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Are John Wayne Airport takeoffs scary or is that 'urban legend'?

July 13, 2012|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • The namesake statue at John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Santa Ana.
The namesake statue at John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Santa Ana. (Mark Boster Los Angeles…)

The folks at Airfarewatchdog released a list Thursday of what the online travel website considers the 10 scariest airports in the U.S. I was surprised to see airports right in my backyard -- Orange County, San Diego and Catalina Island -- included.

I don't regularly fly in or out of these Southland airports (I've never flown to Catalina) and I realize this is all subjective, but certainly I would have heard these claims before? I'm hoping fliers will weigh in and set me straight, but first, here's the list:

--Aspen/Pitkin County Airport in Aspen, Colo.
--John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana
--Midway International Airport in Chicago
--Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport in Sitka, Alaska
--Yeager Airport in Charleston, W.V.
--San Diego International Airport in San Diego
--LaGuardia Airprt in New York City
--Catalina Airport in Avalon
--Telluride Regional Airport in Telluride, Colo.
--Reagan National Airport inWashington, D.C.

To be fair, these aren't places deemed unsafe by the Federal Aviation Authority or other regulatory body. Rather, these are places that for geographic or other reasons make for heart-pounding landings or takeoffs (depending on your own personal scare meter).

Case in point: Airfarewatchdog says takeoffs at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana have been "likened to both a ballistic missile and a space shuttle liftoff. Due to strict noise reduction requirements, pilots must ascend at full throttle and then abruptly cut back their engines." (The airport also made the scariest airports in the world list two years ago by sister site SmarterTravel.)

Terry Maxon at concurs, saying he experienced the decrease in power at John Wayne that "can be startling if you're not expecting it." But who would?

Jenny Wedge, spokeswoman for the airport, is having none of it. "I think this is like an urban legend, which has grown over time, that JWA has unique departure procedures," she said via e-mail.

She points out that departure procedures in the 1980s were considerably different than today, and that may account for the reputation. The airport does have noise-regulated departures but they are "not nearly as thrilling as one once may have thought." And, she adds, they are safe and approved by the FAA.

I have to throw this out to frequent fliers to get some kind of crowd-sourced consensus on whether John Wayne takeoffs are harrowing or ho-hum. Drop me a line in the comments below. And for everyone, fill me in on San Diego, Catalina and any others on the list. 

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