Think flying is the safest way to travel? Think again! The world’s scariest airports will make your flightmares come true.
Flying is known to be the safest way to travel, but some landings or taking offs are a bit more, let’s say, challenging. It’s surprising that short, slippery, sandy, and uphill runways are even legal. Get ready to be terrified by our list of the world’s scariest airports.
Granted, not many of us will ever go to Antarctica, let alone fly there, but if you do, then landing on a runway of snow will be an experience like no other. Not only will too much pressure cause the runway to crack, but it’s also slippery and the aircraft could sink into the ice. Shame, snowshoes for planes haven’t been invented yet! In 2015, a Loftleidir Icelandic Boeing 757 passenger jet successfully landed on Union Glacier’s blue ice runway–opening the door for travelers to the planet’s coldest continent.
The best way to describe the airport in the upscale French Alps resort Courchevel is to compare it with a ski jump. Incoming aircraft (only private plans have permission to land) need to accelerate after touchdown so they will make it to the end of the upslope runway, while departing aircraft experience a short length of leveled runway with a sheer drop off into nothingness at the far end. Pilots need to be very experienced to land here, as the runway has no approach procedure or lighting aids, which makes maneuvers in fog, blizzards, and low clouds almost impossible.
WHERE: United Kingdom
Timing is everything at Barra Airport, off the west coast of Scotland, where aircraft land directly on the beach. When the tide is out, the triangle of runways in the wide shallow bay of Traigh Mhòr, is marked by permanent wooden poles at their ends. At full tide, Barra’s three runways are fully submerged, so flight times change with mother nature’s cycles. For emergency flights at night or in a case of decreased visibility, car lights are used for illumination and reflective strips are put on the sand. But nerve-wracking take off and landings aside, there’s something to be said for building sand castles and getting a tan while waiting at the airport.
Tenzing Hillary Airport
The airport, named in honor of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest, is also known as Lukla Airport and consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous in the world. The airport is popular as the Himalayan gateway for mountain climbers and sits at an altitude of 9,334 ft. A very short runway (only 1,729 ft), the challenging terrain, high winds, changing visibility, and rain, unfortunately, result in regular fatal crashes for helicopters and small aircraft. The southern end of the runway also drops 2,000 ft into a valley.
WHERE: New Zealand
If you made it all the way to New Zealand, the last leg of the journey probably won’t bother you … unless you’re flying into Queenstown Airport on the South Island. The country’s fourth busiest airport by passenger traffic is surrounded by picturesque mountain ranges that New Zealand is so famous for. The scenic approach over Lake Hayes and down the Kawarau Valley requires a precision approach, often worsened by low-lying mist, strong downdraughts, and snow in the winter months. Queenstown Airport also has a relatively short runway, but just sit back, enjoy the scenery, and chill, mate, as the kiwis would say.
The small mountain kingdom of Bhutan only has one international airstrip, and it’s a terrifying one. Paro Airport sits in a deep river valley surrounded by mountain peaks as high as 18,000ft. Flights are restricted to daylight hours between sunset and sunrise, since pilots can only approach with sufficient visibility. It is as challenging as it sounds and only a handful of pilots are qualified to land at Paro Airport. If you arrive here, you’ll be shaken by several turns in the narrow flight path during approach, culminating in a hard left, then sudden braking and a full reverse thrust.
Matekane Air Strip
The airport in the tiny African kingdom of Lesotho is nothing more than a 1,300 ft dirt airstrip ending in a sheer drop. Extending to the edge of a 2,000 ft cliff, the runway is so short that aircraft often don’t have enough speed to be airborne. Instead, they shoot off the end of the airstrip and plunge into a deep river valley, until they gain sufficient speed to fly. Have we mentioned the high mountains surrounding the “airport” yet?
Madeira Airport - Cristiano Ronaldo
Formerly known as Funchal Airport, Madeira airport is sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean on one side and high mountains on the other. The location on the island’s edge generates powerful crosswinds on the singular runway approach. As the popularity of Madeira grew, the runway was extended multiple times and now measures 9,124ft. The extension was built on a platform, partly taking the runway over the sea, supported by 180 columns. There is no safety zone on the seaward side, only a sudden drop, so fingers crossed, the pilots keep their feet on the brake pedal!
Mariscal Sucre International Airport
The modern airport in Ecuador’s capital Quito is one of the busiest in South America. Opened in February 2013, the runway is the longest of any international airport in Latin America. All this could make for a very comfortable flight experience if it weren’t for the Tababela winds. Blowing off the Andean Highlands, this climate phenomenon marks the transition process between the rainy season ending and the dry season (July, August, and September) commencing. Strong winds momentarily reach 35 knots during the late afternoon, resulting in swaying aircrafts and turbulence.