Nothing stokes the fires of rest and relaxation like a holiday abroad, but the journey to start your epic vacation can be quite an ordeal. From the rush in the morning to make an early flight to terrifying turbulence once airborne, airports and plane rides have a way of putting us on the edge of our seats.
While much of our anxiety from travel can be alleviated once the wheels hit the ground, some airports (unfortunately) are more prone to make fear-driven scenarios come to life.
Need help determining which airports will most likely give you a rocky start to your travel bucket list journey? Buckle your seats as we look at the most dangerous airports in the world to note when planning an air travel adventure.
What Makes an Airport Dangerous?
Table of Contents
- What Makes an Airport Dangerous?
- 25 Most Dangerous Airports in the World
- 1. Kansai International Airport (Japan)
- 2. Barra International Airport (Scotland)
- 3. Wellington International Airport (New Zealand)
- 4. Princess Juliana International Airport (Saint Martin)
- 5. Lukla Airport (Nepal)
- 6. Paro Airport (Bhutan)
- 7. Santos Dumont Airport (Brazil)
- 8. McMurdo Station (Antarctica)
- 9. Svalbard Airport (Norway)
- 10. Gustaf III Airport (Caribbean)
- 11. Saba Airport (Dutch Caribbean)
- 12. Gisborne Airport (New Zealand)
- 13. Madeira Airport (Portugal)
- 14. Narsarsuaq Airport (Greenland)
- 15. Gibraltar International Airport (Gibraltar)
- 16. San Diego International Airport (California, USA)
- 17. Toncontín International Airport (Honduras)
- 18. Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (Colorado, USA)
- 19. Alejandro Velasco Astete Cusco International Airport (Peru)
- 20. Kai Tak Airport (Hong Kong)
- 21. Agatti Aerodrome/Airport (India)
- 22. Cleveland Hopkins International (Cleveland, USA)
- 23. Telluride Regional Airport (Colorado, USA)
- 24. Congonhas-São Paulo Airport (Brazil)
- 25. Courchevel Airport (France)
- 26. Don Mueang International Airport (Thailand)
- 27. Tioman Island Airport (Malaysia)
- 28. Shimla Airport (India)
- 29. Damascus International Airport (Syria)
- Tips for Braving the Riskiest Airports
- Final Thought on Dangerous Airfields
Image by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash
Terrorist attacks, turbulent flights, and forgotten passport frights; an airport is a breeding ground for travellers to catch the anxiety bug. A dangerous airport, however, can be determined by a wide variety of factors. This includes:
- High altitudes – The atmosphere plays a big part in how planes land and take off. If the altitude is high, planes experience an increase in landing speed, extending the plane roll distance during landing.
- Wind conditions – From crafty crosswinds to troublesome tailwinds, many blowing obstacles can cause a bumpy plane ride. While turbulence is often a natural occurrence during flights, the wind can significantly affect the takeoff and landing of a plane.
- Runway length – While an adequate range for a runway length lies between 1800–2400 meter, a higher altitude location requires more runway room. The aircraft’s size also plays a role, as a bigger plane needs more space for landing than smaller jets.
- Runway location – An airport generally needs farther proximity to land obstructions to ensure planes land safely without any external hindrances. There are, however, several airports on this list that do not adhere to these guidelines. From sandy beaches to nearby cities, runway locations can be tricky to master if located in an uncommon territory.
- Political/social unrest – There are a number of negative impacts a country’s instability can have on its economic and social state, including damage to airports. From air strikes to violent protests, these troubling occurrences could potentially delay flights as a safety measure for tourists and travellers.
25 Most Dangerous Airports in the World
While air travel has come a long way in providing a safe and hazard-free experience, various airport conditions can unpredictably rock the boat (or plane, in this case). Are your seats in an upright position? Brace yourself as we take you on a journey through the top airports with an ongoing reputation for serving up a bumpy plane ride or airport experience.
1. Kansai International Airport (Japan)
Image by Kansai International Airport on Facebook
While this small strip in a vast sea of blue is lovely to view from above, Kansai International Airport has a variety of environmental factors that can be dangerous. From earthquakes to its close proximity to sea level, this plane hub can experience a lot of delays when natural disasters strike.
In 2018, this airport had to close for ten days due to the flooding caused by Typhoon Jedi. Thousands of travellers and staff were trapped in the airport premises overnight as a rogue ship swept up by the typhoon crashed into the bridge which connects the airport to Osaka.
Planning a trip to Japan? Read my posts on One Day in Tokyo, 10 Day Japan Itinerary, Two days in Kyoto and Things to Do in Kanazawa.
2. Barra International Airport (Scotland)
Image by Barra Airport on Facebook
The planes of this airport take off from the beautiful bays of Barra at Cockle Strand. This airport quite literally takes off and lands right into your Scottish island vacation. However, weather and beach condition reports need to be monitored constantly to ensure planes land safely.
This causes the airport to experience an extensive number of flight cancellations each year, as high winds and a runway covered by seawater are not ideal conditions to land in.
3. Wellington International Airport (New Zealand)
Image by Wellington International Airport on Facebook
With a considerably short runway (between 1828–2012 meter) and terrible wind conditions, landing planes in this airport is a challenging feat. As one of the windiest cities in the world, this New Zealand airfield is not for the faint-hearted fliers due to its turbulence during flights and bumpy landings.
4. Princess Juliana International Airport (Saint Martin)
Image by Princess Juliana International Airport on Facebook
Known as the central place for international flights to land in gorgeous Saint Martin’s sandy splendours, Princess Juliana International Airport is unavoidable when visiting this island. The runway, however, is quite a tight space for planes to land, which leaves little room for error from pilots.
Saint Martin is also situated on the hurricane belt, which led to the extensive damage Hurricane Irma caused on the airport’s roof in 2017.
5. Lukla Airport (Nepal)
Image by Tenzing Hillary Airport on Facebook
Nestled between the mountains of Mount Everest, Lukla Airport is a small building located near the base camp of the world’s highest mountain.
The ultimate airport to land for adventure seekers, Lukla Airport provides an epic appetiser for your Mount Everest trek ahead.
The airport has issued various requirements for pilots in order to land in the vicinity. This includes working in similar high-risk conditions for a year in Nepal as well as completing 100 short runway takeoff and landing flights.
With a short runway to land and a high altitude, you’re in for a treacherous treat at Lukla (also known as Tenzing-Hillary Airport). I have flown into and out of this airport and it is quite thrilling! As you land it is possible to see the mountain ahead of you and very much hope that the brakes have been serviced recently.
Read more about Nepal in my articles on Things to do in Kathmandu, Everest Base Camp Trek Itinerary and all about Nepal Tea Houses.
6. Paro Airport (Bhutan)
Image by Pema Gyamtsho on Pexels
Be sure to turn your difficulty setting to high, as this unassuming airport only has a few pilots in the world who are qualified and certified to stick the landing at Paro Airport. With no airport surveillance radar for guidance and a swift 45-degree drop before landing the plane on the runway, be sure to thank your pilot after this frightening flight.
Having said that, I have flown in and out of this airport and as a passenger, it is quite amazing to see this valley and the speed with which the pilot must enter and exit the valley area. Also, if you fly into Paro from Delhi you will experience some amazing views of the Himalayas including Mt Everest.
Learn more about amazing Bhutan with my articles on Best Time to Visit Bhutan, Tourist Places to See in Bhutan and my Complete Guide to Tiger’s Nest.
7. Santos Dumont Airport (Brazil)
Image by Cláudio Luiz Castro on Unsplash
This plane gathering space is the second-largest airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and is surrounded by bountiful blue waters. While it might be a wonderful sight to fly over, the runway is very short for landing, which makes the probability of landing in these Brazilian bays much larger.
8. McMurdo Station (Antarctica)
An airport not accessible to the ordinary person, McMurdo Station is an airplane landing space only acquired by individuals working or affiliated with the research facilities. This icy terrain is tough to fly in, as its extreme weather can cause unruly wind conditions for planes.
9. Svalbard Airport (Norway)
Image by Svalbard Airport on Facebook
Another frosty fly zone on the world’s most dangerous airport list is the snow-covered Svalbard Airport. The runway is built on the ice, and it’s also the location of the worst aviation crash in the history of Norway, which killed 141 people in 1996.
10. Gustaf III Airport (Caribbean)
Image by Gustaf III Airport on Facebook
With its location on iconic Saint Barthelemy (also known as St. Barts), it’s hard to imagine troubling air travel conditions in an area so idyllic. The runway to land is relatively small (just over 640 meter) and stops just before the turquoise-hued waters this picturesque paradise is known for.
11. Saba Airport (Dutch Caribbean)
Also known as the Juancho E Yrausquin Airport, this plane landing space in Saba is another tricky tropical airport to descend and touch down onto. With the short runway stopping at the cliff’s edge, you’ll be clutching your pearls as you see the steep drop ahead.
12. Gisborne Airport (New Zealand)
Image by Gisborne Airport on Facebook
With a railway line going straight across the airstrip, Gisborne Airport has a wonderfully unique experience in store for air travellers. Correct scheduling is necessary to ensure disaster does not strike at this airport, as both parties are operational during the day.
13. Madeira Airport (Portugal)
Image by Bechir Kaddech on Unsplash
While this airport has the unique feature of having a runway extension on constructed pillars over the Atlantic Ocean, this scary addition is not the main challenge of this airport. With strong winds and no landing system to help guide pilots when landing, commercial and private fliers need to navigate the perimeters manually.
This risky airport has a history of flights unable to see the runway for landing due to factors such as extensive cloud coverage and rainfall. With low visibility and only a small place for planes to land, you’ll have to practise your “brace position” before landing at this airport.
If you’re planning a trip to Portugal check out my articles on the Best Vineyards in Portugal, Portugal Landmarks and What is Portugal Famous for?
14. Narsarsuaq Airport (Greenland)
Image by Aéroport de Narsarsuaq on Facebook
A top contender for one of the most challenging plane landings to make at an airport, the Narsarsuaq Airport is a beautiful sight to behold in the air. With fantastic fjords to marvel at, you’ll have spectacular scenery to appreciate when ice-covered runways and bone-chilling winds worry you.
15. Gibraltar International Airport (Gibraltar)
Image by Rita Candeias on Unsplash
An airport that requires traffic flow to halt to ensure a safe plane landing, this Gibraltar airport takes bumper-to-bumper traffic to a whole other level. Turbulent wind conditions and a tendency to abruptly pull the brakes after landing (thanks to the descending sea waters ahead) can also be the cause of a shaky touchdown.
16. San Diego International Airport (California, USA)
Image by San Diego International Airport on Facebook
As San Diego Airport is in close proximity to the downtown area of the city; plane landings can feel too close for comfort when lowering down over tall buildings. Flights also tend to experience strong winds occasionally, which can cause a challenging ride.
If you’re planning a trip to San Diego, check out my articles on Where to see the sunset in San Diego and best pumpkin patches in San Diego.
17. Toncontín International Airport (Honduras)
Image by Toncontín International Airport on Facebook
With a location between magnificent mountains and only a tiny runway to land, this Honduran airport can be a harrowing flight for even the most experienced pilots. Timing is everything at this runway, as pilots need to brake immediately when touching the tarmac to ensure the landing roll doesn’t take them into ongoing highway traffic.
18. Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (Colorado, USA)
Image by Aspen–Pitkin County Airport on Facebook
A snow-capped location known for its stellar ski resorts and stunning natural scenery, the Rocky Mountains airport, however, has its fair share of challenges for planes. From high altitudes to rapid wind change conditions, you’ll be happy to step on the tarmac after a shaky flight.
19. Alejandro Velasco Astete Cusco International Airport (Peru)
Image by Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport on Facebook
Cusco is often associated with the perfect swirl between iconic historical significance and stunning scenery, which is why this travel destination is so popular. This Peruvian gem, however, is experiencing a time of civil unrest and anti-government actions across the country.
Many airports in the country have closed due to an increase in protests in the vicinity of these establishments, including the Cusco airport. It has been stated that the civil protests in close proximity to the airport threatened to take their demonstrations within the airport premises.
With one of the busiest airports in Brazil closed down as a safety measure to protect travellers, this left many stranded within the confines of Cusco. So, while the flights in and out of this captivating city might be a breeze, you’ll need to be aware of the hiccups this country’s political state might make on your trip.
20. Kai Tak Airport (Hong Kong)
Image by Kai Tak Airport on Facebook
While this airport might have seen its final flight in 1998, this closed-down plane hub in Hong Kong is still worth a mention due to its historically hair-raising landings of the past. Its surrounding terrain consisted mainly of mountainous areas and a vibrant city below.
Incoming flights were seemingly grazing the top of the city buildings and the roads on their path, which made the flights of Kai Tak a close call to destruction each time. This airport was also prone to unfavourable wind patterns for flying and could only be landed manually by pilots.
Note: Legend has it that the flights of Kai Tak Airport flew in such close proximity to the skyscrapers that travellers could peer into the lives of locals through the window.
Fun Fact: Kai Tak Airport was the first airport I ever flew into when I was all of 11 years old! I remember how amazing Hong Kong neon lights appeared from on high.
21. Agatti Aerodrome/Airport (India)
Image by Anuj Chauhan on Unsplash
A small aerospace encapsulated by crystal clear waters and palm tree-dotted beaches, it’s hard to imagine anything terrifying in this slice of seaside heaven.
The small strip of the runway, coming in at around 1219 meter, available on Agatti Island is a tight squeeze for an aircraft to land quickly.
22. Cleveland Hopkins International (Cleveland, USA)
Image by Jason z on Unsplash
While there might not be any specific terrain difficulties or hazardous weather afflictions, this airport has a history of unsafe conditions for the average air traveller. Its track record of offences says everything. This includes a $735,000 fine in 2015 for failing to adhere tosafety procedures during the snow as well as hazardous runway conditions throughout the years.
23. Telluride Regional Airport (Colorado, USA)
Image by Telluride Regional Airport on Facebook
From dangling cliffs to the skyrocketing elevation of this airport, a Telluride Regional Airport landing can be a scary experience. While landing slap in the awe-inspiring terrain of the San Juan Mountains, you’ll have a stunning view to ponder while you brave the strong turbulent wind conditions of this area.
24. Congonhas-São Paulo Airport (Brazil)
Image by Lukas Souza on Unsplash
Among the four official commercial airlines in São Paulo, the Congonhas-São Paulo Airport is one of the trickiest in South America for pilots to land. With slippery and wet ground conditions and its proximity to the city with a short runway, this airport has a history of crashes under its belt.
Known as the location of one of the biggest aviary disasters in Brazil’s history, Congonhas-São Paulo Airport has come under fire for negligence in the past. In 2007, over 180 people died on Airbus A320-233 due to the pilot landing beyond the designated airport runway.
As the runway was near a gas station, the crashed plane caught aflame from skidding over the runway from the slippery landing field and crashing into the garage.
25. Courchevel Airport (France)
This airport is located in the French Alps ski resort location of Courchevel, which forms part of the Les 3 Vallées (the most extensive snow-covered ski area in the world). One of the main problems for incoming pilots is the low visibility levels for landing and the short distance of the runway for the plane to land safely.
26. Don Mueang International Airport (Thailand)
Image by Don Mueang International Airport on Facebook
Known as one of the oldest airports in the world, Don Mueang International Airport, in many senses, can be categorised as a typical commercial air transport space to land. However, an operational golf course is situated between the two runways at the airport, which could certainly add a sense of danger to any golfer’s experience.
Flooding has also been a problem in the past on the runway of Don Mueang International Airport. In 2011, the rise of floodwaters prevented domestic flights from taking off and landing as water made its way to various runways.
27. Tioman Island Airport (Malaysia)
Image by Sofian Hamidy Hashim on Facebook
If you’re looking to heat up your vacation to the next level, this tropical Malaysian space is a volcanic island with idyllic beaches to frolic on. While its sublime surroundings ooze a sense of worry-free living, a flight to this lush space might be slightly different.
The pilots making this trip need to head directly to the surrounding mountains and make a sharp 90-degree turn to ensure they stay on course and land safely on the runway.
28. Shimla Airport (India)
Image by Shimla Airport on Facebook
This gathering spot for commercial airline planes is located in Jubbarhatti in the Shimla region and has a runway that will send chills down your spine once your eyes land upon it. The tarmac for planes is not only located between tremendous mountains, but the runway itself is a steep stretch of land that offers a crash into the surrounding rocky peaks if missed.
29. Damascus International Airport (Syria)
While many dangerous airport factors are influenced by surrounding environmental factors and weather conditions, this airport has another threatening reason for its hazardous status. With ongoing political unrest, such as the Syrian Civil War, this airport is potentially a target location for terrorists to strike.
In 2022, the Damascus International Airport was closed for repairs due to an airstrike from Israel that significantly damaged the airport’s main runway. This attack also affected the airport’s second terminal, which was opened again after extensive renovations.
Tips for Braving the Riskiest Airports
Image by Pascal Meier on Unsplash
Why give up on your dream vacation due to an airport’s reputation? While you can try your luck at another airport, you can always incorporate some key factors to consider when planning your trip:
- Check weather conditions – While the weather can often be unpredictable, you can check numerous online sources before booking your flight to decrease your chances of any pesky delays.
- Keep up to date with the news – If you’re considering a destination that is prone to political unrest, you’ll need to keep your designated newspaper apps ready well before the trip. As turbulent social, economic, and political conditions are constantly shifting, you’ll be up to date on what’s in store for you once you land.
- Research airline safety rating – This might be an extensive list of dangerous airports, but many airlines have a knack for skimping on regulations as well. Keep an eye on reviews to make a well-informed decision before booking your flight.
Final Thought on Dangerous Airfields
To many, an airport is embedded with a particular type of traveller dread (how many times can you check that you have your passport?), which can easily be alleviated. Some airports, however, will have you realise your worst fears mid-air or in the terminal.
Whether it’s flooded runways or terrifying turbulence, there are a variety of conditions that can make airports and their participating planes a petrifying place. You can think of it this way; if you book your ticket to one of these dangerous yet dazzling airports, no one can say you haven’t earned your vacation.
From blissful beachy vacations to illuminating urban jungle destinations, your flight will be sure to be worthy of all the hurdles along the way.
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Looking for a bit of traveller envy destinations after a heavy dose of flying paranoia? Take a look at the most beautiful cities in the world to discover your love for adventure again.
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