7 Best Places Around the World for Plane Spotting
There's a certain kind of romance that goes along with flying — many of us share a love not only for the sensation of being airborne, but for the glorious aircraft that take us across the country and around the world. Whether it's the ultra-modern Airbus A350 or the Boeing 747, the original Queen of the Skies, AvGeeks (like me) feel the planes that carry us are arguably just as important as the locations we're visiting. From the beaches of St. Maarten to an In-N-Out Burger on the outskirts of Los Angeles, here's our list of the best places to admire the grace of these modern marvels as they depart and land at different airports around the world.
1. The "Secret" Observation Deck at MSP
When travelers think of Minneapolis–St. Paul, the first things that come to mind are professional sports and the Mall of America. But what many people don’t know is that in addition to being one of the best shopping airports in the world, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) is also one of the the best-plane spotting locations in the US. In addition to opening its own aircraft viewing area complete with picnic tables and views of all four runways, passengers transiting through the airport can also snag an interesting vantage point via the “secret” enclosed observation deck, located off Concourse D on the departures level. For those who are lucky enough to find it, this area looks directly at one of the runways as well as other air traffic departing from all four terminals.
2. Just Outside London's Heathrow Airport
Those hoping to spot the world’s biggest commercial aircraft should hop across the pond to the busiest airport in the United Kingdom, London's Heathrow Airport (LHR). According to airline stats site Anna.Aero, LHR ranked second in the world for the most departures of the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747, proving LHR to be a major crossroads for jumbo-sized aircraft. The best views of can be seen from LHR's surrounding hotels, as well as from several pubs in the nearby villages. Of course, jumbo jets aren't the only aviation-related activity to see at LHR — the British Airways Speedbird Heritage Centre lies just outside the airport, offering aviation enthusiasts a closer look at British Airways' historic collection of vintage photographs, postcards and posters from the golden age of flying.
3. The Visitors Park at Munich Airport (MUC)
Although Frankfurt Airport (FRA) is Lufthansa's main hub, Munich Airport (MUC) is also an important southern gateway for the German flag carrier — more than 42 million passengers transited through the airport in 2016 alone. What makes this location special is the carrier's dedication to involving the public with its operations, with special features like airport tours as well as a nearby plane spotting area called The Visitors Park, complete with historic aircraft displays, a mini-golf course and a playground for the kids.
4. Bayfront Park in San Francisco
With convenient public transportation and multiple airlines offering nonstop flights around the world, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) may be one of the most convenient airports to pass through. It's also a great place to spy on all the different aircraft. At the southernmost corner of the airport sits Bayfront Park, a public space maintained by the City of Millbrae. Its location is especially convenient — just a short walk along the bay from several popular airport hotels, including the Westin San Francisco Airport, the San Francisco Airport Waterfront Marriott and the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport.
5. The In-N-Out Burger by LAX
While In-N-Out Burger is synonymous with California, the popular chain holds special meaning for AvGeeks as well — not only can travelers order the Double-Double “Animal Style” or a number of other items from the secret menu, but one location near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) allows its guests to watch aircraft take off and land from its patio. The franchise on the corner of Sepulveda Boulevard and West 92nd Street sits almost directly underneath both northern runways at LAX, making it the perfect place to see a mix of smaller regional aircraft and wide-body aircraft take off and land. Getting there may prove to be a little tricky, though. Since the burger stand sits next to The Parking Spot's garage, the shuttle will only take passengers who park at their facility — according to aviation enthusiast chatter on FlyerTalk, options to get there include walking from Terminal A or taking LAX Shuttle C to Long Term Parking Lot C.
6. Maho Beach in St. Maarten
Perhaps the most famous place to take in views of flights departing and landing doesn’t lie in New York, Tokyo or any other major city. Those who want the true aircraft landing experience need to book a trip to the Caribbean. Often referred to as “Airplane Beach,” Maho Beach lies directly under the western approach to St. Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) and steps away from the furthest edge of the runway. From this spot, the aviation obsessed can get as close as possible to a flying aircraft without being a passenger. With major international carriers skimming by at hundreds of feet overhead, it’s no wonder this strand of sand has become a major AvGeek bucket list destination.
7. The Other Famous Plane Spotting Beach
Most points and miles travelers consider Phuket, Thailand, to be an ideal vacation destination throughout the year, where beachfront resorts line crystal blue waters with white sands — and aviation lovers can watch the planes come in and out of Phuket International Airport (HKT). Both Nai Yang Beach and Mai Khao Beach sit on the western side of the airport directly in line with its only runway so you'll be able to easily spot a variety of liveries from airlines all across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Let the waves carry your worries away as you watch aircraft take off and land all day long in paradise.
Where are your favorite places to go plane spotting? Tell us about them, below.