Places Planes Don't Want to Fly Over

Here are some places planes don't want to fly over!


Despite the fact that air travel is widely touted as one of the safest modes of transportation statistically speaking, 40% of Americans still have a fear of flying. But even for the remaining 60%, there are some places on our planet that strike fear and unease into the hearts of anyone who flies over them.

From copter sucking craters to the riskiest runways on Earth, fasten your seatbelts as we take a trip to some of the most dangerous and prohibited places planes don’t want to fly over.

Tibetan Plateau

It’s estimated that there are around 9,728 commercial planes flying in the air at any given time and if including military, cargo and private airplanes too, that number could be as high as 17,500. In fact, if you look at an online flight tracker, you’ll be able to see exactly where every commercial plane is in the sky right now.

However, you might notice that there are a few spots where there are absolutely zero planes at all. One such place is Tibet, where not only are there no planes, but you can regularly see planes actively flying out of their way to avoid it. But why?


Commercial aircraft generally travel between 31,000 and 38,000 feet above sea level, however, in certain emergency scenarios this can change. In the event of cabin depressurization or engine failure, the protocol for commercial flights is to descend to just 10,000 feet.

But here’s the problem: dubbed ‘the roof of the world’, the Tibetan Plateau has an average terrain elevation of 14,370 feet which means that any passing plane with a cabin-based emergency couldn’t descend to a safe height without, well, risking meeting a very mountainous end.


The area features seven large mountain ranges, including the Himalayas, which is home to the tallest mountain in the world. Reaching a height of 29,032 feet, Mount Everest is almost as tall as a plane flying at full altitude, let alone one in an emergency situation.

Not only is Tibet avoided due to its title as the tallest region on Earth, but it’s also prone to some pretty intense turbulence. Turbulence during a flight is instability caused by sudden, violent shifts in air currents. While you’ve probably experienced some mild turbulence onboard an airplane before, more severe turbulence can be dangerous.

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Large mountain ranges like the ones in Tibet are subject to strong wind currents which are forced through and over the mountain peaks, creating severe disruptions in air pressure, which could easily spell disaster for airplanes.

But the tallest place in the world has one more caveat for airliners. Places with higher-than-average levels of altitude are usually much colder than areas closer to sea level and the Tibetan Plateau is no exception.

In winter, the temperature often remains below freezing all day long with average temperatures of -4 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it can plummet to -40 in some extreme instances. Standard jet fuel used by US air fleets has a freezing point of between -40 and -53 degrees Fahrenheit, so there could be a serious problem if a flight were to cross the Tibetan Plateau in its coldest conditions.

While the heat of plane engines can usually help counteract fuel freezing, accidents like this do indeed happen. On January 18th, 2008, British Airways flight 38 crashed just short of landing on the runway at London Heathrow due to the formation of ice in the aircraft’s fuel.


The plane’s route from Beijing to London took it over notoriously cold parts of Siberia and Mongolia. While the fuel itself remained above its freezing point, small amounts of water in the fuel did freeze thanks to the cold conditions and caused blockages in fuel pipes, which ultimately resulted in engine failure.

Thankfully there were no fatalities, but if you ever needed an excuse to avoid traveling to cold places, the chance of frozen jet fuel ought to do it!


While freezing flight paths are enough to make any pilot’s teeth chatter with anxiety, sometimes the thought of a warmer flight can be sweat inducing, especially when we’re talking about flying near a volcano. While commercial flights can travel up to 42,000 feet, far higher than the peak of any volcano on Earth, volcanic ash can easily rise much higher than that.

In January 2022, the underwater Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano near the South Pacific Island of Tonga erupted, vaporizing 58,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of seawater, and producing the largest ash cloud ever recorded. The ash cloud traveled a colossal 190,000 feet, or 36 miles, into the mesosphere, which is the third highest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere out of five.


Ash from a volcanic eruption like that is highly abrasive and can destroy a plane’s fuselage, as well as obscuring, and even shattering the windshield. The most vulnerable part of a plane, though, is its engines and flying through volcanic ash can see a plane go from flying to falling before you know it.

On June 24th, 1982, British Airways flight 9 was on its way to Auckland, New Zealand from London Heathrow airport when it flew into a cloud of volcanic ash.


In the 1980s, passengers were still allowed to smoke on flights, so when fumes began accumulating in the Boeing 747’s cabin, the crew initially assumed it was just from cigarettes. But as the smoke continued to thicken, bringing with it a sulphureous smell, it became clear that something was wrong.

Turned out, volcanic ash had made its way into the engine turbines. Considering a jet engine pulls in enough air to completely suck all the air out of your house in less than a second, it’s not surprising that diluting the concentration of fresh air with ash could cause some issues.

And as the volcanic ash melted into glass by the engines’ heat, it began to coat the turbine blades, which is, as you can imagine, a problem. In this case, these issues manifested as the worst possible thing: quadruple engine failure.

With all engines out of action, flight 9’s pilot, Captain Eric Moody was forced to attempt to glide the plane down from 37,000 feet to just 12,000 feet while crew members made desperate attempts to restart the engines.


Obviously, passengers were terrified, and thought that this might just be the last flight they’d ever take. However, as if by a miracle, three of the four engines restarted when enough of the molten ash solidified and shattered off of the engines.

Amazingly, there were no casualties as a result of the incident onboard flight 9 but the world of aviation is now much more aware of how damaging a volcanic eruption can be to planes.

These days, the presence of volcanic ash is enough to cancel flights altogether, like in the case of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2010. In that instance, the ash cloud was so vast that it meant the closure of most European countries’ airspace between April 15th and April 23rd.


So, clearly volcanic ash isn’t something you want to fly through, but what if you inadvertently found yourself flying inside a volcano? On November 21st in 1992, Paramount Pictures employees Michael Benson and Chris Duddy, along with pilot Craig Hoskins were flying over Hawaii’s Kilauea volcanic crater while location scouting.

Everything had been running smoothly until, just seconds after reaching the middle of the range’s Pu'u'O'o vent, the helicopter suddenly and inexplicably began losing power, and therefore, altitude.

With no time to make a distress call, Captain Craig and his passengers found themselves descending into the pit of an active volcano! When the helicopter landed onto the hot crater floor, it just narrowly missed a sizzling pool of lava but was still in the midst of poisonous gasses.


Miraculously, the three men survived their ordeal, thanks to being in a part of the crater where oxygen eddied down from the rim, and they were rescued after spending two days stuck inside.

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of the accident was flying amid a volcanic gas cloud which set off a partial loss in engine power due to a lack of oxygen to burn the engine’s fuel.

A story like that is sure to send shivers down the spine of any pilot or passenger for that matter, but crazily enough, it seems that some thrill seekers are more than up for taking their chances!

While flying directly over volcanoes might seem a little insane, in fact, you can take a flying tour over Kilauea to this day. I can only imagine the waiver form: “might result in your fatal descent into molten lava – please sign on the dotted line!”

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Mirny Mine

While the thought of an aircraft losing power over a volcanic crater is nightmarish, there are other terrifying holes on the face of the Earth that can cause aircraft to lose power with even deadlier efficiency.

With a diameter of almost 4,000 feet and a depth of over 1,700 feet, the Mirny diamond mine is one of the largest man-made excavated holes in the world. The mine went into operation in 1955 and quickly became the largest diamond mine in Russia until its closure in 2004.

But now that it’s closed, it only stands to pose a serious threat to anyone daring to fly overhead. While it thankfully hasn’t yet occurred, experts theorize that the gaping expanse could suck a passing plane or helicopter into its depths, and it’s a theory backed by science!


If a hole is deep enough, the earth will warm the air inside, even in a usually chilly climate. Hot air rises compared with more dense cold air that sinks and the considerable temperature difference between in-hole air and above-ground air creates a lot of air movement.

Warm air rising from the hole is less dense and would give less lift to any aircraft than the cooler air it had been flying through, which could result in a rapid loss of altitude. At the same time, the cool air pouring into the hole creates a powerful, turbulent air current, which could easily contribute to the pilot losing control, sending them careening into the walls or bottom of the hole.


While all this technically remains theoretical currently, given that the risk alone is more than enough to strike this site off any pilot’s flight map, let’s just hope the theory is never put to the test.


Despite being one of the most famous holy cities on Earth, it might come as a surprise to you that Mecca in Saudi Arabia hasn’t got a public airport. In fact, airplanes aren’t allowed to fly to, or even over, Mecca at all!

But the explanation as to why planes don’t fly over Mecca is a hot topic depending on who you ask, with two opposing theories offering up very different answers.

The first is the claim that it is actually impossible for planes, or even birds, to fly over Mecca due to a magnetic anomaly in the atmosphere. Social media posts claim that the iconic Holy Kaaba building is at the precise central point between the Earth’s magnetic poles and therefore interferes with electromagnetic objects such as planes, and even birds, rendering them physically unable to fly over it.

While the thought of something so magnetically powerful it could bring down a plane is terrifying, there doesn’t seem to be much truth to the claim. There’s a lot of evidence debunking this theory, including pictures of birds sitting directly on and flying over the Kaaba, as well as the presence of security helicopters around the time of the Islamic annual pilgrimage of Hajj.


The more likely, non-pseudoscience reason planes don’t fly over the heavily populated city is due to its religious significance. Flights over Islam’s holiest site are banned for religious reasons that forbid aircraft from entering Mecca and, more specifically, flying over the Holy Kaaba.

Non-Muslims are not permitted to travel to Mecca and can face fines and deportation if found there. This is extended so far that even non-Muslim passengers in a passing airplane overhead would be considered to be breaking the rules.


As the belief is held that Mecca connects directly with heaven, believed to be located directly above the Kaaba, flying over it would be considered a huge sacrilege, so it’s avoided entirely by commercial flights.

Risky Runways

According to Boeing, 49% of all fatal plane accidents happen during the final descent and landing, so, when it comes to runways, airports ensure the landing point is as safe as possible. Well, most of them do but some airports seemingly didn’t get the memo.

Gisborne Airport is a regional airport located in north-eastern New Zealand and while it might look pretty regular on first glance, there’s something very strange, and potentially dangerous, about this airport. Gisborne is one of the very few airports in the world that has an active railway line running directly through its runway!

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It’s believed that the railway was established well before local authorities decided in the 1940s that the site was also the best place for an airport. This resulted in quite the nightmare for air traffic control who had to constantly monitor train crossings and aircraft landings for more than 70 years!

In 2012, KiwiRail made moves to scrap some of its rail routes that ran across Gisborne’s runway so nowadays the rail crossing is used exclusively by the local vintage train club.

Despite the rarity of train crossings these days, rail and flight schedules have to be planned in meticulous detail and being on time is of the utmost importance to ensure that plane and train can exist in perfect harmony.


Thankfully, despite being one of the world’s riskiest runways, no plane versus train accidents have occurred. Still, you wouldn’t want to be the pilot flying over that kind of obstacle.

And Gisborne isn’t the only airport with a ridiculously inconvenient-looking landing space for planes. Princess Juliana International Airport isn’t exactly the royal standard when it comes to pilots’ landing preferences. Check out the clip below:

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The airport sees approaching planes descend to just 100 feet above sunbathers on its final approach to the runway! By Caribbean standards, Maho Beach in St. Maarten might be too noisy to be idyllic, but it certainly does make for one of the most exhilarating sunbathing sessions around.

Despite a 57-year-old woman biting the dust after being blown backwards from the blast of a jet engine in July 2017, thousands still visit Maho Beach every year to catch the Jetstream wave. Still, even the most confident pilot’s stomach is sure to drop when passing over people mere meters below.

No-Fly Nations

We’ve looked at a lot of places that planes don’t want to fly over, but what about places that planes can’t fly over?

North Korea is touted as one of the most dangerous airspaces in the world primarily thanks to their unpredictable missile launching schedule and the North Korean army frequently fires missiles into the Sea of Japan without any prior warning.

Because of this, pilots will go out of their way to avoid Japanese waters and there are special regulations in place when it comes to US aircrafts in North Korean airspace.


Following talks with the US in early 2018, North Korea made an agreement with the International Civil Aviation Organization that they would provide warnings of all hazardous activities to aviation, including missile launches.

To do this, North Korea would have to log what’s known as a Notice to Air Missions, a notice filed with an aviation authority to alert pilots of potential hazards along any given flight route.

However, in May 2019, North Korea resumed launching missiles into the Sea of Japan without providing any warning, so something had to be done. In September 2020, the United States Federal Aviation Administration issued a new regulation prohibiting all US commercial airplanes from entering North Korea.

While the US enacted measures to prevent its own aircrafts from entering North Korea’s risky airspace, there are other countries that are a lot more forthcoming about precisely what will happen if an aircraft goes where it isn’t supposed to.

Cuba has its own set of rules and regulations for permits to aircraft wishing to land in or even enter their airspace. Unscheduled or unpermitted flights are prohibited from entering Cuban airspace and aircraft that are seen to break this rule can face some truly terrifying consequences.

On February 24th, 1996, Cuban warplanes shot down two unauthorized, yet unarmed Cessna 377 aircrafts without warning, merely under the suspicion that their pilots opposed the Cuban government.


In most other countries, like the United States, protocol around restricted airspace is operated by controlling agencies who can approve or disapprove requests for planes to fly through.

If an unapproved plane enters the airspace, Air Traffic Control will first contact the pilot via radio and advise them to get gone. If the pilot complies, they’ll still be issued with what’s known as a Brasher Warning, which basically lets them know that the aviation authorities aren’t best pleased with their flying skills.

What would happen if a pilot did not comply with Air Traffic Control’s instructions varies from place to place, however, generally if a plane is deemed to be a clear threat it can be shot down.

But even flying over more remote places can result in pilots ending up behind bars, or worse! Imrali Island is located in the Sea of Marmara just off the coast of Turkey, but it’s hardly a vacation destination.


Far from paradise, Imrali Island has been used exclusively as a prison since 1935 and is classified as a piece of prohibited airspace, meaning no planes can fly over it. Many prisons around the world have restricted airspace largely to prevent planes and drones from dropping contraband into prison grounds, or breaking prisoners out.

With all those criminals and armed guards below, you can see why pilots might not be too keen to give their passengers a bird’s eye view of somewhere like Imrali. And if Cuba’s approach to unpermitted flyers is anything to go by, flying into restricted airspace is not a wise thing to add to your bucket-list.

Area 51

Known as one of the world’s most mysterious Air Force facilities, Area 51 is synonymous with tales of UFOs, aliens, and secret government coverups. While the military base has always been shrouded in secrecy, there’s nothing secret about the fact that civilians are not allowed to get inside.

On the ground, Area 51 is constantly patrolled by armed guards, but it’s not just those down below who need to be scared of trespassing in this highly secretive zone. A restricted airspace zone spans out to cover 90,000 acres.

Via Google Maps

It’s alleged that if a plane were to come close too close to the prohibited airspace, Area 51’s security team will radio the pilot with a very stern warning to reroute their trip immediately.

Several signposts around the facility warning that the use of deadly force is authorized against any perceived threats, so if a pilot did decide not to reroute, they might have to wave bye-bye to their time in the sky, permanently.


And if being shot out of the sky just isn’t enough to put pilots off, maybe a run in with a UFO, or experimental military aircraft would be enough to make them skip out on this route!

Space Air

Space Centers might have some of the most exciting airspace around, but they’re most certainly one of the most dangerous on the planet. Among other space stations across the US, the airspace around the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is classified as a restricted fly zone for any aircraft, other than rockets of course!

The space shuttle landing area at the Kennedy Space Center, classified as R-2932, is an area that pilots of non-space flying aircrafts are not allowed to cross within a 30-mile radius when restrictions are active.


While you might think this would cause frequent disruptions for commercial flights, rocket launches aren’t exactly a frequent sight, even for NASA. With 10 spaceports across the US and an average of 37 launches per year, pilots aren’t pressed with worrying about flying into launching rockets too often.

Even so, just the thought of it is enough to turn any pilot’s stomach whenever a flight path takes them anywhere near a spaceport.

White House

Pilots are prohibited from flying over many areas connected to people of political significance in countless countries including the UK and USA, one of the most prominent being The White House.


The National Capital Region of Washington DC, where the White House calls home, is governed by a Special Flight Rules Area. There are not one but two restricted flight zones around DC including a 33-mile radius circled around the more severely restricted 15-mile ring that encircles the White House.

If a pilot was brave enough or stupid enough to enter presidential airspace, they’re likely to be intercepted by the military who will force the pilot to land.

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This would be followed by several intense interrogations with the secret service and air force which will usually result in the pilot’s license to fly being revoked, and that’s the best-case scenario. If investigators even have an inkling of something nefarious going on, the pilot could face federal prosecution and jail time.

And lastly, if that still doesn’t cut it, it’s unacknowledged but widely believed that the White House grounds are home to short range missiles that can be fired at any unknown aircraft that happens to find itself in prohibited airspace.

Disney No-Fly Zone

So far, we’ve found planes avoiding everything from secret bases to dangerous pits, but would you believe that planes aren’t invited to the party in the happiest skies on Earth?

The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, along with its sister park Disneyland in Anaheim, California, are the only two US theme parks that have been awarded a no-fly designations.


In fact, they are the only two non-governmental locations in the US that are under permanently restricted airspace. Therefore, Mickey and Minnie’s pads enjoy the same protection as the president of the United States!

As of October 27th, 2014, both parks were issued with an official no-fly ruling from the Federal Aviation Administration for undisclosed security reasons, but it’s presumably down to the parks being a hotspot for more than a quarter of a million visitors per day.

The official ban denotes that planes must remain more than 3,000 feet above the parks’ respective princess castles. The ban aligns with the congressional act known as Operation Liberty Shield which was also responsible for banning flights over stadiums with over 30,000 spectators.

It is possible to request a special permit to fly over the Disney parks, but this involves a long arduous application. Disney itself had to apply to break the rule in 2015 when they wanted to launch a flock of drones over Disney World and Disneyland.

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In the 42-page application, Disney said it wanted to use a fleet of 50 lit up drones over Sleeping Beauty’s castle as part of a night-time fireworks performance. The application took more than a year to receive approval from the FAA, who finally okayed the Disney drones in November 2016.

King Mickey has to bow down to government power to fly some drones in his yard. I guess there are some limits on the terrifying, unstoppable forces that are our Disney overlords!

I hope you were amazed at these no-fly zones and places airplanes and pilots really avoid flying over! Thanks for reading!

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