The 5 Most Dangerous Airports in America

Before booking those cheap tickets you found for your next trip, you may want to scan over this list of airports with the worst safety records.

Travel + Leisure recently ranked the most dangerous commercial airports in America. They studied the nation’s busiest airports for five years to find out which ones had the most “near misses” and “runway incidents.”

The magazine used runway safety statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration, including the most recent Runway Safety Report, to create the list.

And if it makes you feel any better, only one of the most dangerous airports was ranked among the magazine’s list of the World’s Scariest Runways – John F. Kennedy International.

Worst U.S. Airports: The Complete List

What Makes Airports Dangerous?
What T+L found might surprise most travelers. While airports are becoming safer, runway incidences – everything from near collisions to vehicles or people wandering on to the runway without permission – still happen daily.

The FAA told the magazine that in the past decade, the number of runway incursions has gone down significantly. In 2000, airports recorded 67 incursions that could have resulted in injuries or fatalities. By 2010, that number had dropped to six serious incidents.

Still, there are still plenty of problems at some of the nation’s busiest airports.

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While everything from weather to animals on the tarmac can cause accidents, the biggest problem tends to be pilot deviation, the FAA told T+L. And nearly 80 percent of accidents or near-misses are caused by small private jets – operators of larger commercial jets are most often not to blame. Airports with a pilot training or flight schools also see a higher number of incidences.

To determine the rankings, T+L looked solely at the number and severity of runway incidents – especially incidences where an aircraft collision was narrowly avoided or there was significant potential for a collision – at the 35 busiest airports in the country.


1. Chicago O’Hare
Number of runway incidents: 75
The biggest cited incident was in 2006, when a United Airlines 737 jet reportedly almost crashed into another plane on the tarmac before takeoff. O’Hare is in the middle of a $6.6 billion modernization plan that will realign the runways into safer configurations.

Photo courtesy of kla4067 on Flickr




2. Cleveland Hopkins
Number of runway incidents: 45
One of the main incidences noted in the report was a close call in 2007 when a Delta flight skidded off a snow-covered runway and into a fence. Airport commissioner Fred Szabo told that in 2007 there was a lot of construction at the airport that might have led to pilot confusion. Since then, the main runway construction project has been completed, which eliminated one potentially dangerous crossover with a smaller runway. 

Photo courtesy of The Cleveland Kid on Flickr



3. Los Angeles International
Number of runway incidents: 60
The most notable incident occurred in 2007 when a WestJet 737 landed and almost hit a Northwest Airbus during takeoff. According to T+L, the FAA said that LAX would be the venue for ongoing and intensive outreach to educate pilots, controllers and vehicle operators on the best practices for runway safety.

Photo courtesy of Sfxeric on Flickr




4. San Francisco International
Number of incidents: 55
The most notable incident was in 2007 when a Sky West turboprop was given permission to land at the same time as a Republic Airlines regional jet was given permission to take off on a crossing runway. The aircraft came within 30 to 50 feet of having a major collision. Crossing airport runways and flights impacted by fog and weather delays have long caused airport commissioners to call for a complete runway realignment, which would include expanding into the bay – a proposal environmentalists and wind surfers oppose.

Photo courtesy of Vacacion on Flickr



5. Honolulu International
Number of incidents: 30
The most notable incident occurred in 2007 when a military cargo plane that had just landed almost strayed into the path of a departing commuter passenger jet. The airport will receive wider runways and better lighting as part of a $2.3 billion project to modernize all of the state’s airports.

Photo courtesy of kla4067 on Flickr


Published: October 31, 2011