Pilots Hate Flying Into These U.S. Airports

Being an airline pilot is a stressful job. Sure, traveling the world seems like a fantastic way to live, but these talented professionals aren't on vacation. Their job is to defy gravity from deadly heights with the lives of their passengers continuously in their hands. Skies and weather can be dangerous. Mechanical malfunctions are synonymous with catastrophe when you're thousands of feet in the air. Any mistake could cost hundreds of lives. And at the end of every flight is a destination airport that can make all the difference. Unfortunately, not all of the airports that pilots fly into in the U.S. are pleasant or safe.

While passengers have negative experiences at airports all the time, they only have to deal with them when going on vacation, business trips, etc. Pilots spend a good portion of their lives in airports, giving the negatives plenty of time to build up. With some of the issues at these landing strips, it's no wonder pilots hate flying into these U.S. airports.

Catalina Island Airport – Catalina Island, California

Catalina Island Airport off the Los Angeles coast of California is one airport some pilots are less than fond of. As pilot Brian Teeter points out on Quora, this airport is high up in the mountains, which causes all sorts of problems. For one, the runway isn't very long, leaving less room for error from departing and arriving aircraft. It's also prone to crosswinds that can make these precise procedures more difficult. So, for pilots, especially pilots flying small aircraft that are more easily hindered by winds and weather, disliking the airport on Catalina Island makes sense from a technical standpoint. But not every pilot hates it.

In a turn that might seem counterintuitive, some pilots actually like this airport for the same reason others hate it. Private pilot and Quora user Bob Nix says flying into this airport is fun because it's such a challenge. In order for pilots to land, they must bring their planes lower in relation to the runway than what they're normally used to doing while approaching, which has to do with this airport being located on a plateau. Now, while this pilot enjoys it, you might feel more comfortable flying with a pilot who doesn't actively look for challenges while you're in the passenger's seat.

Yeager Airport – Charleston, West Virginia

Yeager Airport, just outside of Charleston, West Virginia, can be troublesome for pilots, and West Virginia's landscape is one of the reasons for it. The state is mostly mountains, and with very little flat land, there isn't much room for long runways and easy descents. Reddit user TRex_N_Truex explains that Yeager is his least favorite airport because the runway is short, the mountain winds can cause problems, and the runway itself is filled with bumps that can make for a rough landing. Quora user Matt Swanson, who is not a pilot himself, claims the pilots he knows hate flying into Yeager for the same reasons.

The worries pilots have about Yeager Airport have been proven justified over the years. In 2017, a cargo plane crashed when the pilot attempted to land too short of the runway, sending the craft into a deadly summersault. There isn't much leeway for pilots at this Charleston airport since the runway is positioned tightly between two cliffs. Errors can be catastrophic.

John Wayne Airport – Santa Ana, California

John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California, is loathed by airline pilots for several reasons. Some of the primary issues pilots mention on the Quora thread "For airlines pilots, is John Wayne/Orange County airport the toughest runway to land in the US?" include the runway itself and a number of things that come with the airport's popularity. For one, there's a ton of air traffic in the area, which makes it a pain to navigate since you can't fly too close to other planes, and not all of the pilots have a trove of flying experience. The runway also has alarms that go off if certain sound procedures aren't followed, garnishing a fine for the airlines.

This airport has also been labeled the scariest airport in the world due to its abnormally short runway. This means take-offs have to be significantly steeper than at airports with a longer strip, and landings have less time to put on the brakes. Everything on the runway happens fast and hard, which not only makes it easier to have bad landings, it scares the crap out of passengers.

San Diego Airport – San Diego, California

San Diego is one of the biggest cities in California, which means its airport is full of heavy traffic. Pilots are going in and out of the airport virtually nonstop, and arriving here drives some pilots nuts for a specific reason. Sure, the innumerable hills around San Diego make flying tricky, but that's only one small piece to landing here. 

The thing that really gets some pilots going is the parking garage that somebody, somewhere, decided should be built barely below the arrival path to runway 27. Retired pilot Reg Prewitt answers on the Quora thread "What do airline pilots think of the parking garage at San Diego Airport when coming into land on runway 27?" that he believes the parking garage breaks code for structures in the flight zone and should've never been put there in the first place.

Several pilots have posted their hatred of this garage on social forums, but Quora user Peter Kosen sums it up well with this: "They recently built that parking garage right in the way of the main runway just so pilots can earn bonus points for missing it on the way down ..."

Telluride Regional Airport – Telluride, Colorado

By now, you're probably noticing a bit of a theme. Pilots don't like to fly into tough landings since it puts themselves and their passengers at risk, and landing is already one of the trickier parts of a job. Telluride Regional Airport in Telluride, Colorado, doesn't make it any easier. According to The Denver Post, this is the highest airport in the country for commercial flights in terms of altitude, and because of its height and the cliff drop-offs around it, the air can get pretty choppy at times.

One commentator on a Quora thread discussing challenging airports to land in brings up Telluride because of the quality of its landing strip, saying it's slightly tilted and has a portion that sags down in the center. That certainly brings a new level of difficulty to the already dangerous landing. To add insult to injury, around 20% of flights are directed away from Telluride because of the quickly changing and hazardous weather, according to JetOptions. Talk about an unneeded frustration to a pilot's heavy workload.

LaGuardia Airport – Queens, New York

When looking through the Reddit thread "Pilots and Flight Attendants, which airports do you love and which ones do you hate?" one airport stands out as hated above almost all the others, and this is LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York. The thread is filled with all sorts of creative sayings about the New York City airport, most of which are swear words you aren't likely to hear in PG-13 movies. And why is that? Well, many would say it's because of the conditions of the airport. To be fair, it was known as one of (if not the) worst airports to go through, but a seven-year remodel ending in 2022 corrected all of that. And, if it makes you feel any better, you're actually more likely to lose your luggage at JFK airport

While the previously poor conditions likely added to pilots' doubts about flying into LaGuardia, it's the runway that truly bothers them. Not only is the runway short, but to land there, pilots must come in on a very low track over the city, then put the plane down on that stubby landing strip that overhangs the bay. Not to mention the in-air traffic one must contend with from the other popular airports nearby, a common problem in sprawling metropolises.

Los Angeles International Airport – Los Angeles, California

Second to LaGuardia on the Redditors' list of most hated airports – at least the most hated in a thread asking pilots and flight attendants which airports they disliked the most — is Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California. As the most-filmed U.S. airport, LAX is probably one of the biggest and most famous of the airports in the United States, and many pilots find it the most terrible.

Comments fill the thread with such brain musings as "LAX is pretty much the [worst] place I've ever been" and other similar sentiments. Unfortunately, no one on Reddit goes into why they hate it so much. However, on Quora, pilot Paul Meyers tells questioners that LAX isn't bad because it's a hard place to land with a challenging landscape, like many of the others on this list, but instead, it's wrapped around with so much red tape, restrictions, and all the air traffic you'd expect in a city as big as L.A. that it's "just stressful."

Washington National Airport – Washington, DC

The problem with Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., isn't the dangers or annoyances you'd expect with most other United States airports pilots hate to fly into. No, D.C. comes with its own unique issues that have to do with it being the capital of the country. Pilot Randy Duncan on Quora sums the issue up by saying that going even slightly off course while coming in for a landing can put you into restricted airspace, and this is a serious issue. 

According to Rupprecht Law P.A., a pilot flying in restricted airspace can receive prison time, along with a $100,000 fine — not to mention, the loss of their pilot's license. It's safe to assume that officials take these violations extra seriously when we're talking about the city where most of the country's politicians spend significant portions of their time. Add in the atrocities we've seen committed with hijacked aircraft, and we're looking at a mix that could not only ruin a pilot's career but potentially put the pilot and their passengers in danger. That's a lot of stress to put on a pilot.

Alton Bay Seaplane Base – Alton Bay, New Hampshire

There aren't many runways in the continental United States as unique as Alton Bay Seaplane Base in Alton Bay, New Hampshire. During the warmer months, Alton Bay serves as a place for seaplanes to land in Lake Winnipesaukee, a place close to a number of attractions. Once the temperature drops enough to freeze the lake into a thick, solid layer of ice, Alton Bay becomes something entirely different and more dangerous. The frozen lake itself is turned into the only ice runway in North America south of Canada.

As pilot and Quora user Tony Romero explains, "You're landing on a frozen lake and trying to steer and slow to a stop an airplane, which are already difficult to maneuver on the ground, let alone adding in the complexities of doing it on ice." And this has proven to be disastrous in the past. At least two planes have crashed on Alton Bay's ice runway. The first was a small, experimental plane in 2014, and the second was a small aircraft that was sent into a spin. Both planes were pretty beat up, but the pilots didn't seem to be injured. Still, you'd likely hate an airport if it "opened up a can" on your $20,000 baby.

Juneau International Airport – Juneau, Alaska

Alaska is truly the most inhospitable state in the United States. The further north you go, the fewer people inhabiting the frozen countryside and the fewer resources available. Planes are the lifeblood for many in Alaska. Even the more beautiful southern parts of the state turn harsh as the long winter blisters the ground with snow. While Juneau International Airport is located almost as far south as you can get in Alaska, the environment is still too rough for pilots to find it as beautiful as the tourists do.

When asked which airport pilots find the most difficult to land in on Quora, pilot Jan Zumwalt answered, "For me, it was Juneau Alaska. Low visibility, high winds, ocean, and mountains on all 4 sides all mixed into one." An apt description and a good enough reason to dislike the airport. No pilot wants to be staining their shorts on their routine flights, and with the difficult terrain, poor visibility, and the fact several planes have crashed over the decades, either flying into or leaving from the airport, this flight path could be a reason a pilot rethinks their career.

Hollywood Burbank Airport – Burbank, California

For pilot Kurt Kaalaas, the airport he seems to hate is Hollywood Burbank Airport, also known as Bob Hope Airport, in Burbank, California. Why? According to his post on Quora, the pilots coming into Burbank do so at nearly the maximum allotted weight, which makes stopping on the runway difficult, especially since Burbank has a short runway. The pilot also cites seeing at least two different planes overshoot the runway because of these issues.

Hollywood Burbank seems to have plenty going on that could make pilots despise flying into the airport. As if to echo Kaalaas' sentiment about having to stop so short on the runway, a large plane carrying over 100 passengers missed their landing point on the landing strip during a rain storm, sending the aircraft into a slide that ended with some damage. And that hasn't been the only close call at the airport. For example, a plane was initially told to land on a runway being used by a fire department helicopter before being diverted at the last minute in March of 2023, and a different plane was told they could take off right as another aircraft was coming in for a landing. 

Aspen/Pitkin County Airport – Aspen, Colorado

High up in the mountains of Aspen, Colorado, is the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. This airport isn't the most friendly to pilots. As professional pilot Nathan Burns explains in a Quora post, he "hates" flying into this airport because of the complicated landing measures needed for navigating the dangerous terrain, made worse because the airport is "one way in, one way out."

Part of the complicated approach Burns mentions has to do with where Aspen Airport is located. Being so high in the mountains makes landing difficult in general. Since you can only approach from one direction, pilots have to drop quickly and pop over the mountains instead of taking the steady descent they would on flat land. If cloud cover is getting in the way, those pilots have to frustratedly circle the plane to look for an opening or move on to an airport they can actually see. The weather also has a way of changing at the last second, which can cause its own problems for those in the pilot seat. All in all, flying into Aspen can be a terrible, white-knuckled time, and no one would blame a pilot for finding the airport stressful.

Georgetown Airport – Georgetown, California

The Georgetown Airport, located just a few miles outside of Georgetown in northern California, is a beautiful place to fly into. The airport is surrounded by evergreens on all sides, and the fresh air and beautiful range of the Sierra Nevadas are to die for. Unfortunately, despite its beauty, some qualities of this airport really turn off pilots. In the r/AskReddit thread for "Pilots, what is your least favorite airport?", one pilot known as Plane_pro says Georgetown is their least favorite airport because of its location on a mountain and the less desirable qualities of the runway itself. 

For one, the trees that surround the airport create obstacles. The pilot's other reasons include a dropoff at one end of the landing strip, the runway's incline, the short distance of the runway before those beautiful trees and terrifying dropoff, and the quality of the pavement. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has identified some other attributes that might add to pilots' distaste as well. For example, winds blowing from the oceanside can make landing difficult, which adds to the stress of a potential missed landing.

Lake Tahoe Airport – South Lake Tahoe, California

Located just south of stunning Lake Tahoe near the border of Nevada in Northern California is the Lake Tahoe Airport. Due to being around 6,000 feet in elevation, the air is much thinner than at sea level, and while this poses challenges to runners and athletes, it poses risks to pilots as well. Pilots have to travel at higher speeds, as one pilot instructor told News 4, and this makes stopping more challenging while making things like fuel mixture and weight more complicated. Winds and weather changes can also cause disaster this high up — and it has. At least 12 people have died in plane crashes around Lake Tahoe in the past thirty years.

It's no wonder why pilots like Douglas Noble on Quora say they'd never land at Lake Tahoe Airport if they could help it, given that there are safer options close by. Noble also describes Lake Tahoe Airport as "flying into a toilet bowl." Leonard Carter, also via Quora, explains how missing a landing approach puts planes in dangerous relation to the surrounding mountains. It's easy to hate a place that puts your life in danger.