5 Airports You Never Want To Land At

5 Airports You Never Want To Land At

    We might roll our eyes when people clap on a plane, but sometimes it’s well-deserved.

    We’re not just talking about a bumpy landing at Heathrow. We’re talking about the airports out there that give a good roller coaster a run for its money. 

    Whether it’s because of wild terrain, crazy weather, or just the way they’re built, these airfields have become notorious for serving up some of the toughest challenges a pilot could encounter.

    Matekane Airstrip, Lesotho

    When it comes to taking off, Matekane Airstrip is a genuine hair-raiser.

    Things start out looking pretty normal as your plane picks up speed on the ground. It’s only when you reach the end of the 1600 ft long grass strip that you’ll notice something weird.

    You know that feeling you get in your stomach when you’re on a rollercoaster?

    Yep. You’re free falling. 

    Matekane Airstrip

    Matekane Airstrip’s short runway ends abruptly at the top of a 1900 ft-tall cliff, leading to a very thin margin-of-error for taking off and landing. 

    It means that most planes start free falling before they’ve even generated the lift required to actually start flying. 

    Hold onto your seat and pray that your pilot isn’t fresh out of flight school. 

    Why You Would Fly There

    The strip is found in the heartlands of Lesotho, a small country completely enclaved by its only neighbour, South Africa. 

    Lesotho is mostly rural, and because its transport infrastructure is underdeveloped, people need to use small planes to get around. 

    Typically, you’d be a doctor or someone from an aid organisation using the airstrip to reach communities that would be otherwise inaccessible. Hopefully they also don’t mind a bit of a rush!

    Paro Airport, Bhutan

    You’ve done your research on Bhutan. You’ve arranged the visa, tour operator and hotel stay required to even be allowed in. But that’s not the most difficult part.  

    The most difficult part is…actually getting there.

    Paro, Bhutan’s only international airport, sits over 7300 ft above sea level. Complicating things further is the fact that you are literally in the Himalayas.

    This means that pilots dance around several 18,000 ft peaks to simply find the runway - with less than 30 seconds to then stick the landing!

    At one point, you’ll be so close to the locals’ houses (the pilots use them as reference points) that you could practically wave to them - very briefly.

    This landing is so difficult that, at any given time, there are only eight to twelve people qualified to even attempt it! 

    Why You Would Fly There

    Don’t let us put you off visiting Bhutan! The happiest country in the world is famous for its uniquely Buddhist culture, complete with colourful festivals and temples all over the place. 

    The most breathtaking of these is the cliffside Tiger’s Nest, though you do have to climb up about 10,000 ft to reach it. Guess the Bhutanese happen to be fans of heights…  

    Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Nepal

    Most people know Mount Everest is only for real pros. What they don’t know is that the danger starts before you even get there.

    Tenzing-Hillary Airport, initially built to serve the small Nepalese town of Lukla, is now infamous for being one of the most dangerous airports in the world.

    In 2008, a plane trying to land here got caught on the runway and crashed. Out of the 19 people on board, only the pilot survived - Tenzing-Hillary’s worst disaster so far.

    So, what makes a safe landing so difficult?  Well, the airport has a one-way airstrip, with a cliff on one side and a mountain on the other, making a go-around impossible.

    Tenzing-Hillary is also notorious for losing power to its navigation equipment, meaning that pilots often have to rely on looking out the front window when attempting a landing.

    That’s easier said than done in the Himalayas, as the weather can change at the drop of a hat. In fact, more than 50% of flights get cancelled because of bad weather!

    Why You Would Fly There

    Despite its reputation, Tenzing-Hillary still sees plenty of hikers landing here on their way to Everest’s base camp. If you ever fancy conquering the world’s tallest mountain, chances are you’re heading here. 

    The good news is that there’s a dedicated tea station in the departure lounge. Nepalese tea is delicious, apparently :-)

    Svalbard Airport, Norway

    Landing in Svalbard will make your blood run cold - literally, in this case - as you’ll be deep inside the Arctic Circle at the world’s northernmost public airport. 

    It gets so cold there that the airport designers had to factor this in during construction. The only solution was to build the main runway on permafrost, with further insulation against the ground below. 

    This leaves the airport permanently frozen - even throughout the summer - so that the yearly melting of the ice won’t wreak havoc with the tarmac layer’s structural integrity.

    That said, this presents an extra challenge for pilots as an icy runway can be very slippery. Definitely can’t afford a slip up here, though.

    If that wasn’t enough, being so far north means that there are also wild variations in day length, from the so-called ‘midnight sun’ of the summer to the permanent darkness of the winter.

    Imagine trying to land here in pitch black conditions with nothing but your instruments to guide you… let’s just say it’s gonna take a cool head.

    Why You Would Fly There

    The Svalbard Archipelago is owned by the Kingdom of Norway, which has traditionally used it for mining and fishing purposes. 

    These days, Svalbard is often visited by researchers and tourists eager to discover the wildlife and the local landscape. Many consider it one of the last untouched places on Earth.

    Plus, the town of Longyearbyen is home to the Global Seed Vault, an emergency backup deposit of all the world’s grain seeds. You know, in case of a global apocalypse. Good to know someone is worried about this stuff! 

    Saba Island, Dutch Caribbean

    When you land at Saba, “X” definitely does not mark the spot, unless you want to end up on the cliffs below.

    With a runway only 1300 ft long, Saba has the world’s smallest commercial airport. For comparison, a standard runway is usually anywhere from 8,000 to 13,000 ft long! 

    Only specially trained pilots are allowed to fly here, as the final descent requires them to line the plane up perfectly. 

    The island’s volcano complicates this even further by forcing pilots to take a sharp turn just before landing - not the easiest thing to do when facing tough Caribbean crosswinds.

    Why You Would Fly There

    Saba Island is known as ‘the unspoiled Queen’ of the Caribbean because of its pristine natural beauty. 

    It’s becoming especially popular for ecotourism, with plenty of scuba diving, climbing and hiking options on offer. The volcano, named Mount Scenery, is actually the tallest peak in the whole Kingdom of the Netherlands!

    Traditionalists can take a ferry there, but we would (obviously) prefer flying. Both leave from the island of Sint Maarten, whose airport also almost made this list (for one fairly obvious reason).