Flying Into Teguci-Gulp-a

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Reader Adam recalls his worst travel experience:

I was going back to Honduras after my honeymoon. I had a connecting flight in Miami. I went to get my bags to get through customs. They hadn’t made it yet. I couldn’t miss my flight, so off I went.

Flying into Tegucigalpa was frightening, to say the least. We were all over the sky. I later found out it’s one of the worst airports to fly into. We landed safely on the ground once the pilot figured out how to pull this off.

Once at the airport I came to the realization that my bags had been kept in Miami. Everything I bought on the honeymoon was lost.

Here’s a bit more about Tegucigalpa’s Toncontin Airport, according to a Popular Mechanics list of the 10 most dangerous airports in the world:

Aircraft have to skirt around the mountains of the interior highlands to land in a valley 3,294 feet above sea level. On approach, airliners as big as Boeing 757s make a 45-degree bank to effectively reach the 7000-foot runway with well above average rates of descent. Winds require pilots to compensate while hustling their aircraft in a zig-zag path over the terrain. Departures require high rates of climb to clear the nearby peaks.

And the very worst airport to fly into? Conde Nast Traveler says it’s the one in Lukla, Nepal. That airport is featured several times in this long compilation of dicey landings:

Have you ever had a harrowing landing, or an emergency situation on a plane? Drop us a note and we’ll post.


Update from Paul Blackburn, who sends a great photo flying above Guatemala:

Attached is a photo I took while on a medical transport in a Lear Jet Model 35, flown by REVA, an air ambulance/transport company based out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and our branch base in Phoenix, Arizona. I was the physician on the flight, and we were banking onto final approach to the primary airport in Guatemala City, Guatemala. We were between a lower level of clouds and a higher scud layer of clouds. As we banked, I noted what I thought to be a mountain protruding through the clouds. On closer inspection, one can see that the “mountain” I briefly saw was actually a volcano, actively emitting steam and/or ash (this is apparently its usual baseline status):