Fly-In Expressway Visual

Say what you will about LaGuardia Airport (its delays, its small size, and other annoyances), but flights landing there offer passengers some of the most splendid views of NYC imaginable; a final approach invariably becomes something of a matter-of-course sightseeing tour. Moreover, it’s long been suspected that not only airline passengers but pilots too enjoy the aerial view of the city as they prepare for landing at LaGuardia. In fact, pilots not only enjoy the view they often rely on the scenery to guide them to the airport.

The approach to LaGuardia is known to pilots and air-traffic controllers as the “expressway visual approach”: Shea Stadium and the Long Island Expressway being the primary visual points. Most of them routinely follow the expressway until they arrive at the eastern side of the stadium before banking left at the outfield wall and heading straight for Runway 31.

Some pilots who happen to be baseball aficionados in general and Mets fans in particular have been known to delight in high-level look-sees at games in progress at Shea on their approach to La Guardia. The delightful nearly turned very ugly 46 years ago when a pilot possibly became more engrossed in activities on the ball field rather than in the sky:

In 1964, the Mets’ first season at Shea, a pilot got an even closer look. He mistook the lights on top of the stadium for the runway and nearly hit it as the team took batting practice before a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, according to sportswriters who covered the Mets that season and a player on the field that day.

Of course, we’re talking about the old Shea Stadium here and that stadium is no more. The Mets now play at their new stomping ground directly across the street from the old, beloved because nostalgic, ball park. In any event, the new stadium now serves as the primary visual approach for pilots landing at LaGuardia.

In the video accompanying this post, the Shea Stadium/ LI Expressway spot comes into view at the bottom of the screen at 3:36–3:55 into the footage; it’s adjacent to the Unisphere (the globular object) and the NY State Pavilion (the circular structure with the two towers), two of the last remaining landmarks from the 1964 World’s Fair; both the old/ new stadiums can be seen at  left/ right (the “expressway visual approach”) as the plane crosses Flushing Bay and lands.

(originally posted: o6/25/10)

New York Times