Flying And The All-Star Game: Don’t Get “STMP’d”

Your plans are all set — with some excitement, you will be flying up to the All-Star Game, to be held in Chicago this year. Your plane is fueled, your hotel reservations are made, your flight plans are made, and you even bought the charts you need. Everything is all set for your trip, which is scheduled to start on July 12th to allow you to get in and find your hotel and spend some time in the City of Chicago before the big game starts.

Not that you can think of. Since you decided to fly into Chicago’s Midway Airport (after all, the tyrannical Mayor Daley already razed Meigs Field, where you would have preferred to arrive), everything looks pretty good. Your 4:00 pm local arrival time was intended to miss most of the heavy traffic going in and out of Midway.

In any event, the time arrives to leave, so you pick up the phone to file your flight plan into Midway. When you try, the briefer informs you that he cannot give you the departure time you have requested, because the FAA has imposed a Special Traffic Management Program (STMP) at Chicago’s Midway Airport in anticipation of a large number of planes traveling to the All-Star Game!

Actually, you can’t land at all on July 12 … not there, anyway.

When traffic levels are expected to be excessive (i.e., during major sporting special events, NASCAR races, etc.) the FAA is smart enough to realize that there may be some traffic jams, both in terms of inbound aircraft, and in relation to the amount of parking available on the ground. Thus, they implement their Special Traffic Management Program, which provides “slot reservations” for such flights, to keep everything within the available capacity. And to avoid the potential trouble caused by planes falling out of the sky from fuel starvation as they alter poorly made or incomplete plans.

STMPs apply to all domestic, non-scheduled (i.e., non-airline) IFR arrivals — in this case, between 6:00 am and 10:00 pm CDT from Saturday, July 12 through Tuesday, July 15. Unless you happen to call in and find out about them — and you should always ask a briefer for all NOTAMs applicable to your route of flight — you may find out that all the slots are closed. While this applies to IFR flights, VFR pilots should recognize that this is a high traffic situation, which means ATC will be stretched to their limits.

Popular destination planning note: Parking may not be available unless you phone in and reserve it!

In this case of this years Baseball All-Star Game, slot reservations will be available beginning on Wednesday, July 9 at 6:00 a.m. CDT, and will not be assigned more than 72 hours in advance of the estimated time of arrival. Pilots may obtain a reservation by visiting or calling (800) 875-9755.

Plan ahead and call for a reservation. Only by making advance plans and getting a call in early will you be assured that you will be able to get the time reservation you want. Also, don’t forget to contact an FBO about parking, since that will be at a premium as well. If you don’t (or haven’t) take(n) this approach, as a last resort you can either drive, or end up at Palwaukee, DuPage, Aurora, Lansing or Morris, and then renting a car. Take the easy route — make your reservation early!

THE BOTTOM LINE: Thorough planning is required by law for every flight — by most interpretations that includes a call to your local flight service station for a weather briefing and the collection of all applicable NOTAMs. These trips deserve more attention for the fact that you’ll have passengers in your care but popular destinations often require special attention. Don’t forget to plan an alternate — even for VFR trips. Aside from a call to the briefer, a call to an FBO at your destination may also be in order. Summer is a good time for flying and making trip plans with friends and family. Remember: whenever you fly, you serve as an ambassador for the rest of us. Do us all proud … you’ll look good to your friends, too.