Pilots Reveal the World's Most Frightening Airports
Piloting a plane takes both skill and nerves of steel, but there are some airports that give even the most experienced aviators the heebie-jeebies. Short runways, poor design, terrible weather and geographical obstacles can all make for a bumpy ride.
We've found quite a few airports that will make you rethink your travel plans, so grab your boarding pass and buckle up as we take a look at some of the world's scariest airports.
Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Lukla, Nepal
Even for experienced pilots, Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Nepal is one of the world’s most dangerous airports to fly into. Also called Lukla Airport after a nearby village, this is a popular hub for adventurers planning to visit or even ascend Mount Everest.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington, D.C.
If you are traveling to the nation’s capital, you might find yourself flying into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Located next to the Potomac River, the airport forces pilots to perform several complicated maneuvers due to noise restrictions and two no-fly zones meant to protect government buildings.
LaGuardia Airport, New York, New York
Pilots aren’t especially fond of flying into New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. Accommodating nearly 30 million passengers annually, pilots must deal with narrow taxiways and only two short 7,000-foot runways — which just so happen to be surrounded by water.
Madeira Airport, Madeira, Portugal
Portugal's Madeira Airport is a white-knuckle ride for many passengers. Ranked as the ninth most dangerous airport in the world, this airport is surrounded by mountains and water, making takeoffs and landings difficult even for the most experienced pilots.
Paro Airport, Paro, Bhutan
Bhutan may be known as one of the happiest places on earth, but Paro International Airport one of the most challenging in the world, probably isn’t helping. Only a handful of skilled pilots are permitted to fly into Paro. Located in a deep valley next to the Paro Chhu River, pilots must carefully dodge tall mountains and high winds during take-off and descent.
Ice Runway, Antarctica
The Ice Runway is one of Antarctica’s major runways and unique in that it’s constructed solely from ice. Located near U.S. Antarctic Program’s McMurdo Station, the runway regularly accommodates heavy cargo planes until the ice begins to break up in December.
Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles International Airport may be the world’s fourth busiest aviation center, but its high volume of passengers also makes it one of the most deadly. According to a survey of pilots, LAX’s heavy air traffic, along with its mix of commercial and personal aircraft, make it one of the least desirable destinations.
Toncontin Airport, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Toncontin Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras is considered one of the world’s most dangerous places to fly through. The airport is situated in a valley, requiring pilots to make a sharp turn immediately before landing. Aviation experts have equated landing at Toncontin to landing on an aircraft carrier.
San Diego International Airport, San Diego, California
San Diego may have a laid-back vibe, but the thought of landing or taking off from San Diego International Airport makes some pilots tense up. Even the most skilled aviators must contend with mountains to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, strong tailwinds and Mexican airspace to the south.
Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Barts
Vacationers heading to the Caribbean island of St. Bart's are likely fly to Princess Juliana International Airport. The facility has developed a reputation as being one of the most dangerous in the region. The airport has a single runway that measures just 7,546 feet.
Barra International Airport, Eoligarry, Scotland
Barra Island in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides may seem like an enticing place to relax on the beach, but don’t even think about lying out in the sand. This is the only place in the world where flights take off directly from a beach.
Matekane Air Strip, Matekane, Lesotho
Travelers may want to re-think using Matekane Air Strip in the African nation of Lesotho. Set on a plateau, the runway abruptly ends at the edge of a cliff with a 2,000-foot drop. Most visitors using the tiny African nation’s scary runway are physicians or charity groups needing access to the small African nation’s more remote areas.
Skiathos Airport, Skiathos, Greece
A visit to the Greek island of Skiathos isn’t for the faint of heart. The short and narrow airstrip is just 5,341 long, with one end facing the sea and the other a roadway. The largest plane allowed is the Boeing 757, which has a long, narrow body.
Gibraltar International Airport, British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar
Located in the British Territory of Gibraltar along Spain’s southern coast, Gibraltar International Airport requires perfect landings from pilots who fly there. Gibraltar’s lack of flat land makes the tiny area by the Bay of Gibraltar the only suitable spot for an airport.
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba
The Dutch Caribbean island of Saba is home to Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, famous for having the world’s shortest commercial runway. While most runways have an average length of 6,000-10,000 feet, the runway at Saba is just a paltry 1,312 feet.
Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas
In 2018, local media warned about flying out of Dallas-Ft. Worth after at least 14 incursions by unauthorized people, cars and aircraft that strayed onto the runways. That same year, the airport announced that the FAA was commiting up to $180 million in grant money to increase the airport's runway safety.
Courchevel Airport, Saint-Bon-Tarentaise, France
Pilots shudder when France’s perilous Courchevel Airport is mentioned. With a runway that measures just 1,722 feet, take-offs and landings need to go off without a hitch. Located in the French Alps within a deep valley, Courchevel’s approach is so complicated that only specially-certified pilots are authorized to fly into or out of the airport.
Boston Logan International Airport
Years ago, Boston Logan International Airport was cited as one of the worst airports in the United States. While its reputation for safety has improved, pilots still get headaches over what goes on outside of the airport.
Antonio Narino Airport, Chachagüí, Colombia
Located in a mountainous region, Colombia's Antonio Narino Airport had little choice but to on a plateau. Its perilous location and short runway have inspired comparisons to landing on an aircraft carrier, much like Tocontin Airport.
Juneau International Airport, Juneau, Alaska
Mountainous terrain, low cloud cover and rainy weather and harsh winds put Juneau International Airport on the map as a challenging flight destination. Dangerous winds also make flying in and out of this airport a hair-raising experience. Unfortunately, Juneau is the only state capital in the United States that's inaccessible by road.
Narsarsuaq Airport, Narsarsuaq, Greenland
It's not often that pilots need to contend with fjords, but that's precisely what they face at Greenland's Narsarsuaq Airport. This airport is known for its short runway and menacing winds that cause turbulence.
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, Colorado
Colorado’s Aspen/Pitkin airport is undoubtedly convenient for skiers hoping to hit the slopes, but be prepared for a white-knuckle flight. Considered one of the most dangerous in the United States, this airport’s so tricky that pilots must hold a special certificate if they plan on flying to this snowy destination.
Bert Mooney Airport, Montana
Named after the first aviator to fly mail into Yellowstone National Park back in 1935, Butte, Montana’s Bert Mooney Airport, can be a bit dicey even for modern-day pilots. The airport’s lack of a control tower combined with the surrounding steep terrain make flights in and out a challenge.
Congonhas Airport, São Paulo, Brazil
Congonhas Airport is right in the heart of bustling São Paulo, one of Brazil’s largest and most congested cities. The flights in and out of this airport come so close to the city that it seems as though aircraft could potentially clip nearby high-rise buildings.
Svalbard Airport, Svalbard, Norway
Norway’s Svalbard Airport is the world’s northernmost commercial airport. Due to the lack of taxiways and runways that need frequent re-asphalting due to improper construction, pilots aren’t exactly thrilled about flying to this destination.
John Wayne Airport, Orange County, California
Orange County, California’s John Wayne Airport may have a celebrity’s name, but what it’s really famous for is its 5,701 foot-long runway, one of the shortest found at any major airport in the United States. There's no need to visit neighboring Disneyland to experience a thrilling ride.
JFK Airport, New York City
One of the area’s three primary airports, JFK presents a series of challenges to pilots. Noise restrictions implemented in 1964 make certain approaches and take-offs a bit dicey, and with LaGuardia and Newark airports nearby, the air traffic over New York City is typically pretty heavy.
Chicago Midway Airport, Chicago, Illinois
Pilots are wary of Chicago’s Midway Airport. Because it’s short on space, there’s no room for error at this airport. The surrounding business and residential areas combined with short runways and cold, snowy weather make this airport an aviator’s nightmare.
Kansai International Airport, Osaka, Japan
Kansai International Airport is considered one of the most dangerous in the world. Due to a shortage of land, this airport was built on a man-made island. Being totally surrounded by water requires pilots to perform perfectly — take-offs and landings are so complicated that only specially-certified pilots are permitted to fly here.
Chuck Yeager Airport, Charleston, West Virginia
Named after flying ace Chuck Yeager, you may feel like a test pilot if you flying into or out of Charleston, West Virginia. Chuck Yeager Airport sits on a flattened hill with 300-foot drops all the way around, resulting in a perilous plunge for any aircraft that overshoot the runway.