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The day I flew to Barra and landed on the beach

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This is my review of a trip to Barra in the Outer Hebrides, flying with Loganair.

We have never repeated a trip review before on HfP – for obvious reasons, they don’t age well. However, there was discussion about Barra in our comments section last week and I thought new readers may appreciate a chance to read an updated version of a piece which first ran in 2019.

Loganair still flies to Barra, so you have no excuse for not giving it a go.

Landing on Barra beach on Loganair

I’m not really a ‘bucket list’ person, but one of the few aviation-related trips I had been wanting to do for many years was the ‘Barra beach landing’.

Barra is an island in the Outer Hebrides with a population of 1,100, of which 75% speak Gaelic.  It is not your usual tourist spot.  For the aviation fan, however, Barra is a special place.  It is the only place in the world with a scheduled flight which lands on a beach.

Who needs a runway, or runway lighting, or any of that boring stuff?  All you need is a bit of sand and a low tide and you’re in business.

I would also get to swap my traditional First Class long-haul suite for a seat on an 18-seater Loganair Twin Otter turboprop.

And, even better, I could – in Summer 2019 – do the whole thing on a £77 day return ticket from Glasgow which Loganair sells during the Winter season. Details are on the Loganair website here, although the current price is not given.

Before I go on, I want to flag up the video I made of my trip and which is embedded at the bottom.  It is a manageable 7 minutes long and if I’m honest the video tells the story far better than my photographs do.  If you have 7 minutes to spare today, do watch it.

Landing on Barra beach on Loganair

How to book your Barra beach landing flight

You can book Loganair flights to Barra on ba.com as long as you include a connecting flight to Glasgow.  However, as the Barra flight is not a BA codeshare, you won’t get any Avios or tier points for it.

It is cheaper to book each leg separately (I used Avios for Heathrow to Glasgow) especially if the cheap day return tickets between Glasgow and Barra are available.

Flight times depend on the tide times and so vary from day to day.  Because the flights also need to fit around the rest of Loganair’s schedule, you can end up with either a very short or very long day trip.

Mine was short, but I chose it on purpose so that I could get back to London the same day.  I ended up doing:

  • 11.30 Glasgow – 12.45 Barra
  • 14.35 Barra – 15.45 Glasgow

The total price was £77.18, of which £29.71 was airport tax.  Loganair only got £47.47 from my ticket.  Luckily these routes are subsidised by the Scottish Parliament.

Because there is nothing near the airport, this worked quite well.  I landed, had a pleasant lunch in the terminal cafe, went for a 30 minute stroll across the dune to the beach on the other side of the island, walked back, checked in and flew back.  It was just right.

You may prefer a longer day trip – you can hire a taxi to take you around the island – or even an overnight stay.

Landing on Barra beach on Loganair

The Loganair flight to Barra

Whilst you are flying on a very tiny Twin Otter plane, pictured above, the procedure at Glasgow Airport is obviously the same as if you were flying anywhere else.  There aren’t any airbridges here, however.

If you have checked luggage, it goes into the hold via a hatch.

Seating is 1-2.  I was in 7A, a solo seat, which just happened to be directly behind the door, right at the back:

Landing on Barra beach on Loganair

This meant that I had a silly amount of legroom, which isn’t something you can say for the other seats:

Landing on Barra beach on Loganair

There are no cabin crew here and so no in-flight service of any kind.   The pilot comes out of the cabin, which has no door, and does the safety demonstration him/herself.

On-board a Twin Otter

There are three things you need to know about Twin Otter aircraft:

  • they are very noisy
  • they are a bit smelly, at least if you are sat at the back
  • they climb very slowly and level out at a low altitude

It is all part of the experience, however, and when the clouds broke there were some terrific views of the Hebrides.  The video shows more.

Landing on Barra beach on Loganair

Landing on the beach at Barra

The video shows the landing in detail and I recommend you take a look.  A lot of spray is kicked up as the plane runs along the beach which makes it even more dramatic.

This photo shows the steps being lowered by the ground crew:

Landing on Barra beach on Loganair

…. and here is the aircraft parked up:

Landing on Barra beach on Loganair

You are VERY alone here.  Apart from the terminal building, you can see one house around the headland and that is it.

This is Terminal 1 at Barra International 🙂  Richard Rogers and Norman Foster appear to have been otherwise engaged when the tender to design this airport came out.

Landing on Barra beach on Loganair

To put the walk from the terminal to the aircraft in context:

Landing on Barra beach on Loganair

Inside the terminal

I thought it best to find out where I needed to check-in for my return flight.  It wasn’t difficult, given that the terminal is about 100 feet x 30 feet:

Flying to Barra in the Outer Hebrides

I didn’t get a photograph of the cafe counter, which was a mistake.  The cafe is excellent.  I had a plate of scampi and chips, all cooked to order, for £8.  If I had a cafe like this on my street I would be in there all the time. Once I had arrived, all of the cafe customers got up to board the plane for its return trip to Glasgow so I had it virtually to myself.

(A comment below suggests that the cafe is currently – ie September 2021 – closed.)

Once I’d eaten I thought I’d check out the local vicinity.  Once you walk out of the door, there is literally nothing to see except hills and scrubland – or so I thought.  This is the terminal from the front:

Flying to Barra in the Outer Hebrides

Turn to face the other way and you see this path:

Flying to Barra in the Outer Hebrides

With half an hour to fill, I thought I’d see where it went.  I was genuinely stunned when, just over the horizon in the picture above, the land dropped down into a beautiful bay:

Flying to Barra in the Outer Hebrides

and

Flying to Barra in the Outer Hebrides

I was utterly, totally alone on a huge beach, on a very cloudy and cold April day.  It was great.

The journey home

When I arrived back at the terminal, my return flight was coming in to land on the beach.  I was lucky and caught it on video.

Flying to Barra in the Outer Hebrides

There is no security at Barra.  Well, there is a door marked ‘Security’ you walk through but that is about it!

I had Seat 2A on the return, another solo seat.  This is one of the best seats for being able to see into the cockpit during the flight – don’t take 1A as you are too close to the bulkhead to see in.

Flying to Barra in the Outer Hebrides

The video shows the take-off.

Flying to Barra in the Outer Hebrides

Around an hour later we landed back in Glasgow, directly on schedule.

Flying to Barra in the Outer Hebrides

If you’re interested in aviation then I thoroughly recommend the flight to Barra.   You may want to stay a bit longer than I did, especially if you go during the Summer, but the quick turnaround worked well for me.  If you pick your dates properly (remember the flight times change with the tide times) it is even possible as a day trip from London. 

Doing the whole thing from London in a day seemed a bit excessive to me so I stayed overnight in Glasgow, a city I have rarely visited. Here is my review of the Hotel Indigo in Glasgow.

Here is our Barra beach landing video

I shot quite a lot of video during my flights including the landing and take off from the beach – click the image below to view it.  If you can’t see it, click here to visit the Head for Points YouTube page.

Comments (42)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Andrew M says:

    One of my most memorable flying experiences was on a Falklands Islands Government Air Service Round Robin flight from Stanley. They operate twin prop Islander aircraft on regular service routes to isolated communities on East and West Falkland and the smaller islands. The flights involve several landings on grass runways and after seeing some spectacular scenery from the air and seeing some local life, the plane return to Stanley. I was sitting in the co-pilots seat, complete with headphones, listening to the pilot and Mount Pleasant ATC and taking in the views . The Round Robin tickets are sold as “seat fillers” on a space available basis. Possibly the best £55 I’ve ever spent!

  • RussellH says:

    Some of these comments make for fascinating reading. I worked In Barra from 1980-81. The view at the top of the article looks completely familiar and unchanged, but there was no terminal building then, just a small hut on the beach.
    I never crossed to Vatersay as there was no causeway – pupils came to school by open ferry and not that infrequently arrived soaking wet.
    A friend + I did hire a boat to take us to Mingualay, in June 1981 – fabulous place.
    No Cafe Kismuil or scallop pakora – almost all the hand-dived scallops went directly to France.
    I have never been back, but would be interested to learn how, if at all, the culture has changed. Compared with rural Perthshire, to where I moved from Barra, Barra was hugely more open to the rest of the world than Perthshire, by virtue of most Barraidh having been to sea. Everyone knew someone who had been to the USA or Australia, and I was once asked to translate a seaman’s German language payslip.
    In Auchterarder in Perthshire, though, I soon found that there were those who had never been as far south as Stirling, let alone Edinburgh or Glasgow!
    Everyone in Barra had family in Glasgow.

  • David D says:

    Keen to do this someday- even in winter it should be ok for a day trip as the prices are cheaper.

  • Smid says:

    Where does the plane go on the bit in between? Does it head off to another island? Did more people board?

    (For a commenter, Ben) Pakora (and specifically Vegetable version) is the most popular takeaway dish in Scotland. Has been for at least 20 years. So no surprise they do a scampi one.

    • Rich says:

      Usually up to Benbecula and back, I think.

      • JM says:

        It used to but that flight stopped a long time ago. It used to fly super low over South Uist en route – miss seeing it! The flight goes straight back to Glasgow now. There are two daily so assume he landed on the Loganair livery one and left on the Scottish Government livery one (which would have been the second flight).

  • ADR says:

    I can’t recommend this flight enough. A few years ago, we did it in January to celebrate my partner’s 50th birthday. I sent an e-mail to Loganair not really expecting anything but the safety briefing by the captain ended with a big happy birthday and a round of applause.

    The island of Barra itself is magical and even if you are only there for an hour or two, the walk over the dunes near the airport is worth it to see golden sands, rolling waves and time to reflect that the next stop west is Canada. It’s also an Ideal spot in winter to enjoy a wee dram. Actually, not just in winter!

    A few days earlier we tried to get to Tiree but Glasgow and the western side of Scotland was snowbound. Loganair were excellent in providing prompt refunds and I was very touched to get a call on my mobile from the lady at Tiree airport to make sure we were okay, to let her know if we needed accommodation and to tell us the return flight had been cancelled.

    So, if you get the chance, go to Barra but don’t tell too many people!

  • ADR says:

    The flights to Barra are now direct with no other islands as stop offs. The best way is to do what Rob did. Get the first flight from Glasgow, you can then see that plane take off from the beach. Get the second flight back from Barra as you can see that plane land and trust me, rarely will you take more photographs! As well as the restaurant, there’s a great little shop in the terminal that sells local products. A Barra soap is my favourite.

  • Fife Flyer says:

    It heads back to Glasgow. There are usually 2 returns flights each day.

  • Bagoly says:

    How low is the low altitude?
    What is the smell – oil?

    • Heathrow Flyer says:

      It flies around 6,000 ft. I presume the smell was aviation fuel – I can’t say I noticed it.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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