If you’re new to the hobby of plane spotting, you may be feeling overwhelmed about how to make the most out of it and see as many interesting planes as possible.
You probably live near an airport and have gotten used to seeing planes come and go there. Maybe you know the best spot to watch and photograph aircraft there, and you probably have an idea of the types of planes you see, and the schedules they keep there (if not, look out for the airport’s website and see if you can find any information).
But if you’re going to take this hobby seriously and enjoy it for all it’s worth, you’ll need to spread your wings a little (no pun intended) and try visiting some of the best spotting locations where you’re gonna see the best and most interesting aircraft, and lots of them!
Here’s our guide for beginners on the best places to go plane spotting.
If you can’t get to them all, why not look up some videos on YouTube (here are some amazing aviation channels) to enjoy spotting from the comfort of your screen.
Heathrow is the UK’s busiest airport. It’s currently operating pretty much at capacity, meaning there are very few landing slots available. So from early morning till late at night you’re going to see a steady stream of airliners landing and taking off.
The airport is home to British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, and sees lots of interesting airlines from around the world. There are loads of A380s and Dreamliners here too!
Probably the most spotter-friendly of the big hub airports in mainland Europe.
Frankfurt has four runways and is home to Lufthansa. It also has lots of daily arrivals and departures from around the globe.
The airport provides a number of spotting locations around the airport for enthusiasts to enjoy logging and photography.
Australia’s busiest airport is another one which provides for the spotter. There are a number of locations around the airport, including the new Sheps Tower where you can get close to the action on the runways and take great photographs.
Here you’ll see lots of Qantas and Virgin Australia planes, plus those from all over Asia and the Pacific.
The busiest and most diverse airport on the West Coast of the USA is Los Angeles. This is a major hub for airlines like American, Delta, Southwest and United. It’s also on the route map of most major airlines from around the world, including those from Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East. So there’s never a dull moment!
The airport has four parallel runways (all in the same direction) with the terminals in the middle. The best place to spot is from Jim Clutter Park on the south side (here’s a guide), or from the In ‘n’ Out Burger fast food restaurant on Sepulveda Blvd. You’ll be able to enjoy photographing huge airliners just over your head while enjoying some great food in the sun!
If you want to see brand new airliners being born, head to Toulouse in southern France. This is one of two airports (the other is near Hamburg in Germany) where Airbus builds its planes (ATR also builds turboprop airliners here too).
So, although you’re in Europe, you will regularly see the colour schemes of airlines from around the world on new A320s, A330s and A350s as they’re being tested and delivered.
There are viewing locations at both ends of the airport (see our guide here).
While we’re on the subject of brand new planes, the other main producer of airliners in the world is Boeing. Their main production base is Seattle in north-west America. They use three different airfields to build and test their brand new aircraft, so we’re including Seattle as a whole here. It makes a great little spotting holiday.
Boeing Field is near downtown Seattle. It’s where Boeing finishes off and delivers its 737s. There’s also the amazing Museum of Flight located here.
Renton is a little further south of the city and is where 737s are built. It’s quite a small airport, so you’ll see aircraft parked in every available space. There’s a good viewing location along Rainier Ave on the western side.
Everett Paine Field is further north of Seattle near Lynnwood. This is where the big jets are built – the 747, 767, 777 and 787. There’s a huge assembly hall that you can take tours of (website), and the Future of Flight is an interesting little museum to Boeing with a gift shop and viewing terrace on top where you can watch and photograph these brand new widebodies!
Finally, Seattle also has its own big international airport known as SeaTac which is worth visiting for some spotting.
Another city rather than individual airport. Tokyo in Japan has two main airports – Haneda and Narita. Like nearly every airport in Japan, they both have viewing terraces on the terminals where you can easily watch and photograph airliners from all over the world coming and going.
Because Tokyo is the capital city of Japan, its airports are busier than the others in the country, and you’ll see most of the aircraft fleets of ANA All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines here.
You’ve probably seen pictures of St Maarten in the Caribbean where big jets fly really low over people on the beach just before landing.
This is Maho Beach and it sits right at the end of the runway. Because these big jets (carrying holidaymakers from Europe and North America) need lots of runway length, they come in really low. It’s a great place to take amazing pictures and videos while enjoying some sunshine!
Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International
Atlanta is America’s busiest airport. It is the home base of Delta Air Lines and its fleet of hundreds of airliners. The airport also sees action from lots of other American and worldwide airlines.
The problem with Atlanta is that it’s not very easy to spot at. So most spotters who want to log all of these airliners will check in to the Renaissance Concourse hotel on the northern perimeter of the airport. This hotel has amazing views over the airport, so you can sit on your balcony all day and night logging the airliners as they come and go (you might need a little help from Flightradar24)
The main airport in Switzerland is at Zurich. It has three runways and is busy with lots of international airlines, as well the home base carrier Swiss.
This airport is one of the few in Europe that still has viewing terraces on top of the terminal, so you can get up really close to the action. It’s great in sunny weather, but not so much when the snow arrives in the winter!
More Plane Spotting Resources
If you want to take plane spotting more seriously and learn about even more spotting locations at airports around the world, we produce special books for plane spotters that give you all of the information you need, like maps, descriptions of where to spot and photograph, and what airliners you’ll see.
Our best overall plane spotting book is World Airports Spotting Guides, which lists hundreds of airports around the world and where to spot at each one, plus tips on what you’ll see and other interesting aviation attractions like museums.
Which airports do you love to spot at and why? Leave a comment below.