LGA: Landing on LaGarbage.


Normally the jet handles smoothly with 3,200 PSI of hydraulic muscle powering the flight controls–but not flying down final at LaGuardia on a day when a gale blusters over the water as you slow and dirty up the jet. Sometimes, too, it seems like the eight foot tall winglets aggravate the tendency to weathervane in high crosswinds, and though the engineers might disagree, realtime air sense says otherwise.

Well, you’ve known about this wind for the last 1,200 miles; no surprise there. But foreknowledge doesn’t give you any more rudder throw or a definitive bank to set in gusty winds. Now the question is, will the rudder be sufficient, or the commensurate wing-low maneuver be too excessive to keep the engine pod on the low wing from scraping? Got to keep the nose tracking straight down the runway–can’t land in a crab, especially on a short, wet runway.


On downwind, you can see RJs–regional jets–touching down smartly, but again, I wonder about their flying real estate: our wing has more acreage, thus not as clean, and I don’t care what the engineers might say (I think I know), our winglets hold the wing stiffer and the lessened flexibility translates more lateral motion to the jet. End result: rougher ride.

All of that comes with the territory: you know the limits and the options, so pre-planning is key to not looking stupid, or in less conspicuous terms, to arriving safely. And that is, arriving in the vicinity of LaGuardia: we’ve already discussed among ourselves, one approach, then clearance on request to JFK.

But why not plan enough fuel for two or more approaches? Isn’t there a good chance that if you fly down to minimums, then go-around, that on the next approach you’ll know exactly how to counter the winds?


I’ve had that conversation with more than one new captain, when I was a Check Airman, taking the newly four-striped pilot through the initial flights of what one hopes will be a long, safe career as pilot in command. The “newly four-striped” distinction is the key–meaning, hasn’t scared the snot out of himself yet. Let me help.

I learned the hard way; uh, I mean, I heard of others getting caught in this line of reasoning. It’s borne of the can-do attitude, the feeling that you can handle anything and everything thrown at you and your jet, and you’d damn well better be able to. But the key is, you don’t want to have to.

I “discovered” a long time ago and have never challenged the fact that there’s nothing I’m going to see on that second approach that’s any different or better than on the first. And as important; no, MORE important, is this: no matter how much extra fuel you take on, it will require more.

Which puts you in the very ugly “all or nothing” mindset when you finally do get vectored back onto final approach, because inevitably you will have eaten up your mental fuel endurance padding (not your legal reserve, which isn’t even an issue–you NEVER stray into that) which means if you DON’T get it on the ground on this one, you’re really must-land at your alternate.


With that alternate being JFK, you’re going to look real stupid for declaring an emergency for fuel (swallow your pride–you’re out of options) in order to bust into their landing pattern ahead of the big rigs arriving from overseas. At least if you declare an emergency, you can demand the headwind runway–you’re already looking stupid, might as well take full advantage.

And sure, they’re all pretty at closing time, but in a jet, as captain, you’d better go ugly early and get out of town–or one of these long flight days, you’ll wish you had.

While on final, I’m cursing the powers that be for landing us with a direct cross while take-offs are being done on the crossing runway and thus, with a direct headwind, and I make a note to find out who and why this illogic (at least from a pilot standpoint) decides who gets the crosswind.

Because as a pilot, I’d prefer to face the crosswind on take-off in a state of increasing energy and control responsiveness rather than the reverse: slowing, losing energy and control effectiveness on landing. Plus, on take-off, once the wheels are off the deck, who cares: weathervane into the wind, that’s fine.

So a day later I grumbled about this to the most experienced pilot in the free world, a 747 instructor pilot and one of the few aviators entrusted with an open ATP–meaning the FAA has said he’s certified to fly any and every aircraft in the world.

Long JFK runway.

We both agreed that LaGuardia must use the same runways that are in use at JFK because they are so geographically close–you can’t have jets at LaGarbage on a south final with JFK launching north departures.

But then Randy offered the key, which I hadn’t thought of: JFK is launching heavies loaded down with fuel for 3,000 to 6,000 mile flights. And the long runway is key–so, LaGarbage conforms, and now I’m wrestling a crosswind on final.

Usually, below 200 feet is adequate to put in the cross-controls to be sure they’re sufficient and really, if you put them in much higher, the winds near the surface will be different anyway. But with LaGarbage having a “go ugly early” type day, and me seeing the runway only out of the far corner of the wind screen (smartass to the end, I ask my F/O, “Does it seem like we’re flying sideways to you?”), I start feeding in the rudder and dropping the upwind wing at 500 feet.

The wing shudders at the cross controls–winglets, I’m telling you, they don’t like it–and the upwind spoilers create an additional burble. My apologies to those passengers aft of the center of gravity, especially those near the tail, who’ve just asked themselves does it seem like we’re flying sideways? Can’t be helped–I ain’t the ace of the base, just an average, journeyman pilot who doesn’t do wondrous, spectacular things with the jet. I need time to get these controls set where they need to be.


And truly, I feel no pressure at all, because Plan B is set: if this doesn’t feel right below 100′ (we’re flirting with the max demonstrated crosswind for the aircraft), we’re simply getting out of town to enter either JFK’s or Newark’s pattern with a fuel pad that makes the process simple and routine.

It’s not going to be pretty, because the runway is short and we have ironclad touchdown distance limits. Fine, but it will be on speed, no crab, and where it needs to be. Passengers will say the touchdown felt as if everyone in Manhattan simultaneously jumped off a chair, but no matter; safe, stable and however un-pretty that may be, let’s all just give thanks that Boeing makes one tough, reliable and durable jet.

Because besides flying back to DFW in less than an hour, we get to do this turnaround tomorrow and the next day, too.

At least tomorrow into LaGarbage it will be me watching and my very capable F/O wrestling the jet. Then he can ask, does it seem like we’re flying sideways? Yes, it does–and now you know why.

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28 Responses to “LGA: Landing on LaGarbage.”

  1. Randy Sohn Says:

    Chris – glad to see that you said “max demonstrated”, w-a-y too many pilots think that the approved flight manual says “max”.

    • Yeah, the attorneys found a way to adjust that verbiage to “demonstrated” rather than “maximum,” which after any incident lets them say, “We never told you the limit.”

  2. Bill Brandt Says:

    I always remember seeing that film of Boeing testing their planes to crosswind landings in the interior of Brazil – absolutely amazing.

    And the Lufthansa Airbus in Hamburg striking the left wing on the runway – coming in so crabbed that one would think – by 100′ AGL – from the armchair – that landing wasn’t salvageable.

    Have a friend – retired 777 captain – who has the best saying: “Being a good pilot means not having to demonstrate all the skills you are supposed to have”.

    Or he says something close to that.

    i want to reread your post Chris – how you use discipline to abort the approach (with the pressure to GET THERE) – years ago a strong crosswind almost severely messed up my plane – and probably me – because on my solo I forgot the rudder pedals were more than foot rests.

    Learned a lot that day.

  3. […] Laguardia Airport, LGA, passenger. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own […]

  4. roberthenryfischat Says:

    Reblogged this on robert's space and commented:
    take care.

  5. Very well written.It appears to be a flight on Southwest at least from the pictures presented. I think it would have been equally entertaining to describe landing on runway 31 in aTWA L1011 on a blustery day.

    • I’ve landed a DC-10 at LGA many, many times back when we flew them and it was a breeze–a lot of bulk that stayed steady in the wind, and when you got the gear on the pavement, it just seemed to want to decelerate and stop. It was surprisingly easy to fly it in and out.

  6. I remember coming in to LGA as a pax in an Embraer! Oh, what fun, it was basically 1, 2 , 3 WHEE!!!! 🙂

  7. RJ Everyday Says:

    Saw the notice of this blog on Airline Pilot Central. Good stuff, I will subscribe and recommend it to others.

    • Always nice when someone directs traffic our way. Over 10,000 visitors today, a few more are always welcome. Thanks for subscribing.

      • DL767F/O Says:

        I came over to so I could see what the big deal was from a hater on APC. I like this, and your MH370 posts. Keep em coming.

      • OMG, somebody on another forum has a bee up his ass about this blog? Not sure whether to dial 9-1-1, or just go back to watching the Pawn Stars marathon I DVR’d. Think I’ll finish this episode–Big Hoss is trying to buy a vintage El Dorado.

      • I followed the link out of APC and you are right on, its what I’ve said all along. APC is full of blowhards and self appointed authorities, but most people just read and lurk there, see them for the windbags/wannabes that they are. Keep up the good work.

      • Yours is the more typical message I get from those coming over from that forum. Only had a couple junior-high type outbursts, of course, “manly men” hiding behind fake email addresses. Regardless, they can’t help themselves, can’t resist reading this blog then throwing a tantrum in APC–which brings normal folks like you over, which is good.

  8. As a passenger, I always try to fly into Newark when I’m going to NYC… Partially because the other two always look way more like chainsaw juggling than I like. I suppose it’s ’cause I’m from the West, but airports should have elbow room. Newark looks, to me, like it has the most.

    • I guess for air traffic controllers in the NY metro area, it is like chainsaw juggling.

      From a cockpit perspective, EWR has on two runways, one normally for takeoffs, one for landing, which leads to a lot of congestion and long, drawn out traffic patterns. It’s JFK for me, with more runways and more headings into the wind.

  9. here’s a couple of general queries unrelated to this article I’ve always wanted to ask a pilot.

    1. why do the cabin crew tell the passengers what altitude the plane will be flying at? The view is much the same at 35K and 29K feet – as is the internal cabin environment (am aware that cabin pressure does differ). Ditto the outside air temperature – its what its like on the inside that is more important.

    2. If the announcer wants to be verbose why not say something useful like how to perform the valsalva manoeuvre in the event of a blocked eustachian tube. I regularly see people in agony due to this and perforated eardrums from barotrauma do happen. It will not work every time but its better than nothing.


    • #1: probably because the altitude and flight time seem to be the most asked questions in the cabin. Plus, arrival weather and connections. So the cabin crew tries to shortstop the deluge of call lights and chimes by disseminating the most sought after information at the start.

      #2: dunno, but PA verbosity seems to be frowned on in the cabin. I find it annoying myself, so I limit what I say on the PA from the cockpit.

  10. Have you ever had a flight where a tailwind made you arrive at an airport earlier than expected? I only ask because when I flew from KBNA to KBUR, the pilot came on and said we would be arriving 30 minutes early due to a strong tailwind. Also, have you flown to KBNA a lot? Another thing I remember is that KBNA built an American Airlines Hub or something at our airport and American Airlines didn’t use it for long and the city of Nashville was very upset.

  11. Saw the link in APC . . . if they “hate” something it usually means I’ll really like it . . . I do–good work, realistic flight logic. The reason there’s a password required at APC is because the childishness there is embarassing to the entire airline pilot profession.

  12. Just this article about a recent Air India flight that had to be diverted because of fog. The divert was all fogged up too but they had to land because they literally ran out of fuel. Doesn’t look like there were any serious injuries but yeah, hull loss. Seems to make your point pretty emphatically.


  13. sirkka shefflin Says:

    I see the search areas over the seas/oceans…are there any landing strips on land areas of various islands that 370 flew over after the sharp turn and turning of the transponders?

  14. Quiet wing Says:

    Why can’t you land in a crab on a short and wet runway? I thought it was a Boeing approved technique. I enjoy your blog.

  15. Chris
    I was wondering,when landing the 737 in a crosswind, do you land on one rear wheel and then set the other one down? Or, do you level the wings just before touchdown? The reason I ask is, It doesn’t look like there’s much clearance between the engine pods and the ground.

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