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Where the World’s Shortest Commercial Runway is Also the Local Hangout

February 26, 2014 at 1:03 PM | by | ()

Question: When was the last time you went to an airport for a drink when you didn’t have a flight? Turns out, Saba’s claim that it has the shortest commercial runway in the world isn’t the only reason to visit its airport – it’s also a damn good place to grab a drink and chat up some locals.

But first, the runway itself. It’s one of the main reasons, in conjunction with the fact that it has no beaches, why the island has remained so protected from mass tourism. At a mere 1,312 feet long, nothing larger than a small prop plane can land (as a comparison, Denver has the longest commercial runway in the U.S. at 16,000 feet).

And an interesting landing it is, indeed. Coming from St. Maarten, the plane must clear a small cliff on the right hand side before dropping down and slamming on the breaks. Takeoff is just as interesting, knowing that when the runway runs out, so does solid ground. Our pilots did a full run up before popping into gear, blasting up to speed in favor of the gradual acceleration of typical takeoffs.

So, in celebration of a survived landing or in anticipation of a takeoff, the bar is a good place to find yourself. According to multiple locals, “some of the best parties on the island take place at the airport.” Now, party is a relative term on Saba – it’s a sleepy island once the sun sets on most nights – but there’s no doubt that this tiny bar is a gathering place for Sabans. If you find yourself on the island on a Friday night, head on over to mingle.

You can check it out on the day of your flight, too, and we recommend arriving about an hour before your scheduled departure time, not because you need the time – there is no security – but because it gives you a chance to soak in the unique culture of the airport. To start, it’s open-aired and provides beautiful views of the cliffs and ocean. Grab a beer and chat up the local cabbies, airline employees, and residents sitting at the tables playing cards.

Then there’s the aspect of no security (literally, there’s none), which for American and European travelers, is something we can only dream about. Because the airport works on a one-in, one-out system, there’s no flight board. You know it’s your time to fly when you hear a plane arriving. After watching it land, a little over a dozen passengers get out, and you get in. The entire turnaround process is about ten minutes from when the plane lands until it takes off again with you on board.

We hate to use clichés, but if a trip through Saba isn’t a blast to the past - back to the glory days of travel - we’re not sure what is.

[Photos: Will McGough]

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