Serving the twin cities on the Mississippi River, this large joint civil and military airport has grown to become one of the busiest airports in the USA mostly due to the presence of Delta Air Lines. Read on to discover the best places for plane spotting at the airport.
About Minneapolis St Paul Airport (MSP)
This large hub is an important access point for many Asian and European flights into America, with onward connections across the USA and Canada.
It is also an onward connection point for the commuter fleets of Delta Connection, linking cities across Minnesota and neighbouring states.
Spotters will see mostly Delta aircraft here; if that is what you’re looking for, you may prefer the warmth of Atlanta over the bitter winters in Minnesota. Any dedicated spotting trips should be done in the warmer months, exploring a couple of the officially recognised spotting locations.
Alongside Delta, Delta Connection and Sun Country Airlines, who all base aircraft here, you can see all other main US carriers (Alaska, Allegiant Air, American, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United) in abundance.
International carriers include Air Canada Express, KLM and WestJet, with some seasonal services by additional carriers in the summer months.
Cargo flights are regular, with Amazon Air, DHL Aviation, FedEx Express and UPS all providing multiple daily movements.
MSP has a confusing layout of four runways:
The main passenger terminal 1 dominates the eastern side, located between the parallel 12/30 runways.
The smaller Terminal 2 is located to the south-west of Terminal 1 and handles low-cost and leisure flights, such as Southwest Airlines and Sun Country. You can see some of the gates from Terminal 1, but not vice versa.
A cargo centre and parking apron is on the western side of the airport, whilst the military base is on the northern side; you can usually log some of its C-130 Hercules aircraft from Terminal 1. The base is also home to the Minnesota ANG Museum (see later).
General aviation parking is alongside Terminal 2.
Minneapolis St Paul Spotting Locations
Cell Phone Lot Observation Area
A small parking lot has been providing for those wishing to watch aircraft at MSP. It is located alongside the threshold of runway 30L, which is the primary runway for long haul airliners, and also commonly used for departures. The spot is off Post Road, and situated alongside the Fort Snelling National Cemetery. The spot is easily reached from the terminal with a car.
Concourse D Observation Deck
An indoors observation area is located just prior to entering the Concourse D departure lounge and signposted. It has views of runway 12/30 and concourses C and E. Photography is possible, albeit through glass, and most movements will be seen.
MSP Aircraft Viewing Area
A recent and welcome addition to the official spotting locations at MSP, opened in 2015. This viewing area is in the centre of the airfield, behind the FedEx cargo buildings. There are parking spaces and views across runways 12R/30L and 04/22, as well as part of Terminal 1 and most of Terminal 2. Access to the viewing area is from the west side of the airport. To get there from Richfield or Cedar Avenue, travel on 66th St. east to Longfellow Avenue and follow Longfellow south to Cargo Road. Follow Cargo Road to its end at the new viewing area. From Bloomington or I-494, take 24th Ave. north to 77th St. Take 77th St. west to Longfellow Road, and follow Longfellow north to Cargo Road. Turn right on Cargo Road and follow it to the new viewing area, located just past and the FedEx facility. It is free to enter.
Mall of America
Just to the south of MSP is the huge Mall of America shopping complex. From the car parking lots outside, you can observe and photograph arrivals on runway 35, and see departures off 17.
Terminal 2 Parking Lots
The Purple and Orange parking lots outside Terminal 2 have views over the gates at this terminal, as well as movements on runways 4/22 and 17/35. With a telephoto lens you can get some good shots, but you’ll need to pay for parking.
Spotting for Transit Passengers
The majority of travellers will be passing through MSP between flights, in which case you have ample viewing opportunities from within the main terminal. Similar in layout to Amsterdam Schiphol, it is possible to walk from one end to the other, logging aircraft as you go.
MSP Spotting Hotel
SpringHill Suites Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport/Mall of America
2870 Metro Dr, Bloomington, MN 55425 | +1 952 854 0300 | www.marriott.com
The choice of hotels at MSP is quite limited. However, the SpringHill Suites at the southern end of the airport, near the Mall of America, is acceptable for viewing some movements.
The few north-facing rooms look directly into the Delta maintenance hangars, with an awkward view along runway 17/35. Rooms facing west have a good view of aircraft landing on runway 35, but little else.
Minnesota ANG Museum
670 General Miller Drive, Building 670, St Paul, MN 55111 | www.mnangmuseum.org
This museum on the north side of Minneapolis St Paul Airport has a good selection of preserved military transport and fighter aircraft. Unfortunately visits need to be arranged in advance, or on one of the special events. See website for details.
Airport Spotting Guides USA
For more tips on spotting at Minneapolis St Paul and over 400 other airports across all 50 US states, try our book, Airport Spotting Guides USA.
This latest edition includes maps, descriptions, information about the airlines and aircraft you’ll see. It also includes tips on the best aviation museums and spotting hotels.
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