Traveling is always an adventure. And if you’re a thrill-seeker, you’ve likely discovered plenty of the world’s most incredible sights and heart-pounding destinations. But here’s something many world travelers don’t realize: some of the most thrilling destinations are actually located at airports.
That’s right — simply hopping on a plane and landing at a different airport can be a thrilling adventure. While cities and countries around the world have plenty of unique and exciting things to offer, there are quite a few international and regional airports that are sure to stun any traveler. From jaw-dropping views and stunning, one-of-a-kind sights to frightening yet exhilarating takeoffs and landings, certain airports can offer a serious trip. And some will even give you a thrill as they put you at risk.
If you’re looking for something that’ll get your pulse racing, something that’s dangerous and death-defying, you need to visit the world’s most dangerous airports. These airports, with challenging runways, difficult landing spaces, and unique geographical features, all offer incredible takeoffs and landings that you need to experience for yourself. As a passenger, they’ll have you gripping your seat’s armrests as you feel what it’s like to explore the world’s most thrilling airports.
Lukla Airport, Nepal
Positioned in the Himalayan mountains, the 9,325 feet high Tenzing airport was named after the first two climbers that scaled Mt. Everest and is the most popular stop for trekkers to the region. The airport is built on the side of a mountain with a small one direction runway that is only 1,600 feet long with serious slopes and angles. At one end of the runway is a mountain wall and the other end is a dramatic 2,000-foot plunge into the valley.
Toncontin International Airport, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Gibraltar Airport, Gibraltar
As if having the Mediterranean Sea to the east and the Bay of Gibraltar to the west of the airport weren’t enough to complicate a landing, the main road to Spain also intersects the runway. You may be thankful if your plane gets diverted to a nearby airport due to weather, though you’ll still have to brave the runway when you walk over it to get from Spain to the British overseas territory. Because of this, traffic must be stopped when planes are using the airport, and pilots must take care when landing to quickly engage the brakes, as the 6,000-foot runway doesn’t leave much room for error.
Paro Airport / Bhutan
The airport in Bhutan allows only 17 qualified pilots who are authorized to land on a runway that is surrounded by severe 18,000-foot mountain peaks. The 6,500-foot runway only allows for arrivals and departures during the daytime. The dramatic approach to the runway is completely out of site for the pilots until the last minute as they maneuver between mountains at a 45-degree angle before dropping quickly onto the runway. There is even a point when the bottom of the plane comes perilously close to mountaintop homes on approach, one red cliffside home is the key focal point for pilots on their approach. But when the passengers break into applause on landing and you walk out into the magnificent fresh air and temple style airport, it is well worth the adventure.
Saba Airport / Dutch Caribbean
Located on the island of Saba, the original King Kong movie island lies Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, known to have one of the world’s shortest commercial airport runways. At only 1,300 feet long, only well-trained pilots are allowed to fly in the area. The approach is almost at a cliff, alongside the jagged terrain of Saba and then a sharp bank left before an immediate landing. On my next visit, I will be taking the ferry from neighboring St. Maarten.
Yeager Airport, Charleston, West Virginia
Located on Coonskin Ridge in Charleston, West Virginia, Yeager Airport’s cliff face, at an elevation of 982 feet, can be intimidating, especially when you only have 6,302 feet of the runway (the closed secondary runway is a mere 4,750 feet). When we asked our Facebook followers about their scariest airport experiences, Chris Randall noted Yeager, saying, “It’s a flattened mountaintop, so if they overshoot the runway there’s nowhere to go but down.” Of course, a takeoff or landing is the same whether you’re on a mountaintop or on the ground, but for those flying into Yeager for the first time, it can be a nervous landing until you’ve come to a complete stop.
Courchevel International Airport / France
With just 1,700 feet of runway length, this airport has a downward gradient of 18.5%. This slope makes taking off difficult and is reachable through deep valleys where only certified pilots are allowed. There is no second chance landing here due to the runway position, and pilots must make it perfectly the first time. And to make matters worse, this airport offers no lights or instrument aid so in bad weather landing is impossible.
Barra Airport, Barra, Scotland
Touching down without a paved strip may seem like a crash landing for unsuspecting passengers, but in Barra, Scotland, it’s a normal experience. When the airport isn’t in service, the beach is a popular spot for locals to hunt for cockles, but when the windsock is flying, you’ll do well to observe from afar. On Flybe, the only airline that flies there, passengers can expect to arrive safely on one of the three runways (marked by concrete poles) formed when the tide goes out. As one of the only airports in the world where beach landings still occur, you shouldn’t miss this unique experience.
Princess Juliana International Airport / St. Maarten
Maho public beach is located at the end of this runway which results in huge gusts of wind and sand for sunbathers but also offering up a perfect Instagram shot. The runway is 7,100 feet long and planes must approach over the water at an extremely low altitude appearing to be just feet above the heads of the public.
Gisborne Airport, New Zealand
Located in the outskirts of Gisborne in New Zealand, this airport actually has a railway intersecting with the runway. With three grass runways and one main runway, it intersects with the national railway line. Landings are coordinated with accurate schedules to avoid approaching trains.