Whether it’s the good kind of adventure (“Welcome to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas”) or the bad one (“This plane is being taken out of service.”), flying the friendly skies these days always holds an element of risk.
Sometimes, just getting on or off the ground is the wildest part of the trip. Here are some of the scariest, craziest airports in the world. Flyer beware.
The airport itself is located in a beautiful river valley in the Himalayas, but getting there is more than half the battle, as the valley is surrounded by imposing mountain peaks as much as 18,000 feet high.
The runway is just 6,500 feet long and flights are only allowed in/out during the daytime and with clear visibility. According to one report, only eight pilots in the region were actually certified to land at Paro.
Congonhas Airport Sao Paulo, Brazil
Unlike most major airports, which tend to be on the outskirts of town or other sparsely-populated areas, the Sao Paulo airport is in the middle of a highly populated residential and commercial district. This means there is not much room for error.
Unfortunately, Sao Paulo gets a ton of rain leading to slick runways. In 2007, an Airbus 320 skidded off the runway, crossed a road and slammed into a nearby warehouse killing 186 people.
The airport has since installed a new drainage system to help reduce moisture on the runways, but Sao Paulo is still a tricky landing.
Denver International Airport Denver, Colorado
Conspiracy theorists say DIA was built by (depending on which theory you want to believe) Nazis, Freemasons, the Illuminati and/or the British monarchy.
Regardless, Denver cracks this list because of whatever the heck this is painted on the wall.
Courchevel Airport Courchevel, France
This airport is a favorite with thrill-seekers looking to hit the slopes in the French Alps. But with an upslope (18.5% gradient) runway, high mountain peaks, unpredictable winds and lots of snow, getting in and out of Courchevel is no easy feat. If it looks familiar, the airport served as the location for the remote terrorist hideout in the opening action sequence of the James Bond film 'Tomorrow Never Dies.'
Gibraltar International Airport Gibraltar
The entire peninsula of Gibraltar only covers 2.6 square miles, so they don’t have a lot of room with which to work. So not only does the runway stick out into the sea with water on both sides, but it actually intersects Gibraltar’s busiest road. Running a red light is never a good idea, but it could have spectacularly bad consequences here.
La Aurora International Airport Guatemala City, Guatemala
Pilots have to weave their way through tricky mountainous terrain to reach the airport. Oh, and did we mention that some of those mountains are active volcanoes?
Toncontin International Airport Tegucigalpa, Honduras
There’s really not much nice to say about this airport. The mountainous terrain and high altitude make for some strong and tricky wind gusts. The runway is just over 6,000 feet long, one of the shortest in the world for commercial jets.
Thanks to the nearby mountains, you can’t just glide in on a straight path—you have to make an almost-90 degree turn around the mountain peak and drop quickly to line up with the runway on your final approach.
Kai Tak Airport Hong Kong
This one is so dangerous, it was actually closed down in 1998. Incoming jumbo jets had fly over the harbor, avoid mountains, barely miss the tops of skyscrapers in a densely populated area and then make a hard right turn just before touching down.
Matekane Air Strip Lesotho, Africa
Less an airport than it is just a tiny strip of dirt on top of a mountain, the runway is just 1,300 feet long and abruptly ends with a sheer 2,000 foot drop at the end. The runway is so short and the altitude so high that some of the more crazy experienced pilots have been known to just plunge off the edge of the cliff and rely on gravity to (hopefully) give them enough speed to pull up in time.
Tenzing-Hillary Airport Nepal
Named after the first two people to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest, Tenzing-Hillary is the place where most would-be Everest climbers fly into to begin the climb up to their base camp. And while climbing to the top of Mt. Everest is certainly dangerous, just getting to and from the mountain isn’t far behind. At an altitude of 9,000 feet, the airport is subject to cloud cover, poor visibility and high winds. Taking off is a particular adventure with a 1,500 foot runway that goes up at a 12 percent incline. And if you’re not off the ground by the end, it drops off into a river valley 2,000 feet below.
Princess Juliana International Airport Saint Maarten
The airport was originally built to handle small regional planes but is now the third-busiest in the Caribbean, meaning lots of 747’s and A340s filled with tourists come in on a daily basis. In order to bring these jumbo jets to a stop on the short runway, they have to land as close to the beginning as possible, meaning they come in just a few yards above the heads of sunbathers on the adjacent Maho Beach.
Don Mueang International AirportBangkok, Thailand
The air traffic isn’t that bad—it’s once you’re on the ground that things get tricky. Why? Oh, no real reason . . . other than the fact that there’s an 18-hole golf course situated right in the middle of the two runways. As such, the only places for planes to cross is at either end, leading to massive congestion and backups on the taxiways. A former consultant for the airport tried to get them to add an extra taxiway in the middle, but was told, “Absolutely not, that will take out a green and one fairway.” Fore.
Ronald Reagan National AirportWashington, DC
Another one where the airport itself isn’t that bad, but getting to/from it is. Due to its proximity to the White House, Capitol Building, national monuments, etc., pilots must steer around two overlapping no-fly zones. Most arriving flights follow the Potomac River up from the south, but any flights arriving or taking off to/from the north have to make a tricky steep left bank to avoid flying over the White House.