10 of the World’s Most Unique and Unusual Airports

Super-short landing strips, art-filled terminals, icy runways — it's easy to see why these airports fascinate travellers!

Gibraltar is home to one of the world's most unique and unusual airports

4min read

Published 28 March 2024

Flight Centre Author

By

Kaitlyn Funk

Copywriter


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Super-short landing strips, art-filled terminals, icy runways — it's easy to see why these airports fascinate travellers!


Airports are often taken for granted. Yes, their primary purpose is to get you from point A to point B — but that doesn’t mean you should walk in and out of their terminals without a second thought! 

If you stop and look around, you’ll notice that many airports have been designed to enhance the travel experience. While some are located in truly breathtaking destinations, others offer world-class amenities and entertainment. And then there are the airports, runways and terminals that you have to see to believe. Curious to know what we mean? Keep reading to discover some of the world’s most unique and unusual airports.



Airports that take planespotting to a whole new level

If you love watching, photographing and tracking aircraft, these two airports should be at the top of your must-visit list.

Princess Juliana International Airport, Saint Martin

It’s not unusual for planes to fly directly over a public beach, but the aircraft arriving at and departing from Princess Juliana International Airport take this to the extreme. 

Given that the Caribbean island of Saint Martin is so tiny (just 88 square kilometres!), the airport’s runway was built within walking distance of Maho Beach. And as a result, planes fly right above those who are swimming and relaxing on shore at a so-close-you-can-almost-touch-them altitude.

Gibraltar International Airport, Gibraltar

The airport in Gibraltar, a tiny British Territory nestled between Spain and Morocco, is also a good spot for aircraft spotting — especially considering that the airport runway intersects with Winston Churchill Avenue, one of the city’s major roads. Vehicles and pedestrians are stopped at railroad-style crossings every time a plane lands or departs, giving them the chance to take in the views (which happen to be backdropped by the famous Rock of Gibraltar). 

Despite originally being built during World War II as an emergency airport, Gibraltar International still operates today, helping travellers get to and from Bristol, London and Manchester via British Airways and easyJet. 

Airports that put pilot skills (and passenger bravery!) to the test

Takeoffs and landings at these mountain and island-based airports can be a bit distressing for some, but hey, it's all about the journey... right?

Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Nepal

The Tenzing-Hillary Airport (also known as the Lukla Airport) has long been regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous airports. In addition to having an incredibly short runway — one that ends in a very steep drop-off — the airport often gets hit with challenging and unpredictable weather conditions.

So, why are people still flying in and out of here? Because it’s a gateway to Mount Everest! Situated approximately 2,900m above sea level, this is where many people go to begin their trek to the summit. The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is short and intense — but the alternative is several extra days of hiking. When it comes to climbing the world’s tallest mountain, you’ve got to pick your battles.

Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba

Like other island-based airports, the Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport in Saba has a short runway. In fact, it has one of the shortest commercial runways in the world — measuring just 400m in length. To put that in perspective, most runways are between 2,400m and 4,000m long to guarantee a safe landing. As if that’s not terrifying enough, the runway is also surrounded by cliffs and ocean.

Large aircraft aren’t welcome at Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, but you can travel between Saba and the Caribbean islands of St. Barts, Saint Martin and St. Eustatius aboard Winair’s smaller planes. That is, if you’re brave enough. One thing that might ease your mind? Only specially trained and experienced pilots are permitted to take off and land here. 

Barra Airport, Scotland

This airport, located on the small island of Barra in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, looks pretty modern compared to Lukla Airport and Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport — it has three runways as well as an air traffic control tower! But don’t be fooled: one of the things that has earned Barra Airport a reputation for being one of the world’s most unique airports is also what tests the guts (and patience) of pilots and passengers.

For starters, its runways are made of sand instead of asphalt and concrete. And then there’s the tides. The airport’s entire schedule is dictated by how the Atlantic Ocean ebbs and flows against the shore, with takeoffs and landings only possible at low tide… when the runways are not submerged under water. 

Airports that are destinations in their own right

Are you one of those travellers who avoids multi-stop flights and layovers at all costs? These beautiful airport terminals might convince you to change your ways.

Changi Airport, Singapore

Singapore’s Changi Airport consistently ranks as one of the world’s best — and for good reason! Jewel Changi Airport, the nature-themed entertainment and retail complex that’s connected to the passenger terminals, has something for everyone. Think hedge and mirror mazes, walking trails and a spectacular waterfall, as well as countless shopping and dining options.

Singapore is so much more than a stopover destination, but it’s easy to see why so many travellers have a hard time leaving the airport.

Vancouver International Airport, Canada

You can learn a lot about Vancouver simply by visiting the airport. Indigenous works, including “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe” sculpture by acclaimed artist Bill Reid, are displayed pretty much everywhere. There are also aquariums, atriums, rivers and tidal pools just waiting to be discovered.

Of course, it would be best if you had a few days to explore Vancouver — but if you’re only passing through, the airport will give you a good glimpse of what the city has to offer.

Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong

Killing time at Hong Kong International Airport is easy. Need to refresh between flights? Use the complimentary shower facilities or pay to gain entry to one of its many lounges. Feeling peckish? Get an authentic taste of the city at the airport’s food court. Themed lounges and multimedia experiences can also be found throughout the terminals. For those with an extra-long layover, there’s also a luxury golf course and massive expo centre within walking distance of the airport.

Hong Kong International Airport is also unique for being built on an artificial island. This involved merging smaller islands with reclaimed land — in other words, it’s as much an engineering marvel as it is a major transportation hub.

Airports that feel as cool as they look

Flying into these two terminals is rare (they aren’t located that close to major cities), but we couldn’t resist adding these icy landing strips to our list of unique and unusual airports.

Svalbard Airport, Norway

This may not be the world’s largest airport, but it is the world’s northernmost airport — and we think that’s worth celebrating. Make sure to get a window seat so you can take in the snowy views as you make your way toward the runway (which is built on permafrost, btw).

Fun fact: Some of our customers actually flew to Svalbard Airport last year. If you’re reading this, please let us know what it was like!

Williams Field, Antarctica

Unlike some of the other airports on this list, Williams Field gives pilots plenty of room to land their aircraft. What sets its two runways apart, however, is the fact that they are comprised of compacted snow. Of course Antarctica has an ice runway! How could we have expected anything else?

Until 1993, Williams Field (known locally as “Willy Field”), was an active training base for the United States Army Air Forces. Today, it’s part of the United States Antarctic program, serving McMurdo Station and New Zealand’s Scott Base.

 

Ready to fly away? Whether you want to land at these unique and unusual airports or just need to book flights for your next vacation, our travel consultants can help. Get in touch today!

Flight Centre Author

By

Kaitlyn Funk

Copywriter


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