Pilots: Landing Planes Without Shea Will Be Tough

With all of the teary-eyed farewells being given to the ballpark in the Bronx, few outisde of New York seem to realize that Shea Stadium is perhaps seeing its last weekend of baseball as well. But, as far as I can tell, ESPN didn’t shoot a stirring tribute to the stadium featuring a wistful Ron Swoboda embracing a feral cat.


While most aren’t going to miss the big lug, Shea’s pending demolition is going to throw the wrench in the day-to-day life of a very specific group of people who really don’t need a wrench thrown in their day-to-day lives: airline pilots. If you’ve ever been to a Mets game, you’ve heard the planes. Seems that Shea is one of the visual landmarks used to land them at La Guardia Airport, and its demolition might make things a little hairy.

Buried in Michael Schmidt’s NEW YORK TIMES piece about the relationship between airport and ballpark is this very reassuring quote from one pilot who flies in and out of La Guardia a lot:

“It will be a little trial and error the first few times as we learn how far we need to be from Citi Field after Shea is gone,” Mayer said.

“One of your familiar landmarks and orientation points won’t be there anymore.”

That’s right, potential airline passenger: your pilot might need a little practice before getting that landing exactly right. I mean, it’s not like anything could really go wrong if he misses the runway by a couple of feet.

Schmidt explains that flight patterns will have to be changed when Shea is imploded:

La Guardia is one of the few airports in the country where pilots use land markers instead of instruments to guide their landings, along with Seattle (a shopping mall) and Washington (a river). Shea Stadium, which from the sky looks like a blue circle with a green center, is a primary runway guidepost.

A pilot back in 1964 almost demolished the stadium himself:

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.

Naturally, one of the pilots quoted in the article shares a name with a somewhat notable personality in the stadium’s history:

Considering the unusual relationship between airport and ballpark, perhaps it was inevitable that a pilot looking down on Shea would share a name with one of the biggest stars on the field below. Mike Piazza, a first officer for Delta Airlines, says he has landed at La Guardia about 60 times, including trips earlier this decade when another Mike Piazza was the Mets’ top slugger.

In related news, United co-pilot Armando Benitez has asked to be transferred to the west coast because he keeps getting food thrown at him when he walks through La Guardia for some reason.