Hold on to your armrest — the takeoffs and landings at these U.S. airports can be intense. Factors like extreme weather, location, and even noise-free zones (seriously!) make these heart-stopping airport runways the most notorious in our country.
Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport, Sitka, Alaska
That’s a tiny airport! (Photo: Long B. Nguyen)
The tiny island of Sitka’s even tinier landing strip is almost entirely surrounded by water. Add in wildly unpredictable weather, storms that can bring all sorts of boulders and debris onto the runway, and large flocks of birds that live in the area, and you have a pretty scary descent.
Reagan National Airport, Washington, D.C.
Watch out for the Capitol building. (Photo: Corey Seeman/Flickr)
To visit the nation’s capital, you might want to pack some Valium: Reagan National Airport is flanked by two overlapping no-fly zones, which can make for a twisty flight. Most pilots follow the Potomac River (They refer to it as the River Visual) to avoid CIA headquarters and the Pentagon, but that requires some sharp turns. Think that’s the worst to come? When departing, flights must ascend fast with a quick turn to avoid the White House.
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, Aspen, Colo.
The skiing is worth the tricky arrival. (Photo: redlegsfan21/Flickr)
Pilots need a special certificate to land in Aspen, and with good reason, especially during the winter ski season. The strip is wedged between two mountains — requiring strict control — with often low visibility and an icy runway.
John Wayne Airport, Santa Ana, Calif.
Looking back after liftoff from John Wayne Airport (Photo: WikiCommons)
This small, private airport is set among highbrow residential communities such as Newport Beach, Irvine, and Costa Mesa. As a result, officials implemented strict noise regulations for flights. Sound safe? To comply with these rules, departing flights at John Wayne Airport must perform a steep climb at full throttle followed by a sudden thrust reduction, inducing panic in passengers. Takeoffs here have been compared to a missile launch.
Chicago Midway International Airport, Chicago
De-icing the planes before take off at Chicago’s Midway Airport (Photo: James/Flickr)
Not only are the runways short at Chicago Midway International Airport (about 2,000 feet shorter than runways at newer airports), causing pilots to overshoot takeoff and landing, but also frequent severe weather conditions often up the fear factor for passengers flying in and out of this Midwest hub. Could this be one of the reasons why sister airport O’Hare International is more popular?
San Diego International Airport, San Diego
Flying over downtown San Diego on approach (Photo: Eric Larson/Flickr)
Prepare to kiss the ground upon landing: San Diego International Airport is considered one of the country’s scariest airports due to several factors. First, there are mountains to the north and east, so pilots need to be on their A-game. Mexican airspace is due south, and the west brings pretty intense tailwinds. The airport is also located downtown, which is convenient for getting to your hotel in short time, but it makes for a white-knuckle descent.
Yeager Airport, Charleston, W.Va.
Aerial view of Yeager Airport (Photo: WikiCommons)
The runway at Yeager Airport is seriously short, but that’s not what’s going to get your adrenaline pumping. The airport sits atop a flattened mountain between two cliffs, and pilots have been known to overshoot the runway. Luckily there have been no serious injuries.
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