After the long flight to a Caribbean paradise, most tourists can’t wait to get away from the airport — except on the island of St. Maarten, where the airport is the main attraction.
No place in the world can people get so close to planes that they can almost touch the fuselage as the planes fly over the beach and come in for a landing at the Princess Juliana International Airport — a thin, two-lane highway separates the beach from the runway. Thrill seekers and aviation enthusiasts flock to the tiny half-Dutch/half-French island to sunbath in the shadow of a jumbo jet.
Near the end of the runway, the Sunset Bar and Grill is packed with people. Each morning, they write the flight schedule on a surf board and broadcast air traffic control instead of music. All day, the planes land and crowds rush to the beach, beer in one hand, camera in the other.
But that’s only half the thrill. Every flight that lands, takes off, and that’s a real danger. The massive jet engines can easily produce winds of more than 100 mph, blowing people and sand into the water.
The “Jet Blast” is celebrated with its own shot at the Sunset Bar, and some of the folks who get behind the engines seem to have had a few. It’s the one Caribbean island where the most exhilarating part of the trip happens before you leave the airport.