I’m not a pilot—not even a private pilot [yet]—but I have a long-standing interest in aviation. Back when I used to have free time, I spent a fair amount of it flying in computer flight simulators like X-Plane. I was to the point (and probably still am) that I could take off in real-world weather conditions (which X-Plane downloads from the web), navigate successfully to my destination airport, and land safely. I even used to test myself with disaster scenarios—landing with one or more engines out, navigating in poor weather, instrument failures, etc.—and usually survived. Not always though ;-).
Because of this experience and my own interest in this field, I am more knowledgeable than many of my peers about aviation news. I, for example, was able to explain to my coworkers what a pitot tube does and why it’s important when we were discussing the crash of Air France flight 447 this summer.
That’s why I know that the pilots who landed their airliner on Taxiway M (instead of, say, a runway) at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Monday have no excuse. Runways have very, very different markings than taxiways—different day-time paint jobs, and different night-time lighting—and even I, with my very limited experience, can tell them apart from a great distance in the air. The article says nothing about the weather conditions in Atlanta on Monday, but even in poor visibility you don’t land unless you know what you’re landing on (duh).
Thank God this incident didn’t kill people. It’s not uncommon for aircraft to be sitting on taxiways (waiting their turn for takeoff) while planes are coming in to land, and usually it’s frowned upon for a landing plane to land on the waiting plane(s).