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posted: 2/1/2014 5:45 AM

Luckily, pilots landing at wrong airport is rare

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Do you know the way to San Jose? Apparently, a passenger didn't a few years ago. She ended up in California when she should have landed in Costa Rica.

But that's not as bad as when a pilot lands at the wrong airport. Which is what happened to Southwest Airlines a few weeks ago.

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You probably read about it. The plane was scheduled to fly from Chicago to Branson, Mo. Instead, it touched down on a tiny runway just three miles from downtown Branson at the M. Graham Clark Airport.

In the pilot's defense, if passengers preferred walking into town, it was closer than Branson Airport. And because the aircraft stopped just short of landing on a major highway, passengers would have had no problem hitching a ride into town.

But that doesn't fill passengers with confidence. What's more, it isn't the first time pilots have lost their way.

During the 1960s, a TWA flight headed for Columbus, Ohio, took a wrong turn and the Boeing 707 jet ended up at the University of Ohio's landing field. For awhile, it looked like getting the aircraft airborne wouldn't happen. Some entrepreneur checked out the possibility of turning a Boeing 707 into a restaurant. Since airport cuisine doesn't have a big draw among most diners, he dropped the idea. Instead, to this day, a picture of the aircraft hangs on the wall in the campus airfield restaurant.

In 2003, the University of Notre Dame chartered Chautauqua Airlines to fly their basketball team from Providence, R.I., to South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame beat Providence 71-65, but Chautauqua Airlines lost. They dropped the ball and landed at a regional airport 12 miles away.

Most wrong-airport landings happen within a few miles of the designated airport. But not all. In 1995, a Northwest Airlines didn't just miss the airport. It missed the country. The flight was scheduled to fly from Detroit to Germany. It landed in Belgium.

Douglas 'Wrong Way' Corrigan started the trend when he filed flight plans to travel from New York to California in 1938. Instead, he landed in Ireland. Corrigan claimed heavy clouds confused his navigational directions. But most experts believe he did it on purpose after he was denied the right to fly from New York to Ireland.

Since then, there have been nearly 100 documented and more unconfirmed wrong airport incidents. (For more information check out a list compiled by Jol Silversmith at www.thirdamendment.com/wrongway.html).

But if you are going to San Jose and you hear your pilot humming the words, "Do you know the way to San Jose?" push your flight attendant call button. The cockpit just might need your help.

• Gail Todd is a freelance writer who worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at gailtodd@aol.com.

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