Pilots often land at the wrong airport or begin to land and realize their mistake in time, according to a report.
At least 150 flights since 1990 have headed for the wrong airport, the Associated Press reported.
That number could be much higher because many of the wrong-landing incidents aren't disclosed to the media and reports to a NASA database are voluntary. The Federal Aviation Administration investigates wrong landings, but those aren’t always made publicly available.
San Jose, Calif., is home to majority of landing mistakes. A search of government safety databases and media reports found six incidents where pilots landing at joint civilian-military airport Moffett Field meant to be at Mineta San Jose International, 10 miles southeast.
"This event occurs several times every winter in bad weather when we work on Runway 12," said a San Jose airport tower controller in a November 2012 report.
Some pilots say they ignore navigation equipment that says they are off course because what they see outside their windows shows otherwise.
"You've got these runway lights, and you are looking at them, and they're saying: 'Come to me, come to me. I will let you land.' They're like the sirens of the ocean," Michael Barr, a former Air Force pilot who teaches aviation safety at the University of Southern California, told the AP.
The FAA emphasizes that the wrong-airport landings are rare. While there are 29,000 commercial flights in American ever day, there were only eight wrong airports in the last decade and none resulted in death or injury.
"The FAA reviews reported wrong-airport incidents to determine whether steps such as airfield lighting adjustments may reduce pilot confusion," the agency said in a statement.
In January, the two pilots of a Southwest flight who landed at the wrong Missouri airport were put on paid leave. The Boeing 737-700, carrying 124 passengers should have touched down at Branson Airport, which has a longer runway. Instead it arrived nine miles away at M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport, usually used by charter and private aircraft.
"He braked very hard," Scott Schieffer, a Dallas estate attorney, told NBC News. "We could smell burnt rubber from inside the airplane."