In a report tabled in parliament last month, India‘s Committee on Public Undertakings has recommended to the government that the airport code for Gaya Airport, also known as Bodhgaya Airport, be changed. The panel asked that government officials take the matter up with the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
An IATA airport code is a three-letter geocode, defined by IATA, designating many airports and metropolitan areas around the world. The characters are prominently displayed on baggage tags attached at airport check-in desks as well as on airline tickets, etc.
IATA’s current code for Gaya Airport is ‘GAY’ which the panels deems ‘inappropriate’ since Gaya, located in India’s northeastern state of Bihar, is a holy city and a major Hindu pilgrimage site. It is also a holy site for the religions of Jainism and Buddhism, with the Mahabodhi Temple, a World Heritage Site, said to be the place where the Buddha gained enlightenment.
Committee members have described the IATA code as ‘offensive and embarrassing’ and want it replaced, suggesting an alternative code such as ‘YAG’.
Under IATA rules, though, there needs to be a justifiable reason related to air safety to authorise a change in the code. The civil aviation ministry told the panel that “The GAY code for Gaya has been in use since the operationalisation of this airport; therefore, without any justifiable reason primarily concerning air safety, IATA has expressed its inability to change the code of Gaya airport”.
Meanwhile, LGBTQ rights groups say the attempted name change speaks of increasing homophobia, with Indrajeet Ghorpade, a LGBTQ rights advocate from the group Yes, We Exist India, saying, “It is shameful that instead of celebrating that India has such a unique code for an airport and making it a symbol of inclusivity, the government wants to do what it does best, change names”.