Landing in San Diego

For 27 years, I have flown in and out of San Diego Airport (Lindbergh Field).  I haven’t counted, but it must amount to many hundreds of flights over the years. And to this day, I am never comfortable landing here.

The San Diego airport is located down by the bay, obviously at sea level. Hills surround it on all sides. The landing approach from the east leads right over Hillcrest. Long before the plane gets near the runway it seemingly skims over the top of the Eucalyptus trees in Balboa Park. The park visitors seem close enough to touch. Since the entire approach from here is downhill, the plane basically slides down the hill, remaining precariously close to the ground as it goes. The highrises of downtown to the left are higher than eyelevel of the observer in the plane. The buildings at the crest of Hillcrest to the right are also higher. Looking down, the tops of palm trees, power lines and apartment buildings seem to be right under the wings of the plane. All the while, the speed seems enormous, so close to the ground.

Just before the airport, the plane finally crosses the wide ribbon of I-5. Next to I-5 is the Laurel Airport Parking building, a six-story parking garage, right in the middle of the flight path.

Laurel Airport Parking Garage

Whoever granted the permit to have this building placed there must be insane.

Here is what it looks like from the east side of the building as a plane approaches the runway, just beyond the parking structure.

Landing in San Diego

This is a Boeing MD-80. There is no photoshopping here. This is real.

I have landed in this type of plane hundreds of times. Every time we make it over this building, I relax and tell myself that I have made another hop safely. I never panic landing at Dallas or Chicago or New York. Runways in those cities are surrounded by flat grassland. Only here, in San Diego, we have a massive, tall parking structure just yards before the plane is supposed to touch down. There is little margin for error.

Playing the odds.

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