Air travel is generally regarded as one of the safest ways to see the world, and it’s certainly the fastest, at least until they come up with Star Trek-style transporters that put you in another place instantaneously (Seriously, where is this technology? It’s already 2012, people!). But let’s face it, who hasn’t looked at one of the little puddle-jumping planes so common in the Caribbean and thought, “Well, a two-day sail might not be the worst thing”?
But we get over it, because we love the Caribbean and we love to get there as quickly as possible. On the other hand, every so often a traveler is confronted with a runway that threatens to change their mind, not because of fear the landing will be rough, but just because it seems impossible. Here are three of the worst runways in the Caribbean.
We’ll start with one that isn’t all that bad under normal conditions. Key West International Airport is really international in name only, but hosts flights to and from all parts of the southeastern USA. At 4,800 feet, this runway really is long enough for the planes that make those journeys, even if they are subject to strict weight and baggage requirements. But I can tell you from personal experience that when conditions aren’t normal, things can get a little bit scary.
Try flying from mainland Florida to the airspace over Key West, only to be told that the fog is too thick and the plane has to turn around. You land back in Miami, or Tampa, or wherever you took off from, only to repeat the entire process two hours later. You finally get a chance to land the next morning. See, a lot of the small planes that can fly into Key West International Airport don’t even have a barrier between the passengers and the pilot, let alone the complicated machinery that lets pilots land in highly reduced visibility. For this reason, we completely understand why so many people prefer to drive or take a ferry, rather than take their chances in this (admittedly adorable) tiny little airport.
Princess Juliana International Airport, in Saint Maarten, has become something of a favorite with planespotters. You may recognize some of the famous images of planes landing there. While it is capable of handling large planes (unlike so many of its closest neighbors), they have to come in very low because of the length of the runway and its proximity to the beach. The nearby waterfront is, as a result, perhaps a bit more exciting (not to mention noisier) than most.
Also, because the approach is so low over the water, it is not uncommon for pilots to become a bit disoriented during landing. Fortunately, the navigational instruments work fine and prevent most possible problems from becoming actual issues.
You might have heard of Saba’s airport, more formally known as Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport. It’s pretty tiny, with one small terminal, a designated helipad, and a fire department. There’s a tower, but it’s for advisory purposes only and doesn’t provide air traffic control. Oh, and you can’t refuel on the island. The airport is also famous for having the shortest commercially used runway in the world, at just under 1300 feet. It’s not the length that scares people, though, as much as the actual approach. Or rather the fact that there isn’t one.
Hills on one side, cliffs on all others. Flying out of Saba isn’t so much flying as it is driving off the edge of a cliff and assuming your plane will stay up, because it always has in the past. In fact, that’s probably the most impressive part – no fatal accidents have ever taken place here. No pilot has ever undershot the approach and run into a cliff, and no one’s ever driven off the edge and failed to fly. That gives Yrasquin Airport a better safety record than JFK, O’Hare, LAX, or London Heathrow.
So there you have it. Three of the most terrifying Caribbean destinations to fly into. The fact remains, though, that they’re incredibly safe and always worth a visit. So what do you think? Are there any runways or airports we should have included? Have you ever had an adventure getting to your Caribbean getaway? Let us know in the comments!