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July 11, 2005


Listener James from Westwood

On the topic of McCarran in Las Vegas -- You're actually landing very near the South Strip when you arrive at McCarran. The district called Downtown, which was the original cluster of casinos built in the first spasm of gambling construction in the early 1900s, is actually north of the northernmost hotel on the Strip, the Stratosphere. Geographically it really ought to be called Uptown, but there you go. An errant pilot is more likely to smack into the Luxor or the venerable Tropicana than the crouched confines of Downtown's grody grind joints.

All of this is less of a nitpick than some self-reassurance from a man who (a) will be in Vegas this Wednesday and (b) hates plane landings, regardless of airport. The whole rest of the experience I don't mind; it's the landing that causes all of my faith in aerodynamics, pilot skill, and odds against an incident to go straight down the crapper.


Ah air travel makes me nuts, I'm like william Shatner on that episode of The Twilight Zone. I dont know why just have always hated to fly. I dont know if its being cooped up for hours or the whole recycled air thing. But probably that I'm in ahuge metal object with just two wings


Your comments on LaGuardia are why I always use Newark Airport. When I see the bright IKEA lights, I know I'm home.

Don't forget the San Diego International Airport - it's right there in the city, and you practically graze the tops of surrounding buildings as you land.

Paul Roub

Funny stuff... Patrick Smith (of Salon's "Ask The Pilot" column) has talked about a number of these as well, and points out that some aren't as bad as you might think. His columns are listed at


That's an In-n-Out Burger, not a Go Go Burger...

And who told you about John Travolta the Jet Jockey (TJTJJ or JT707)? I was standing at the corner of Century and La Cienega when that contraption flew over our heads in a steep bank at 600 feet!!!

A 707 is a stage II aircraft and not allowed at LAX but FAA gave him special permission to land there to do a commercial for Quantas. On approach he lined up on the wrong runway, almost hit a Delta 737, and instead of aborting the approach as instructed he did this amazing, death-defying manuver and landed on the north runway complex.

Had any other pilot done that, they would be lucky to be allowed to use a skateboard in public. JTTJJ has now been certified to fly 747s.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Brian Turner

I think it was actually a Long Island community that Vinnie Barbarino buzzed, if I recall, I merely included him in the LAX paragraph as speculation on the fact he would probably be there doing it too. I am glad (or horrified) to hear that I was right.


But for early morning escapes, or late night returns, from Manhattan and most parts of Brooklyn, Laguardia can't be beat. From lower Manhattan via the W'burg Bridge at about 5:30am, it's only 15 minutes by taxi.


Check out
for some amazing Kai Tak & St Maarten landing photos.


landing at Kai Tak is great! one of the impressive things about the bank turn is not only is it just above apartment buildings, but apartment buildings in sham sui po, aka the part of hk with one of the highest population densities on earth. good times.


Yup, I remember landing at Kai Tak back in the early 70s in one of the first 747s. We came so close to the office high-rises you could see people in their offices working!


you should check out the strip on catalina island, a straight shot over from LAX, its not a major airport so it probably doesnt count, but they built the runway at the top of a fucking cliff, if you look down before landing you can see plane wrecking from pilots who didnt quite make it. good times, try the buffalo burgers.

bo bice


Have you ever landed in Linburgh Field is San Diego or watched plans land. Talk about almost clipping the 5 Freeway . . . its freaky to drive as jets are about 100 feet overhead.

Brian Turner

I do remember a news report on some 6-story parking garage in San Diego that people thought was in jeopardy cuz jets were almost clipping it -- the reporter was on the roof and totally diving for cover.


If this article is getting you *hot* -- but you don't have the cash or the stomach to visit these airports in person -- you're in luck:

Here's the Kai Tak and St. Maartens DVDs:

Still too pricey? Lose your lunch for free here:


As a native New Yorker who currently lives and travels around the world, I've seen some really shitty airports and wonder why I continually put my life in the hands of those who don't know shit about building and maintaining airports. Yes, LGA does make me bite my nails or get loaded as to deal with the landing but it's nothing compared to the Lagos, Nigeria airport, Muhammed Murtala. The runway is riddled with potholes. Yes, potholes...and not the type that makes you feel a bump and you careen down the runway but huge holes that when you peer into them you can see straight to hell. Which in Lagos is a local call.

Juan de Padilla

My personal pick is Madeira's (FNC) airport.

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