What happens when a bunch of aviation geeks get together to talk about the best airport approaches in the world?
A lively discussion about which destinations are the most fun to fly into – and likely an argument or two about why some are better than others.
McCarran International Airport recently landed on a list of the top 10 most stunning airport approaches in the world, compiled by British private jet charter booking service PrivateFly.com.
The company enlisted a panel of travel experts to put together a list of top landing spots, and customers voted to determine the ranking.
Here is the top 10:
1. St. Maarten Princess Juliana International Airport, Caribbean (SXM)
You’ve probably seen pictures of planes landing in St. Maarten, where the end of the runway is so close to the beach that it looks like beachcombers could reach up and touch planes' landing gear.
The runway is plenty long, though, so it can accommodate any type of plane, from small twin-engine Twin Otters to Boeing 747s.
“It’s a gorgeous approach over the clear blue sea, white sand beach with hills in the background,” a PrivateFly.com user said. “The beach goers can almost touch the landing gear as planes make their landing. It’s unbelievable, an aircraft lover’s dream. Nowhere else in the world can you get so close to the variety of aircraft.”
2. Barra Airport, Scotland (BRR)
Barra Airport is the only place in the world where airplanes take off and land on a beach.
The beach on the north coast of the Scottish island Barra was established as an airfield in 1936. Three runways are marked by wooden poles in the sand.
“It’s a spectacular approach over beautiful islands, soft landing on the beach of white shells, taxiing up to the tiny terminal and then realizing the whole island breathes to the rhythm of the tide, as you can only land at low tide so the bus, the post office and the shops open after the plane has landed with mail, people and newspapers,” a PrivateFly member said.
3. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
LAX is the leading airport destination from Las Vegas with an average of 32 flights a day. It also is a cool airport to fly in to.
PrivateFly customers said they like flying into Los Angeles because of the city's broad footprint.
“The approach to LAX is quite stunning, especially at night,” a PrivateFly user said. “The city of Los Angeles spreads out to infinity below the aircraft like a blanket of stars. Daytime, passengers can gawk at the city surrounded by the desert, mountains and the ocean.”
4. Paro, Bhutan (PBH)
There’s a sense of adventure landing at this airport nestled in the Himalayas.
“Landing at Paro is the first of many hair-raising experiences the adventurous visitor to this berserk Shangri-La-esque kingdom will likely be faced with,” said Peter Meyers, of Reuters, who was part of the PrivateFly panel. "The aircraft weaves precariously through colossal never-summited mountains, buffeted by treacherous winds, and before touching down comes dastardly close to taking a few picturesque roofs of nearby houses."
5. McCarran International Airport (LAS)
Las Vegas’ airport landed in the middle of the top 10 approach destinations.
“The weather is almost always clear and the view is spectacular,” one PrivateFly user said. “Just knowing the fun starts in a matter of minutes raises the anticipation to a level you can’t find anywhere else.”
McCarran has two sets of parallel runways. The most common approach is from east to west. That enables passengers to capture a view of the Strip before deplaning.
The north-south approach gives passengers a view of downtown. It runs almost parallel to the Strip and offers glances of the Stratosphere, Wynn, Venetian, Palazzo, Caesars Palace, CityCenter and the MGM Grand.
“There are views of endless, rumpled desert and then — suddenly — up pops Vegas, all twinkling other-worldly light and the promise of fun,” wrote panelist Francisca Kellett, travel editor for Tatler.
6. Phinda Game Reserve Airstrip, South Africa
Where else in the world do approaching pilots have to watch for giraffes roaming the landing strip?
The Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa is more African plain than a home for African planes. It’s not uncommon for lions and elephants to find their way to the landing strip and delay arrivals and takeoffs.
7. London City Airport (LCY)
Just to be clear, this isn’t Heathrow or Gatwick.
London City Airport is nestled along the Canary Wharf and offers great views of Central London landmarks.
“Plunging down in front of the towers of Canary Wharf and into the heart of London’s financial hub really makes you feel like a master of the universe,” said panelist Murdo Morrison, of Flight International.
8. Aruba Queen Beatrix International Airport, Lesser Antilles (AUA)
What’s not to like about this Caribbean paradise?
“There is nothing more beautiful than seeing the sparkling blue waters of Aruba on approach,” a PrivateFly client said. “The color of the buildings against the clear waters is picture perfect.”
The approach to the airport, on the west coast of Aruba, takes visitors over the Caribbean Sea with stunning views of the whole island.
9. Mustique Airport, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (MQS)
A landing at Mustique Airport, another Caribbean outpost, is more of an adventure than most places, thanks to a hill at one end of the landing strip.
“You’ve got to get over the hill pretty quick, otherwise you end up in the sea,” said panelist Clive Jacobs, chairman of Travel Weekly. “It makes it exciting.”
The private island is only 2.2 square miles and is owned by the Mustique Co., which manages the 100 private villas that dot the island.
10. Nice Cote d’Azur, France (NCE)
The name of France’s third-busiest airport means “coast of azure” and reflects its location on the Mediterranean Coast in the heart of the French Riviera.
PrivateFly.com customers said landing at Cote d’Azur “is like landing on the water.”
Because the airport is only 3 miles from Nice and serves as Monaco's airport, travelers could be in for a double treat. Celebrity sightings are common.