A Flight Plan That Attracts Tourists


PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten — Go ahead. Call us crazy. Unless you think it's normal to go halfway around the world on planes and boats and taxis to see a jet fly over a beach?

For hundreds of cruise passengers in St. Maarten, that's normal.

The beach is Maho Bay, or near Maho Bay. The locals know it well because the tourists want to go there. The beach is at the end of the runway (yes, the only one) at Princess Juliana International Airport. That's the "front" end of the runway, where planes first land or begin to take off.

The beach is across the street. Literally.

Hundreds of passengers from the Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas gather on the beach or in the bar on the beach to wait for the next arrival. Nobody bothers to check a flight schedule. It's the Caribbean way.

Sure enough, here comes a jet and…whoosh…just like that's flown over your head faster than the shutter speed of your camera, which inevitably misses the mark. No problem. Wait for the next jet. Whoosh again…empty air again.

This is billed as "the closest you'll ever come to a plane in flight without being on the plane" and it is hard to imagine being any closer. Big and small, the planes look like they're going to land on the beach or, worse yet, you. The jets are especially low because by the time they're going to touch down — right there on the other side of the road — they have to be low.

The site of this world-wide moment is about a half hour from Philipsburg, capital of the Dutch half of the island known as St. Maarten in the south and Saint-Martin in the north, which is French. That's half an hour by bus, which costs $2, or one-tenth the price of lunch when you get there.

It's for curiosity-seekers and thrill-seekers alike. The curious are, well, us. The thrill-seekers stand on the beach, which is to say behind the jets, as they take off. One woman allegedly was badly hurt when she gripped the wire fence at the start of the runway — right there, across the street — and was blown away as a jet was taking off.

On this day, the thrill-seekers and their belongings were only blown across the beach and into the water. There was only one injury.

"I'll never do that again," said the middle-aged thrill-seeker. "I just got sand-blasted."

And he probably flew, sailed and drove just to have it happen.

Carnival Glory
7 nights
July 21, 2013
Boston (return): Portland, Saint John, Halifax, Sydney
Inside: $429
Cost per day: $61

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