If you’re among the 20 million estimated people who feel the need to board a plane armed with a heavy sleeping pill or stiff drink, then you might want to stop reading this article… now. (Just head on over to this one instead.) While being on an airplane is still dramatically safer than driving a car, not all airports are created equally or have the same runways, weather conditions and well-trained staff. And while you might consider many things before making arrangements for your next trip — the time of your flight, the proximity to your hotel — you probably don’t consider just how safe your landing and departure will be, right?
Well, in case you’re curious — or just want to utterly freak yourself out — try to avoid these 11 airports, considered the most dangerous in the world:
Picture this: You woke up on time, squeezed in a sweat sesh, kissed your partner goodbye and now you’re commuting to work with your coffee by your side. But thanks to some unexpected congestion — drat! — you’re now going to be late to work because a plane needs to take off. Yep, that’s right: Gibraltar International’s only runway (a mere 5,500 feet long) crosses the street. And not just any street, but Winston Churchill Avenue, which is the main highway toward the Spanish border. Each and every single time a plane needs to take off or land, the avenue is shut down. Talk about a traffic delay! Oh and did we mention if the planes don’t stop quickly enough… they’ll end up in the water?
Ever landed on sand? Well, you can at this dangerous airport, if you dare. It’s the world’s only airport that allows planes to land on sand and is located in Traigh Mhor, a beach on the Scottish island of Barra. While the airport has three beach runways, only one can be used at one time, depending on which way the wind is blowing. But at high tide? The runways are all completely submerged, making it impossible for any takeoffs or landings. And in case you forget where your gate is, just look for the wooden poles that instruct you where to go. Surf’s up?
Toncontin Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras
If you’ve ever flown over a mountain range on the way to your destination, you know they make for some pretty amazing Instagram photos. With the rolling peaks, the snow-covered tops and the massiveness of it all, it’s breathtaking… from a safe-seeming distance. But imagine if you had to weave around mountains to land in a valley that’s about 3,300 feet above sea level? Gulp. That’s what happens at Toncontin Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. When the planes get ready to let the landing gear out, pilots have to make a 45-degree turn to reach a 7,000-foot runway that’s much higher than their usual rates of descent (meaning, they’re going faster than normal). And what about takeoff? You have to clear those gorgeous peaks, so planes have to gain altitude… very fast.
What’s between a cliffside and that long, sad, scary drop into the ocean? The shortest runway at the Madeira Airport, at around 4,000 feet. While officials did decide to double its length in 2000, it might not make a big difference in how comfortable you feel booking a flight here anytime soon. As if that fear of literally falling off a cliff isn’t enough to scare you away, the addition that they added only had one way to go: over the ocean. Yep that’s right: part of the runway is hanging off the edge of a cliff over an ocean, supported by 180 columns that are about 230 feet tall. Windy-day takeoffs are not recommended.
Slip 'N Slides were fun when you were a kid, but these days? You’d likely prefer your plane to land smoothly and securely, right? You might consider finding another way into Sao Paulo, Brazil if you want to be on a plane that sticks its landing. Because of how the runway was designed at Congonhas Airport (or Sao Paulo Airport, as it’s called, too), rainwater builds up on the runways, causing accidents. Though they’ve added modifications to fix this issue — like grooves to keep the water moving away from the landing strips — it’s still touch and go.
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba Island
The St.’s of the Caribbean — St. Barth, St. John — are all beautiful, with their crystal-clear blue waters and sparkling beaches. But if you’re a bit more of a thrill seeker, we might suggest you close your eyes, hang on tight and book a flight to St. Maarten and land at the Juancho E. Yrausquin airport. Located on a remote island called Saba, about 28 miles south of St. Maarten, this airport is known for its triangle shape and its risky landings. Why? It has the world’s shortest commercial airport runway: a quarter mile, or just 1,300 feet. The runway has a mountain slope on one side, water on the other and if the pilot misses the landing, sheer cliffs lead to the sea.
McMurdo Air Station, Antarctica
In most parts of the world, a runway that’s covered ice would cause many delays, cancellations, and rerouting passengers. But if you live in a destination where winter is year round, you have to find a way to embrace icy conditions. Such is the case at the McMurdo Air Station. Here, the three runways are pretty long (you know — to make room for skating during landing and takeoff) and during one part of the year, your pilot will need to wear night-vision goggles... because it’s dark all damn day.
Kansai International Airport
If you’re traveling the Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan, you likely won’t worry about checking in two hours before your flight. Or making sure your luggage meets the weight restrictions. Or really anything other than the following: earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones and global warming. Yep — considered an endangered airport (who knew there was such a thing?), the location of Kanasai makes it prone to many natural disasters. Because it’s situated in a low-elevation spot, it’s susceptible to tsunamis, and the atmospheric shift means sea levels could rise and flood. Eventually, experts recommend it to be built on a higher ground for safety and longevity.
Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland
Unlike what its name suggests, Greenland is a traditionally colder-weather destination. Especially in Southern Greenland, where the Narsarsuaq Airport is. The landing approach is among the more difficult to master on the globe, and goes against some intense climate conditions, including year-round severe turbulence, even on a clear day. They must fly up Tunulliarfik Fjord to make it stick, and if the local volcano Eyjafjallajokull is erupting, planes must battle volcanic ash to infuses with glass made from melting ash. Apart from impacting visibility, the combination can also wreak havoc on an essential aircraft part: the engine.
Paro Airport, Bhutan
To put into perspective how dangerous the Paro Airport in Bhutan is, chew on this fact: In the entire world, there are only 25 pilots qualified to land. Whoa. In fact, it’s so utterly dangerous to land there, flights are severely limited to daylight hours and only under visual meteorological conditions (which in non-airport lingo terms means,pilots have sufficient visibility to fly while maintaining visual separation from terrain and other planes). What makes it so difficult? The airport is 7,300 feet above sea level, tucked away in the Himalayan Mountains and surrounded by other large peaks, some reaching 18,000 feet. In addition to the wild landing pilots have to pull off, the terrain is also intense that going through a ravine to the runway and slamming the breaks isn’t uncommon.
The most dangerous airport in the entire world? The Tenzing-Hillary Airport, named after the first climbers to ever reach the summit of of Mount Everest. You’d have to be pretty brave like those hikers to book a flight out of here for many reasons. Located in Lukla, Nepal, taking off and landing here means pilots much face very limited visibility with mostly cloudy skies at high altitudes, high, unpredictable winds and to top it all off? At the end of the runway is a 2,000-foot drop into rocky terrain.
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