The Airports That Have The Scariest Landing Experiences In The World

The scariest airports to land in include Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten, Hechi Airport in Guangxi, China, and Gibraltar International Airport in Gibraltar.

By Brian Scheid | Published

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The scariest moments for passengers on an airplane flight are when the plane is either taking off or landing. During the accent or decent, the aircraft is the most likely time for something to go tragically wrong, and your life is truly in the hands of the pilot. We are going to look at some of the scariest airports to land a plane in the world and the reasons it could be the most terrifying few minutes of your life.

We are going to jump right in with the undisputed champion of landing terror, which is the Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten, located in the Caribbean. The airport is so scary because of Runway 10’s proximity to Maho Beach and its incredibly short length of 7,150 feet for commercial airliners to land on. Footage of a plane landing on this runway went viral on social media sites a few years ago, where you can see beachgoers sitting less than 100 feet from the runway as an airplane flies a few feet over their heads.

Pilots have been known to become disoriented on the descent because the approach to the runway is completely over a body of water.  If you think landing here is scary the take-off is even more hair-raising as planes need to bank a hard turn after becoming airborne to avoid slamming into a mountain range. It’s not only dangerous for passengers, in 2017 a woman was killed by the jet blast of an arriving aircraft and the beach has dozens of signs warning about the potential dangers at the popular tourist site.  

The Hechi Airport in the southern province of Guangxi, China ranks up on the list of scariest airport landings because it was constructed 2,200 feet above sea level and on the flattened tops of 65 different mountains. This airport is an engineering marvel with a 1.4-mile-long and 150-foot-wide runway which also has a 1,000-foot cliff on one side of it. The runway is extremely narrow, which allows the airport to only be able to accommodate three flights per hour which are 20 times less than the other mainland China airports.

Some of the honorable mentions for the world’s scariest landing airport are Gibraltar International Airport in Gibraltar where pilots must not only negotiate bodies of water on both sides of the landing strip but also car traffic from the peninsula’s busiest roadway which bisects the runway. Toncontin International Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, has the trifecta of danger regarding nightmare airport landings. This airport has one of the world’s shortest commercial jet runways, mountainous terrain, and wind guts due to the altitude of the airport coupled with a sharp banking turn while on approach makes it a tricky place to land for the most experienced pilots.

According to, “In May 2008, an Airbus A320 overshot the runway killing five. In May 2009, the airport received a runway extension.” Next up is Barra International Airport in Scotland, which has a runway that can only be landed on during the low tide of the bay of Traigh Mhor because, during high tide, the runway is completely submerged and occupied by kite surfers and cockle hunters.

The last airport to mention is Congonhas Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil, because of the densely populated area that it is located in. The airport is known in pilot circles for having a slippery runway surface which ratchets up the difficulty meter quite a bit. In 2007 a TAM Airlines Airbus A320 overran the runway, crossed a busy roadway, and crashed into a warehouse killing all 187 passengers and crew as well as 12 others on the roadway and in the warehouse.

If you are planning on visiting any of these locations and your itinerary has these airports listed on it. Be aware that you will be getting a little extra thrill when you come in for a landing that is not for the faint of heart. As they say, “Buckle your seat belts,” grip your armrests, close your eyes, and pray.