When I was a boy, I begged and pleaded with my dad to take me to Boston’s Logan Airport to watch planes land, take off and move about the runways and taxiways. That was in the 1960s when outdoor observation decks were common at airports. But at many airports, these decks slowly started disappearing in the wake of security concerns and the need for more terminal space.
Lately, it seems a resurgence is in the works worldwide. This list outlines some of the airports around the world with observation areas, many of them in the open air, offering easy access from the terminal building. (While there are many “plane spotter” vantage points near airports, this covers observation decks at or within the main airport buildings.)
The Panorama Terrace offers excellent views of the tarmac with aircraft parked at the gates and taxiing around the Dutch airport. A Fokker 100 aircraft offers an interactive aviation experience. Admission: free. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (winter); 7 a.m.-8 p.m. (summer). Details: www.schiphol.nl.
Delta’s new Sky Club in Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s Terminal F features an outdoor terrace known as the Sky Deck with excellent views of the runway and planes parked directly in front of the lounge. It comes with the added benefit of free snacks, drinks and Wi-Fi for those who can access the lounge. It is airside, and only passengers with a same-day flight can access it. Admission: Free for those with Delta Sky Club access; a day pass costs $50. Hours: always open. Details: http://bit.ly/19xlRXV.
Near the B/C security checkpoint at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, the landside, indoor viewing deck provides excellent tarmac views. Admission: free. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Details: www.bwiairport.com.
Located above the departure ring in Berlin-Tegel Airport’s Terminal D, this observation deck offers up-close views of the planes and runway due to the airport’s infrastructure. Admission: 2 euros for adults and 1 euro for children. Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (winter), 8 a.m.-8 p.m. (summer). Details: www.berlin-airport.de.
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Located in Terminal Two, the Visitor’s Terrace offers stunning views of the bustling tarmac. Unfortunately, it is far away from the Star Alliance and Lufthansa action, which make up a large proportion of the airport’s traffic. Admission: 5 euros. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., April-November only. Details: www.frankfurt-airport.com.
Hamburg, Germany (HAM)
There are three observation decks at Hamburg Airport open to the public. In addition, the Lufthansa business class lounge has a terrace that is open to travelers in warmer months. Admission: free. Hours: always open. Details: www.airport.de.
Hong Kong (HKG)
The Sky Deck permits excellent views of the tarmac, and it is part of the larger aviation discovery center with a museum and interactive exhibits teaching about aviation. Admission: free. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Details: www.hongkongairport.com.
Honolulu International’s terminals are connected by lengthy open-air walkways that provide up-close views of aircraft parked at the gate and the entire tarmac. Admission: free. Hours: always open. Details: http://hawaii.gov/hnl.
Istanbul Ataturk Airport’s central food court on the landside section of the terminal features a tiny smoking deck that offers exceptional views of the aircraft parked at the gates below and the main runway used for landing aircraft much of the time. Smokers are the majority, but through the puffs of smoke, cameras can squeeze between the fenced gate to snap excellent photos. Admission: free. Hours: always open. Details: www.ataturkairport.com.
Los Angeles (LAX)
Located atop the Encounter restaurant in the center of all of the terminals, there are panoramic vistas of the runways and tarmac although the aircraft are quite distant. Admission: free. Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays only. Details: www.encounterlax.com.
Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP)
Hardly anything lavish, the observation deck at Minneapolis-St. Paul International is tucked behind a gift shop in Terminal D of the Lindbergh Terminal and up a small flight of stairs. It is often used by airport employees on break and features views of the tarmac. Don’t expect telescopes or fancy signs, but it is better than the ground-level views often blocked by jet bridges. Admission: free. Hours: always open. Details: www.mspairport.com.
Munich, Germany (MUC)
This lengthy terrace at Munich International is open to the public. Stretching across the terminal, it features binocular machines to amplify the views of the runways and tarmac action. Construction of the new satellite terminal can be monitored easily. Admission: free. Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Details: www.munich-airport.de.
New York (JFK)
Delta’s new Sky Club in John F. Kennedy International’s Terminal Four features a Sky Deck with excellent views of the runway and a global collection of airlines passing by. Like Atlanta’s Sky Deck, it provides free snacks, drinks and Wi-Fi, but is only available to airside passengers with same-day flights from Terminal Four. Admission: Free for those with Delta Sky Club access; a day pass costs $50. Hours: always open. Details: http://bit.ly/19xlRXV.
Paris’ larger Roissy Charles de Gaulle International Airport is busier with more interesting aircraft movements, but there is no formal observation deck there. Orly South, however, has a nice deck with views suitable for photography. Admission: free. Hours: always open. Details: www.aeroportsdeparis.fr.
RDU’s outdoor Observation Park provides sweeping views of the airport’s 10,000-foot runway and is located near the air traffic control tower. In addition to plane-watching, you can listen to pilot-tower communications via audio speakers on the elevated observation platform. The park is also a popular location for kids’ parties. Admission: free. Hours: sunrise to sunset. Details: www.rdu.com/travelinfo/obpark.html.
Located in Changi Airport’s Terminal 3 is an interesting exhibit about the Singapore airport’s operations in addition to a panoramic view of the terminal’s operation below. Admission: free. Hours: 6 a.m.-midnight. Details: www.changiairport.com.
It is located landside in Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport’s Terminal 1 before customs. Unfortunately, connecting passengers cannot access it unless they can leave the airside area of the terminal. Admission: free. Hours: 5:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Details: www.sydneyairport.com.au.
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
This outdoor deck is one of the best in Europe with excellent views of the terminal and runways. It is located in Terminal B, and a second, similar observation deck located in Terminal E is open between April and October. Admission: 5 euros (adults). Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (winter), 8 a.m.-8 p.m. (summer). Details: www.zurich-airport.com.