Sad news came out of the Caribbean recently — sad at least to aviation enthusiasts — when KLM Royal Dutch Airlines announced it would discontinue flying the Boeing 747 from Amsterdam to St. Maarten. The last scheduled flight happened on October 28, and now the route is filled by a smaller aircraft, the Airbus A330.
What is wonderful about this route is that, after flying for maybe 4,950 miles, the final few feet of the plane’s journey into St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport takes it over Maho Beach, a small stretch of sand sandwiched between two open-air bars to the north and south and, to the east and west, the Caribbean Sea and the end of the runway. Maho Beach is one of the best plane-watching spots on Earth.
I’ve been to St. Maarten twice, in 2013 and 2015, both times as one-day port stops during transatlantic cruises from Europe. There’s much to do on the island, which has a population of around 78,000 and is the smallest island divided between two nations. But on both visits I made a beeline to Maho Beach, anxious to watch the sky.
Sitting at Maho Beach and watching planes land will never be dull, but without the regularly scheduled Boeing 747-400 it will not be quite the same. With its length of 232 feet and wingspan of 211 feet, this metal behemoth will no longer appear on the horizon, at first a dot and then getting larger and louder as it approaches the beach, where tiny human beings holding Carib beers and sunscreen hum with excitement at what is coming, finally jerking their faces straight up in awe as the machine swipes above their heads, like some mechanical hawk with talons extended, but passing them up to pounce instead on the runway just beyond them. It’s a wonderfully disorienting experience.
Following are eleven more photographs of planes at Maho Beach:
Interested in viewing a video clip or two?
- To watch planes land from the comfort of wherever you are right now, the Maho Beach Cam provides live footage plus audio from air traffic control.
- Here’s a 6-minute video clip of the journey from Amsterdam to St. Maarten, shown from the cockpit’s perspective.
- And finally, here’s a 2-minute clip of the 747 blowing people into the sea at Maho Beach.