Chicago Busts 'Crash Pads' Near Midway

April 9, 2007
Thirty-one houses illegally converted to house up to 20 people on each floor. Pilots and flight attendants rented couches or bunk beds instead of hotel rooms.

Pilots and flight attendants will have to find a new place to "crash" during Midway Airport layovers.

City Hall has lowered the boom on dozens of illegal "crash pads" around the Southwest Side airport. Crash pads -- as pilots themselves call them – are homes, two- and three-flats that rent furnished rooms to pilots and flight

attendants who live in other cities but fly in and out of Midway.

Usually, airline workers pay for them out of their own pockets. Instead of paying nightly fees for hotel rooms, airline employees pay $100 to $150 a month for a bunk bed or convertible couch. Some crash pads reportedly house up to 20 people per floor, with living rooms converted into bedrooms.

Others pack them in without making any changes. Sometimes, building owners even sell residential parking permits to crew members, depriving the city of parking fees at Midway.

Now City Hall has crashed the party.

Forty inspections were conducted over the last three months, resulting in 31 violations for illegally operating as "transitional shelters."

Four openly acknowledged the violations and shut the crash pads down. Twelve offered no response. Their cases will be forwarded to the city's Law Department for prosecution in Circuit Court -- with fines as high as $1,000 a day.

Five others were snared for illegal conversions -- residential units illegally carved into the attic or basement of single family homes. All of the crash pads were located within a mile of Midway Airport.

"Flights are arriving at all hours. You have people coming and going at all hours. It could be a fire risk," said Zoning Administrator Patty Scudiero. "In one case, we saw four sets of bunk beds. That's eight people, in addition to the owner. The next night, it was another eight."

The crackdown followed an anonymous tip from a Southwest Side resident. The tipster included addresses and owners of nearly two dozen crash pads. A Southwest Airlines pilot who lives in South Holland was identified as the owner of nine crash pads. He could not be reached for comment.

Also enclosed were "solicitation fliers" for crash pads, purportedly with date stamps from the Southwest Inflight Services Department. The tipster claimed Southwest "promotes the use of crash pads and advertises them in crew lounges and orientation sessions."

Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King categorically denied that. Flight attendants have a "bulletin book" to communicate with each other about living arrangements.

But, King said, "I've never seen a flier. We don't become involved in our employees' living arrangements."

A landlord who rents rooms to pilots at her home in the 6100 block of South, Keating says she won't be sad to see the end of these crash pads. The resident, who declined to provide her name, said pilots come into the neighborhood, buy up houses and fill them with dozens of renters.

"Some of these pilots who have bought buildings all over the community have 30 people in a building, and that's not right," she said.

"I don't run a crash pad, I'm an apartment landlord," insisted the woman, who has a sign that reads "crash pad" tacked to her front door. She hasn't been contacted by the city, she says, because she only has four gentlemen staying with her -- at the most, six at any one time.

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