20 Years Ago The Chicago Political Machine Broke Federal Law And Shut Down An Airport

In the early morning of March 31, 2003, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley ordered city bulldozers to gouge the surface of the single runway at Meigs Field airport adjacent to downtown Chicago with large X’s in the surface. He had announced his intention to close the airport 9 years earlier and finally decided to just destroy it, since he couldn’t close it.

The next day he announced that he was just trying to create a smooth process, and save the city money. There was no longer a reason to spend money litigating the issue in court, since there was no more airport to save. There were planes left at the airport stranded, and those were eventually allowed to take off from the 3,000 foot taxiway.

Over time the airport had been home to both commercial and private aviation, most recently with Great Lakes offering United Express service into 2001. Meigs had opened in 1948 and become the busiest single strip airport in the United States. Four months after the demolition of the runway, a plane made an emergency landing – on the grass beside the runway, since it was unusable.

The City of Chicago was fined the maximum-allowable $33,000 for their illegal destruction of the airport. And as a result the law was changed – the “Meigs Legacy provision” – to increase penalties nine-fold. Chicago also had to repay $1 million to the FAA because they used aviation funds to demolish the runway and to build a park in its place.

Meigs Field had actually been the default airport for the Microsoft Flight Simulator – until it was destroyed by the city, and replaced in the 2004 edition of the software.

(HT: @crucker)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Thanks for the very timely and relevant reminder that the corruption of the Chicago democrat machine has no rival. I’d never live there. It’s just a shame that Chicago style corruption spread to the federal government as well.

  2. Corruption knows no political boundaries, David. Nor does it necessarily spread upwards. Please look up Iran-Contra, James Watt, Rita Lavelle. etc., etc. etc.

  3. And nothing of any consequence happened to Democrat Mayor Daley for committing a major act of sabotage against federal civilian infrastructure. The city had to repay a few shekels, but Daley himself was paid nothing out of pocket and didn’t lose a moment of personal freedom. It pays to be played for the team that rigs the game.

  4. I am not going to disagree about corruption in Chicago, but I think some facts need to be set straight for this item: Chicago tried to get FAA to close Meigs to no avail after 9/11. The airport was about 10 blocks from downtown Chicago. They waited well over a year, during very turbulent times, before taking matters into their own hands.

    Today, Northerly Island is a park and sanctuary. It really is a beautiful place.

    Say what you wish about Mayor Daley, he planted more trees than anyone except maybe Johnny Appleseed…assuming that they were a real person….I mean Johnny Appleseed.

    On the whole, I think this was good for Chicago, I don’t know of anyone crying over the loss of Meigs 20 years later. We have all endured….

  5. As a resident of Chicago I can say the nature preserve has been a lovely addition to our lovely city. Certainly beats using prime real estate to the benefit the few.

  6. Mayor Daley should be arrested, even now, and sent to federal prison for life for doing this. He did the same thing that terrorists do or want to do.

    Not true.
    I have been to Meigs Field as a tourist and not on a private plane. I have never been to that park.

  8. Thumbs up to Daley. The traffic for Meigs was majority private, especially the politicians from Springfield. The park he created is much nicer than a slab of concrete. I laughed when I woke up and found that he had done this.

  9. @John Hoffman “Chicago tried to get FAA to close Meigs to no avail after 9/11” Exactly, Daley couldn’t get what he wanted legally so he did it illegally. You may favor the change, but do you favor the lawlessness?

  10. This whole thing is soooo Chicago and should be more publicly synonymous with Chicago. The Second City, the Mob, Al Capone, a rogue Mayor who destroys an airport in the darkness of night.

  11. I remember when that happened, in the middle of the night!! We lived north of the city and my husband used to (occasionally) fly out of there because it was so convenient. Everyone was shocked! Daley should’ve gone to jail for what he did. Love Chicago, but this is a stereotypical Chicago story.

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