The 19 Scariest Airport Landings in the World
It’s common enough to be a nervous flier. In fact, it’s estimated that about 25 percent of Americans report having some nerves when they take off in a plane.
There are many different ways to deal with flying. Some grab a drink at the airport bar before boarding, while others rely on apps to let them know exactly what’s going on when a plane goes bump. And although we would never dissuade someone from traveling just because of a fear of flying, there are a few airports that apprehensive passengers may want to be aware of before booking a trip.
Whether that’s because the runway ends in a steep cliff, the area is prone to intense turbulence, or the runway itself is made of fragile, meltable ice, these airports test the limits of even the most cool, calm, and collected traveler.
Buckle up and get ready for some turbulence. Here are the 19 scariest airports in the world.
Barra Airport, Scotland
The airport of the Isle of Barra is the only one in the world that’s actually just a beach. It sits on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and is often cited among the world’s scariest landings for its notoriously short runway. And one of the other runways goes underwater and is off-limits during high tide.
Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten
This is one of the most famous airport descents in the world. Landing at Princess Juliana Airport entails some tricky maneuvering wherein a pilot takes the aircraft directly over a beach, filled with people tanning, splashing in the water, and plane-spotting.
Gustaf III Airport, St. Bart's
Getting into St. Bart's involves a teeth-clenching descent through a flurry of crosswinds. And it’s not much easier getting out: Pilots fly directly over a beach where people are inevitably laying out.
Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Nepal
For explorers who aim to climb Mount Everest, the first stop is often this vertigo-inducing mountainside airport. It’s been named the “world’s scariest airport” for its small runway (only 500 meters) that was carved into a mountain ridge and sits right next to a 9,800-foot drop.
Madeira Airport, Portugal
The approach to Madeira Airport is one where nervous fliers should keep their eyes closed. In fact, in order to land there, pilots must undergo specific, additional training. The runway is not only short, it’s often a site of strong winds and turbulence. On either side of the runway are rocky hills and after the airport, it’s a straight drop into the ocean.
Gibraltar International Airport, Gibraltar
The runway at Gibraltar International Airport is exceptional for one very nerve-wracking reason: It intersects with the island’s busiest road. When airplanes need to land, traffic on the four-lane highway is stopped for 10 minutes.
Courchevel Airport, France
This mountainside airport was made famous in the James Bond film "Tomorrow Never Dies." It’s considered among the most dangerous in the world for its uphill landing strip and ski slopes that sit precariously close.
Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport is one of the most photographable on the continent. The airport is bordered by tons of skyscrapers and mountains to the north while its only runway is one that juts straight out into Victoria Harbor.
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba
Saba’s airport is known for having the shortest landing strip in the world. It’s only 400 meters long and, at the very end of the runway, there’s a cliff and steep descent right into the Caribbean Sea.
Paro Airport, Bhutan
The only international airport in all of Bhutan is so treacherous, pilots must receive a special license and training to land there. In order to safely get a plane on the runway, pilots have to navigate a series of valleys (dotted with houses) and strong winds between sharp mountain peaks.
Toncontín Airport, Honduras
It’s impossible for Tegucigalpa-bound pilots to approach this runway head-on. Right before landing, pilots must complete a last-minute 45-degree turn and battle headwinds coming off the surrounding mountains to safely land.
Tioman Airport, Malaysia
The landing at Tioman Island is one that keeps pilots on edge until the aircraft is at an absolute standstill, safely on the ground. First, pilots must head straight for a mountain and then pull a quick 90-degree turn to align with the runway, but they’ve only got limited space to slow down. At the end of the runway is a cliff with a very steep fall into the waters below.
Ice Runway, Antarctica
This Antarctica airport has one of the slipperiest landings in the world that can only be used during the continent’s “summer” season. It’s a white ice runway with a 4-inch layer of compacted snow on top to help cushion landings and takeoffs.
Matekane Air Strip, Lesotho
Pilots don’t have much time to secure themselves on this small airstrip in Lesotho, Africa. At the end of the runway is a precarious ledge and a 2,000-foot cliff. The airport itself is most often used by charities and doctors to reach the more remote areas of the country.
Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland
The hard-to-pronounce airport is one of only two in Greenland capable of handling commercial aircraft. It’s surrounded by unstable icy and snowy conditions, and it’s not uncommon for icebergs to get in the way of the arrival and departures path. It’s so dangerous that pilots can only take off or land at the airport during daylight hours.
Ketchikan International Airport, Alaska
Alaska’s fifth-busiest airport is perhaps its most gut-wrenching. Because of unpredictable weather conditions, it’s basically guaranteed that passengers are in for turbulent landings. The area’s freezing rain has been known to go completely sideways — but that won’t stop a plane from landing there.
Male International Airport, Maldives
The main international airport in the Maldives is one that takes a controlled landing. It’s located on the tip of Hulhule Island and passengers have been known to freak out a bit during landing, thinking that the airplane is bound to overshoot the runway and land in the island’s blue waters.
Skiathos Island National Airport, Greece
The runways at Skiathos can be scary no matter how you approach them. The downslope on one of the airport’s runways makes it impossible for pilots to see the end of the runway from their touchdown point. And there’s another runway that requires pilots fly in and land directly over the town of Skiathos itself, making for a great photo opp.
Sandane Airport, Norway
This airport in Western Norway has a much-documented history with accidents. The area is prone to severe winds and heavy turbulence. It’s nestled between two fjords, meaning pilots must nail their landing in a very narrow space.