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The 37 Best Airports in America for Spotters

by Matt Falcus

The United States is an incredible place to go plane spotting. You wouldn’t expect anything else for the country which pioneered powered flight and also has more airports and airfields than any other country on earth!

America utilises air travel in a big way for covering the distances between cities, with services as frequent as buses in some places. Businesses use air travel to get around, and leisure air travel is also big business.

Then there’s the general aviation and military aviation scenes, which are also huge. Some of the world’s busiest airports and airfields can be found here.

America is also home to Boeing, who produces aircraft in the Seattle and Charleston areas, and Airbus who have a factory in Mobile.

We’ve put together this list of the 37 best airports in America, in our opinion, for plane spotters.

 

Anchorage Ted Stevens International, AK

FedEx at Anchorage

Departing Runway 34 Anchorage.

The busiest and largest airport in Alaska, Anchorage is a major cargo hub and during the Covid-19 crisis briefly became one of the world’s busiest airports. You’ll often see large widebody freighters here. However, you’ll also see older propliners and jets flying cargo, too. Alaska Airlines has a hub here.

 

Atlanta-Hartsfield Jackson International, GA

N595NW Pic 5

For a long time the world’s busiest airport (although that is now challenged by Beijing and Dubai) thanks to it being the main hub of Delta Air Lines and its large fleet of aircraft. You’ll also see international carriers. Because of all these aircraft, it’s great for spotters who like to log tail numbers. You can also visit the Delta Flight Museum which has preserved airliners like the 747 on site.

 

Charleston International, SC

RCH379_C17A_08-8204_USAF_BRU_JUL18

Now the main production site of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, Charleston is great for spotting new airliners before they are delivered to their owners around the world. Aside from this it’s a moderately busy passenger airport.

 

Chicago O’Hare, IL

United Boeing 787-900 N24972

This is a huge airport which is in the middle of transforming its layout, with new runways and terminals. O’Hare is a major hub for American Airlines and United Airlines, and sees international flights arriving from all over the globe daily.

 

Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

Founders Plaza

The main hub for American Airlines. This is another busy airport at the heart of Texas. It has a large central terminal area, and many runways in all corners. Thankfully you can spot and photograph aircraft from a place known as Founders Plaza.

 

Dallas Love Field, TX

Danazar, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The original commercial airport for Dallas is also the home base of low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines, and also see lots of biz jet movements. There’s a small aviation museum on site, known as the Frontiers of Flight Museum.

 

Davis-Monthan Air Base, AZ

This air base near Tucson is naturally of interest to military aircraft fans, but even civil fans can’t fail to be wowed by the sheer numbers of aircraft stored here. It is the main disposal and storage site for the US Air Force, and you’ll see row upon row of fighters, transports, bombers and helicopters all lined up. Next to the airfield is the Pima Air & Space Museum with lots of historic aircraft on display.

 

Everett Paine Field, WA

Paine Field is Boeing’s principal widebody airliner production site. It’s here that types like the 747, 767 and 777 are built (the 787 production line has now moved to Charleston). The aircraft are built in the world’s largest building by area, and then rolled out for painting. You’ll often see them performing test flights. Next to the runway is the Future of Flight museum which has a viewing deck on the roof.

 

Fort Lauderdale Executive, FL

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This is one of the busiest and best airports in Florida (and America) for spotting biz jets and props. There is a steady stream of these aircraft coming and going all day from this airport, and you can take a drive around the perimeter exploring all of the areas where the aircraft are parked up.

 

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, FL

(c) Chris Hall

(c) Chris Hall

Just up the road is one of Florida’s main airline hubs. Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International sees many international leisure carriers fly through, as well as US low-cost and mainline carriers. The airport always has good weather and provides a couple of great spotting locations where you can log and photograph airliners.

 

Honolulu International, HI

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717. Photo (c) Colin Wells

Hawaii’s largest and busiest airport, which also shares the site and runways with Hickam Field Air Base. Honolulu is an interesting airport at a meeting point between North America and Asia. It principally sees leisure flights bringing tourists from the USA, Canada and Japan. But you’ll also see lots of inter-island flights flown by local airlines.

 

Houston George Bush Intercontinental, TX

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A large and busy Texas airport which is the main hub for United Airlines. Houston also has lots of international flights from long-haul destinations thanks to the business and oil industry in the area, so you’ll always find something interesting to see.

 

Las Vegas McCarran, NV

Photo (c) Erik Ritterbach

One of America’s busiest leisure airports thanks to the draw of Las Vegas, plus nearby attractions like the Grand Canyon. Las Vegas McCarran is just a stone’s throw from the hotels and resorts of The Strip. It sees airlines from across the globe, plus low-cost and full-service carriers from across America, Canada and Mexico.

 

Los Angeles International, CA

Photo (c) Erik Ritterbach

The busiest airport in California and a real melting pot of international and local carriers. Los Angeles is a widebody hub, but you’re just as likely to see regional turboprops, biz jets and cargo freighters. It has some good spots for photography and the weather is often great.

 

Louisville International, KY

UPS A300 at Louisville

UPS A300 at Louisville

This airport is a moderately busy passenger hub. But the real draw is the worldwide hub for UPS Airlines – one of the world’s biggest cargo carriers. Its fleet passes through in large numbers every day.

 

Marana Pinal Airpark, AZ

Photo (c) Brett Smith

Arizona’s main civil airliner storage airport is at Marana, around 30 minutes’ drive north of Tucson. Airlines send their aircraft here for long-term storage, or parting out and scrapping. You’ll see examples from all over the globe.

 

Memphis, TN

N375FE FedEx | McDonnell Douglas MD-10-10F | Memphis International Airport

Like Louisville, Memphis is also dominated by cargo movements. In this case, it’s FedEx Express, who’s fleet passes through mostly at night (although many aircraft are present during the day), linking to destinations all around the world.

 

Miami International, FL

Miami International Airport

Miami is a busy international airport in Florida. It’s main draw has always been a dominance of Central and South American carriers, plus those from the Caribbean, as the closest entry point to the USA. So as well as all the usual airlines, you’ll often see some really interesting aircraft here.

 

Miami-Opa Locka, FL

2118 HU-25 Coast Guard Miami

Just up the road is Opa Locka. This is a busy airport for private jets and light aircraft movements, and it is also a place where you’ll often see older airliners being maintained, stored or scrapped. So it’s worth exploring as you never know what you might see!

 

Mobile Downtown, AL

This is a quiet little regional airport, and not the main airport for the city of Mobile. But it is the site used by Airbus for their USA manufacturing. So if you want to see new Airbus A220 and A320 family aircraft coming off the line without travelling to France or Germany, this is the place to be!

 

Mojave, CA

For a long time Mojave was the best place to go and see stored airliners. It is still the case today that this desert airport is home to many retired aircraft wearing the liveries of lost airlines. Mojave is also now a space port, and sees regular flights involving the pursuit of commercial space travel.

 

Moses Lake, WA

Stored Max 8s at Moses Lake

Moses Lake has become a testing ground for new airliners. Boeing often sends its new aircraft there from its Seattle production sites, and during the 737 MAX grounding there were many of the type parked up here. You’ll often be surprised by what you see on a visit.

 

New York JFK, NY

Spotting planes at JFK from the TWA Hotel observation deck and pool.

JFK is New York’s busiest airport and is a symbol of air travel in America. It is a busy, sprawling hub of international carriers from across the world, as well as local and regional airlines. The take-off queue can often be very long during rush hour.

 

New York LaGuardia, NY

Another New York airport which is great for the spotter is LaGuardia. This airport only handles domestic (and some Canadian) flights, so if you’re not from the USA this is a good place to see aircraft that you won’t see anywhere else. It’s been undergoing a major transformation, so viewing opportunities may change. But try the Plane View Park near the end of the runway for good all-round views.

 

Orlando International, FL

Spotting at Orlando

Despite newcomers like Sanford and Melbourne, Orlando International is still the busiest and largest airport in the Orlando area thanks to the immense influx of leisure visitors to the region. It is a big airport and sees many different airlines.

 

Oshkosh Wittman Regional, WI

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Usually during the month of July, Oshkosh Wittman Regional Airport in Wisconsin briefly becomes the world’s busiest airport in terms of aircraft movements. That’s because it hosts the annual EAA AirVenture show, where often upwards of 10,000 light, experimental and military aircraft arrive to attend the show. It lasts a week and is seen as the world’s best airshow.

 

Phoenix Sky Harbor, AZ

N728SK, Bombardier CRJ-700, American Eagle, Phoenix Sky Harbor

The busiest airport in Arizona is a good place to enjoy some sunshine and opportunities for photographing airliner movements. It has a steady mix of regional, low-cost, international and cargo flights to keep things interesting.

 

Renton, WA

N3134C

Renton is one of Boeing’s production sites in the Seattle area. This particular airport is involved in the production of the 737 airliner series. Many are rolled off the line each month, and can be seen parked at various points around the airfield, or being test-flown. The airport is also busy with seaplane operations, which makes an interesting diversion.

 

San Diego, CA

Approach Light, San Diego Airport, USA

Located on the border with Mexico, San Diego is a fun and vibrant city. Its airport is limited by space, but packs a punch with busy schedules of regional and international flights. It’s great to watch large widebody airliners land on its restricted runway, especially as they swoop over the surrounding built up areas!

 

San Francisco International, CA

Photo (c) Erik Ritterbach

A very scenic international hub airport in central California. The popularity of San Francisco and the Bay Area means the airport draws lots of international carriers, particularly from Asia, and its location jutting out into the Bay makes it quite unique. It is one of the few US airports to open a new observation area in recent years.

 

Seattle Boeing Field, WA

Boeing 737 MAX 8 Norwegian Air International N1799B (EI-FYD) LN6408

Boeing Field is the closest airport to downtown Seattle, and sits right under the flight path to Seattle Tacoma (see below). This is where Boeing finishes off its aircraft (particularly the 737 line), with testing and painting. So you’ll see lots of daily movements. The airport also has a few regional schedules and lots of biz jet movements. You’ll find the Museum of Flight located at Boeing Field, where the prototype 727, 737 and 747 are located, plus many other civil and military aircraft.

 

Seattle Tacoma, WA

Bernstea, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Once you’ve covered all of the Boeing sites in and around Seattle, head to its main international airport. This is a hub for Alaska Airlines and is busy with international flights from Asia and Europe in particular.

 

Teterboro, NJ

Teterboro Airport Spotting Hotel

The busiest airport for biz jet and prop movements in the New York area. Located in New Jersey, within sight of the Manhattan skyline, this airport can be very busy. Walking along its perimeter fence will often yield many aircraft parked up for you to log, and there’s a small aviation museum on the site too.

 

Van Nuys, CA

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Probably California’s best airport for biz jet movements. Van Nuys is to the north of Los Angeles, within easy reach. It is hemmed in on all sides, but manages to accommodate hundreds of aircraft and movements every day. There is a dedicated viewing area to watch them from, too.

 

Victorville Southern California Logistics, CA

Victorville airport, California

Now probably the busiest airport in America associated with aircraft storage, parting out and scrapping. Victorville is about an hour’s drive from Los Angeles. The dry desert heat and sunshine is perfect for preserving airliners over long periods. Airlines from around the world send their aircraft here for end-of-life work and storage, so there’s usually a good mix of liveries to see.

 

Washington Dulles, VA

Boeing 307 Stratoliner at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington Dulles.

Dulles is the main international airport serving Washington DC, and is a busy hub for United Airlines. The city’s importance means the airport receives international flights from many of the world’s nations, and it’s also busy for domestic routes. The main draw is the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Centre on the southern perimeter. This aviation museum, a part of the Smithsonian, is home to hundreds of aircraft, including a Space Shuttle, Concorde, and the prototype Boeing 707.

 

Washington Ronald Reagan, VA

airplane with luca

Nestled on the banks of the Potomac River within sight of the White House and Washington Monument is Ronald Reagan National Airport. Like LaGuardia in New York, this airport mostly handles domestic flights, with aircraft up to Boeing 757 size. It is busy and hectic, and the proximity to the city means aircraft fly a curved approach to land.

 

Airport Spotting Guides USA

We have put together this comprehensive, 445 page guide to spotting at America’s airports. Airport Spotting Guides USA is a state-by-state listing of all the main airports and major airfields, with maps, spotting locations, airline information, plus tips on spotting hotels and the best aviation museums.

You can order your copy of this guide today from this link

 

 

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1 comment

MERVYN CROWE March 30, 2021 - 11:08 am

Hi Matt, have been to 9 of these airports, DMA and MZJ amazing, if not about 40c! on the day. Have flown out of the other 7, most photos from LAX.

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