I was reading What information does a pilot have about aircraft operating on an intersecting runway? and noticed this on the map:

enter image description here (airnav.com)

Why is a "penalty box" marked on the map? What is it? What is it used for?

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    $\begingroup$ They just like their hockey team that much. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Dec 22, 2014 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ Tripping, charging, elbowing, high sticking, unnecessary roughness, boarding... did I miss anything? Sounds like a regular day at the office for the FAs ;) $\endgroup$
    – falstro
    Dec 22, 2014 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ Holding the stick? $\endgroup$
    – DJohnM
    Dec 23, 2014 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ @falstro Let's just hope they're not offside. That could be problematic in a traffic pattern as dense as ORD's. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Dec 23, 2014 at 5:41
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    $\begingroup$ @falstro I wonder if ORD gave the airport police a 5 minute major in the penalty box for roughing in that UA incident a few months back... $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Jul 12, 2017 at 4:42

3 Answers 3


In addition to what vasin mentioned in his answer, a mechanic from O'Hare mentioned hearing ATC direct aircraft to go there when they weren't ready for takeoff by the time they got to the runway in a comment on the video that prompted the linked question:

They [the pilot of the aircraft not yet ready for departure] sheepishly called and told the tower that they'd need another moment or two before takeoff. The controller goes..."Uh....yeah, no.....cross Runway two-seven left and hold in the penalty box. We'll be in touch."

Apparently ATC doesn't like you holding up the line of departing traffic at ORD.

As mentioned in the comments, the concept of having a paved area on or near the taxiways for planes to park while waiting to be ready for departure, waiting for a gate, or other similar uses is not unique to O'Hare. Most significantly-sized commercial airports have such areas. The primary thing that is unique about O'Hare's is just that it's named and the name is on the airport diagram. And perhaps also this particular controller's snarky sense of humor.

  • $\begingroup$ Most big airports have a big concrete pad somewhere for airplanes to wait for ground delay programs ("wheels up" times), for ground sequencing or for gate space on arrival. The only pecularity of the "Penalty Box" is that it has a well known name and it is published on the chart. Nothing other that is special about it. $\endgroup$
    – casey
    Dec 24, 2014 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ @casey Correct sir, most major airports have them though I think ORD is fairly unique in having it so-named. I'm a UAL brat and many times cycling through ORD in the 70's we ended up in the Penalty Box on both arrivals and departures. $\endgroup$
    – douggro
    Dec 24, 2014 at 6:51
  • $\begingroup$ @casey Very true. I'll update my answer to point that out. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Dec 24, 2014 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ Can confirm, currently sitting O'Hare's penalty box because we don't have a gate. When the pilot first said penalty box I was surely confused, this answer was very helpful. $\endgroup$
    – ryan
    Jul 12, 2017 at 4:20
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    $\begingroup$ @ryan The pilot came on the PA system and used the term "penalty box" when addressing the passengers? That's harsh. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Dec 20, 2017 at 9:43

As described by FAA, it seems like it is for holding aircraft when gate is not available:

The Penalty Box is located adjacent to the terminal perimeter Taxiway B, east of Concourse C. Arriving aircraft typically use this position to wait for gate clearing. The pad is able to accommodate ADG IV and smaller aircraft (i.e., no heavy jets with the exception of DC-10 and B-767). No aircraft may occupy the Penalty Box during landings on Runway 4L.

  • $\begingroup$ Strange that the DC-10 would be allowed. Are smaller airplanes such as the 737s and A320s allowed there? $\endgroup$ Dec 23, 2014 at 10:28
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    $\begingroup$ 737 and 320 are cat III so they are fine. $\endgroup$
    – vasin1987
    Dec 23, 2014 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ @shortstheory It's probably mainly a wingspan issue. 777 has a wingspan of 200-235 ft., 747 is 196-225 ft., but DC-10 is only 165-175 ft. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Dec 23, 2014 at 14:59

First, As a frequent flyer from Omaha, NE to Rochester, NY via O'Hare, I have been in the "Penalty box" more times than can be counted on hands and toes. A penalty box is simply a holding ramp for planes that currently have no place to be on the ground.

Second, the use of the penalty box has increased since all airlines pad their inflight times with extra time. The reason is simple, it makes them look better when you always arrive early -or- on time if problems are encountered. (expectations are set low, then exceeded.) Early arrivals caused by padded transit times are more likely to wind up waiting for a gate in the penalty box.

Third, this is an old layout of O'Hare; if you notice, the current United concourses are not present. Date here is 1981. This is approximately when construction on them was commenced. Furthermore, more runways have been built since. This may be a copy of the airport before modern expansions were begun. The current "penalty box" has moved to where the "Pe" is in the word Penalty box above.


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