code? I'm going to San José; is it SJC or SJO? – phoog Apr 1 '17 at 14:11
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    @phoog do you know the way to San José? – Robert Columbia Apr 1 '17 at 14:38
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    Alternatively, you might enter the three-letter airport code on a flighttracker, e.g. flightradar24.com will show the airport on a map. – Sabine Apr 1 '17 at 14:49
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    @RobertColumbia I've been away so long I may go wrong and lose my way. – phoog Apr 1 '17 at 15:12

Mainly, you avoid these types of mistakes by just double checking the IATA codes (as mentioned by the other answers) for your destination airport... when you're paying to fly across the world, it pays to be extra careful, and make sure you've done your homework.

  • Check the IATA airport codes - kind of an obvious one. Research exactly where it is you're landing. Google map it, the whole deal. I really like airportcod.es for this, and WikiVoyage which tells you about the airport, which airlines serve it, and how to get to it via different forms of transport. This is especially important when using low-cost carriers (Ryanair I'm looking at you...) because they take some "creative liberties" with the airport names. Ex: "Milan Bergamo Airport" (is not in Milan! But 1.5 hours away in the small city of Bergamo.)

Additionally though:

  • Check the total flight time - I'm surprised no one's mentioned this. If I was flying from Europe to Australia and noticed the flight time was less than 12 hours, that should raise some red flags. I like to use Google Flights to get an idea of the flights times, and usual number of layovers for any particular itinerary, before even trying to buy the fare.
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    Interesting you mention flight time - one reason that the Dutch student chose this flight was because it was about $200 cheaper than the alternatives, for reasons that are all too obvious in hindsight. – Andrew Grimm Apr 8 '17 at 8:08

The best way to avoid this problem is to use a travel agent, who will be familiar with the airport codes. Of course, most people prefer to avoid the inconvenience and expense by buying the ticket ourselves, which puts the responsibility for checking the details on our own shoulders.

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    Based on my experience with travel agents, I consider i far more likely that a travel agent makes such a mistake, than that I do. – gerrit Apr 2 '17 at 11:19
  • @gerrit: even if you are right, you can then tell the agent to sort out the mistake. and pay any fees. – Tim Lymington Apr 3 '17 at 9:33
  • Based on my experience with travel agents, they will purposely book a flight to Sydney, Nova Scotia so they get kickbacks from the city's tourism industry. – Martín Fixman Apr 3 '17 at 21:35

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