Sea Ice Runway in Antarctica is unpaved, and there’s a chance the ice could crack under the weight of an airplane—which is downright terrifying. In fact, a few years ago, the runway was melting, so flights scheduled to land there were cancelled or rerouted. Now, pilots are advised to avoid landing too heavily and to try not to sink more than 10 inches into the ice. With a vehicle as big and heavy as an airplane, that seems like a tough challenge for any pilot!
Gibraltar Airport (or North Front Airport), Gibraltar
You might feel as if you’re at a railroad crossing when traveling through Gibraltar Airport. The peninsula’s only runway is perpendicular to a major highway leading into Spain. Thin, flimsy barriers block off traffic when an airplane is moving through, but we still think it’s pretty sketchy! In fact, our sister site SmarterTravel said, “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.”
Madeira Airport, Portugal
Don’t be alarmed if you feel the plane take a sharp right turn as you approach Madeira Airport, since its runway is extremely short. When the plane starts landing, it swoops through high mountains and strong turbulence and over the ocean. The pilot must aim straight for the mountains and take a last-minute sharp turn. According to Pyrex on the World’s Top 10 Scariest Airports forum on Airliners.net, “It is a scary ride, exactly as described (depending on the direction of the wind, of course). And those mountain rollers make for some bumpy landings.”
Qambo Bamda Airport, Tibet
When China’s Daocheng Yading Airport recently commenced service, it replaced Tibet’s Qambo Bamda Airport as the world’s highest airport—but we think Qambo Bamda is still a pretty good contender for world’s scariest airport. The runway is more than 14,000 feet above sea level and almost 3.5 miles long. High-altitude travel is very dangerous in general, but safe landings at these heights are also extremely difficult.
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba Island
The Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport (SAB) allows no room for pilot error: If he or she goes even a little bit too far when trying to land, the plane will end up in the ocean below. The windy, mountainous terrain makes for a hard-to-accomplish landing. Typically, only experienced fliers pilot the airplanes that travel through SAB, and as far as we know, there haven’t been any major accidents.
Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong
The Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong is no longer an operating airport, thankfully. Before it was closed down in 1998, planes were forced to fly very low over Hong Kong and had to take a sharp right to end up on the runway. When discussing the world’s top 10 scariest airports onAirliners.net, JM017 said, “From videos I’ve seen, I would give my votes to TGU [Toncontín International Airport] and the old Kai Tak.” It’s unsettling to hear that coming from a pilot, so we’re glad we don’t have the option of landing there anymore.
Eagle County Regional Airport, Vail, Colo.
In America’s 10 Scariest Airports, SmarterTravel editor Caroline Costello interviewed pilot David Cenciotti, who said that “poor weather, high approach, and high surrounding terrain make this airport a bit challenging.” He continued: “Westward departures have high clearance altitudes due to nearby mountains.” The weather and surrounding conditions make traveling through this airport interesting, as the area is known for its bad winter weather.
Matekane Air Strip, Lesotho
The Matekane Air Strip in Lesotho is one of a kind. The runway is at the end of a mountainside gully, so instead of taking off into the air like normal flights, planes drop down the side of a the cliff until they start flying. According to traveler Karulm in The World’s Scariest Runways forum on TravBuddy.com ”You just drop until you start flying? I would never!” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. The runway mostly services medical and charity teams helping nearby villages, so leisure travelers can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they won’t have to worry about this one.
Narsarauq Airport, Greenland
Greenland’s Narsarauq Airport is a traveler’s nightmare. Planes approach the runway through a fjord and need to make a 90-degree turn to line up on the runway. With the seemingly constant turbulence, making a plane turn 90 degrees is no easy task. It’s extremely difficult to judge how gusts of wind might direct the plane. Even though a pilot might need to make some last-minute adjustments to avoid being pushed into one of the valley walls, overcorrecting methods could backfire. Not to mention, there’s also the risk of icebergs drifting into the airplane’s path.
Ketchikan International Airport, Ketchikan, Alaska
Beware of Ketchikan International Airport in Alaska! The awfully short runway is close to mountains and the ocean, which drops to freezing temperatures. We hear that it rains 150-190 inches per year, which can be scary to land in as it is, but sometimes the rain even blows sideways! It sounds like a wild ride to us.