Southwest Airways Flight 844 from Minneapolis had just landed at Chicago’s Midway International Airport last December and was about to cross a runway on its way to the terminal when the co-pilot noticed a business jet barreling toward him. He shouted for the captain to stop. The plane, carrying 74 passengers, screeched to a halt just short of the runway as the smaller jet crossed before their eyes.
Seconds later, the Southwest pilot called the control tower. “I want you to acknowledge you cleared us on a runway while a plane was taking off,” he said. “We had to hit the brakes and the thing went right over our head.”
Though most passengers may not be aware of the hazards on the ground, such near misses are not isolated events. Since 2008, there have been about three incidents a day in which a plane or a vehicle gets on an active runway by mistake, an average of 1,000 a year. That number has held steady for the last four years while the total number of flights has declined.