Airport observation decks around the world

GEORGE HOBICA
Last updated 05:10 21/12/2013
Plane Spotter
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PLANE SPOTTERS: Visitors look down from a viewing platform near a parked Airbus A380 at Frankfurt Airport.

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When I was a little boy, I begged and pleaded with my dad to bring me to Boston's Logan Airport to watch planes land, take off, and move about the runways and taxiways.

Maybe you did, too.

That was in the 1960s when outdoor observation decks were common at airports.

But while once a given 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 many 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 located at or within the main airport buildings.)

So rejoice, fellow aviation geeks, and anyone wishing to get a whiff of fresh air - or jet fuel.

Amsterdam (AMS)

9 am to 5 pm (winter); 7 am to 8 pm (summer). Free.

The Panorama Terrace offers excellent views of the tarmac with aircraft parked at the gates and taxiing around the airport. A Fokker 100 aircraft offers an interactive aviation experience for kids of all ages to enjoy.

Atlanta (ATL)

Anytime. Free for those with Delta Sky Club access. A day pass costs US$50 (NZD$61).

Delta's new Sky Club in Terminal F features a unique 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 wifi for those that can access the lounge. It is airside, and only passengers with a same-day flight can access it.

Auckland (AKL)

Anytime. Free.

On the top floor of the international terminal, the views are up close and personal. An attractive display about aviation is also available for perusal.

Baltimore (BWI)

11 am to 9 pm. Free.

Near the B/C security checkpoint, the landside, indoor viewing deck provides excellent tarmac views.

Bangkok (BKK)

Anytime. Free.

The observation deck is located on the 7th floor, but the views are limited. They mostly survey the departure hall and a small section of the tarmac. Unfortunately, the interior windows and building architecture get in the way of taking photos.

Belo Horizonte (PLU)

Anytime. Free.

This Brazilian airport is not as busy as Rio or Sao Paulo's airports, but still sees some interesting traffic. The glassed-in deck on the top floor of the airport is open to the public and has a small bar and café.

Berlin (TXL)

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8 am to 8 pm (summer); 10 am to 4 pm (winter). €2 for adults and €1 for children.

Located above the departure ring in Terminal D, this observation deck offers up-close views of the planes and runway due to the airport's infrastructure.

Budapest (BUD)

24 hours (except 11 am to 8 pm in winter). Free.

Recently renovated, this outdoor roof terrace at Terminal 2A is open year round. There's a buffet in spring and summer.

Cape Town (CPT)

5 am to 11 pm. Free.

The observation deck is located on the mezzanine level of the landside section of the international terminal.

Cologne/Bonn (CGN)

5 am to midnight. Free.

Located in Terminal 1 (Stern C), this spacious deck is al fresco with great views of the tarmac. For those interested in airport operations, there are guided tours of the entire facility for a small fee.

Dallas / Ft. Worth (DFW)

7 am to 7 pm. Free.

While not at the airport itself, this convenient viewing area is great for locals that want an up-close look at airport operations. Telescopes add to the fun.

Dresden (DRS)

Anytime. Free.

In the gallery level of the airport terminal, this space offers excellent views of the tarmac and even the distant Moritzburg Castle.

Dusseldorf (DUS)

6 am to 9 pm (summer); 9 am to 8 pm (winter). €1-2.20.

One ticket gives access to two observation decks at the airport that are quite large and provide views of multiple terminals and all of the runway action.

Frankfurt (FRA)

April to November only, 10 am to 6 pm. €5.

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.

Grand Rapids (GRR)

Anytime. Free.

Located on the mezzanine level of the passenger terminal building, this charming, quiet space features an indoor seating area facing glass panels overlooking the tarmac. There's also an off-airport viewing area, situated on Kraft Avenue north of 52nd Street to watch aircraft take off and land.

Hamburg (HAM)

Anytime. Free.

There are three observation decks at the airport open to the public. In addition, the Lufthansa business class lounge has a terrace that is open to travellers in warmer months.

Helsinki (HEL)

7 am to 10 pm. Free.

Located in Terminal Two, the Scenic Terrace offers close-up aircraft views and the two runways.

Hong Kong (HKG)

11 am to 10 pm. Free.

The Sky Deck permits excellent views of the tarmac, and it is also part of the larger aviation discovery center with a museum and interactive exhibits teaching about aviation.

Honolulu (HNL)

Anytime. Free.

Honolulu's terminals are connected by lengthy open-air walkways that provide up-close of aircraft parked at the gate and the entire tarmac.

Istanbul (IST)

Anytime. Free.

The 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.

Johannesburg (JNB)

Anytime. Free.

There are two viewing decks at the airport: one in the domestic terminal, and one in the international terminal. They are indoors so photos may show window smudges or reflections.

Kuala Lumpur (KUL)

Anytime. Free.

This landside space is open to anyone without charge and offers excellent views of the tarmac around the international terminal.

Leipzig / Halle (LEJ)

Anytime. €2.

The outdoor platform is located on the roof of the administration building with excellent views. It is located landside.

Los Angeles (LAX)

8 am to 5 .m on Saturdays and Sundays only. Free.

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.

Minneapolis / St. Paul (MSP)

Anytime. Free.

Hardly anything lavish, the observation deck at MSP 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.

Munich (MUC)

8 am to 10 pm. Free.

This lengthy terrace is open to the public and stretches across the terminal and features binocular machines to amplify the views of the runways and tarmac action. Construction of the new satellite terminal can also be monitored easily from here.

Nagoya (NGO)

7 am to 10:30 pm. Free.

The SkyDeck (not the same as Delta's version by the same name) offers exceptionally close views of the aircraft.

New York (JFK)

Anytime. Free for those with Delta Sky Club access. A day pass costs US$50 (NZD$61).

Delta's new Sky Club in Terminal Four features a unique outdoor terrace known as the Sky Deck with excellent views of the runway and a global collection of airlines passing by. It comes with the added benefit of free snacks, drinks, and wifi for those that can access the lounge. It is airside, and only passengers with a same-day flight from Terminal Four can access it.

Nuremberg (NUE)

Anytime. Free.

This regional airport has a wide space landside for visitors to explore the airport's movements. Telescopes are provided.

Osaka (KIX)

Anytime. Free by dedicated shuttle bus (public buses also run, but for a fee)

While not located directly inside the terminal, it is easy to reach by a free shuttle bus from stop No. 1 outside.

Paris (ORY)

Anytime. Free.

Roissy Charles de Gaulle 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.

Perth (PER)

6:30 am to 7 pm (Oct. to March); 7:30 am to 5:30 pm (April to Sept.). Free.

Located on the third floor of the terminal, it offers excellent views of the tarmac area.

Raleigh Durham (RDU)

Free. Sunrise to sunset year-round.

Popular with kids of all ages, 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.

San Salvador (SAL)

Anytime. Free.

The airport has a popular rooftop observation deck where family and friends can watch planes arriving before meeting passengers. Plans are in the works to convert it to a food court, but no details have been released.

Seoul Incheon (ICN)

10 am to 5 pm daily (4 pm in the winter). FreeWhile not at the airport terminal, this elevated observatory permits complete views of the airport. It is mostly used by locals or passengers that have enough time between flights to exit the airport. Take bus 306 (US$1 and tell driver Oseong Observatory) or take a taxi (US$10).

Singapore (SIN)

6 am to midnight. Free.

Located in Terminal 3, there is an interesting exhibit about the airport's operations in addition to a panoramic view of the terminal's operation below.

Sydney (SYD)

5:30 am to 9 pm. Free.

It is located landside in Terminal 1 before customs near check-in counter C. Unfortunately, connecting passengers cannot access it unless they can leave the airside area of the terminal.

Taipei (TSA)

9 am to 9 pm. Free.

This is Taipei's domestic and regional airport so the activity is not as interesting as at the international airport. Still, the outdoor viewing deck is popular.

Tokyo Haneda (HND)

Anytime. Free.

Two observation decks are located at the airport, one in Terminal One and another in Terminal Two. Now that Haneda is open to international traffic, the activity for aviation geeks is more varied.

Tokyo Narita (NRT)

6:30 am to 9 pm (spring / summer); 7 am to 9 pm (fall / winter). Free.

One observation deck in each terminal is accessible without charge and offer close-up views of aircraft. They are located on top of the terminal permitting close-up views.

Vancouver (YVR)

Anytime. Free.

The observation deck is located on the fourth floor of the domestic terminal, but still permits views of international aircraft. Since it is indoors, photos can sometimes have glare from the sunshine. Interactive kiosks give more details on the airport.

Zurich (ZRH)

8 am to 8 pm (summer); 9 am to 6 pm (winter). €5 (adults)

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 only opens between April and October.

George Hobica is founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.

- MCT

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