An Airport Observation Deck That Isn’t Really Worth Visiting…

Filed Under: Travel

When I was a young kid, my parents would take me to Tampa Airport on weekends to plane spot. We’d just sit there for a couple of hours and watch planes take off and land.

Look, a Southwest 737! Another Southwest 737! Oh, and another one! And there’s an AirTran 717. And another Southwest 737. You get the point. To this day I look up whenever I hear a plane (or just pull up the Flightradar 24 app). Apparently it’s running in the family, because I’m told my nephew asks “is Uncle Ben in there?” when he hears a plane in the sky. Hah.

I appreciate any airport that throws us aviation geeks a bone, including those with observation decks. For example, I’ve written about the Tokyo Haneda Airport observation deck, which is awesome. It’s huge, open air, and spans are entire length of the terminal. There are typically dozens of people out there at any given point, from professional plane spotters to families just wanting fresh air.

That brings me to my time yesterday at Heathrow. I was departing out of Terminal 4, and while heading to my gate noticed there was an observation deck. What, how did I not know this was here?!?! Apparently it has been open since 2014, so I’ve been missing out for a while (or so I thought).

Naturally I got really excited and ran up the four sets of stairs to get to the observation deck, only to find that it was a rather small, fully enclosed room.

The first thing I noticed was that the room was like a greenhouse — it was hot in there.

There was a departures monitor on the wall.

Then there were what they call 270 degree views, though that’s perhaps a bit of a stretch. I suppose there were 270 degree views, but they were heavily obstructed.

In one direction there were actually great views towards runway 27L (hi Air Astana 757!).

The problem was the other 180 degrees of views, which were heavily obstructed.

On the plus side, the observation deck did have a cool map of the airport, including the runways.

I spent just a couple of minutes there, and then headed to my gate.

Bottom line

I’m not trying to be negative here, in the sense that I appreciate that this is a free activity and I appreciate the effort on the part of the airport. Rather I’m just trying to say that not all airport observation decks are created equal. I’d plan on spending at least 30 minutes at the Haneda Airport observation deck, while about two minutes was sufficient in this space, especially with how hot it was in there.

Bigger picture, however, there are so many areas at Heathrow Airport that have great views. I didn’t find the view from here to be any better than much of the rest of the terminal, given that there were only unobstructed views in one direction.

So you might as well pop by if you’re in Terminal 4, but personally I wouldn’t plan on spending much time here.

  1. While not at the airport itself, the observation deck at the Air and Space Museum a few miles from Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C., is great.

  2. No way were you scouting AirTran 717s as a kid. 🙂

    AirTran became an airline 1998 (Post ValuJet)

  3. I love the observation “mountain” in MUC. My ex hated it when I went there on Sundays just to spot planes for some hours

  4. The views from the roof deck at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at LHR are even worse. Good thing that lounge is awesome on the inside 🙂

  5. @Andrew, I believe Lucky was born in the early 90’s, so he was still a kid when AirTran started flying 🙂

  6. Manchester UK has a great viewing park. Unfortunately, as someone who does like their peace and quiet, it can get very busy, but still a favourite to visit when we’ve got a quiet day. There’s also a cafe, restaurant and playground for the kids and it houses Concorde G-BOAC, which you can get various tours of.

  7. Bene there and loved it.
    But maybe that’s because of what I get in FCO, which is… nothing.

  8. Best observation spot is at The Wing, HKG, with a glass of bubbly. Heavies from all over the globe taking off/landing. And mercifully air conditioned.

  9. Zurich Airport offers you a great observation spot too, you even get ‘airportscopes’ (binoculars) you can look at aircraft with, receiving info on the actual type, destination etc.

  10. Was there in February, I was amazed how even when it was fresh outside it felt like a sauna inside…. Fortunately the runway was close enough to get a view of takeoffs. There were also tablets with flightradar on them. But the heat was really unbearable (and as you said the view on the terminals roof isn’t the most appealing ..)

    At least you get a pretty good view of Concorde down near BA maintenance

  11. Your Tampa airport story reminds me of plane spotting at any smaller Candian airport.

    WestJet 737
    AC Dash 8, Embraer 190 and if you are lucky a A320

  12. The real tragedy is that up until about 2003-04, Heathrow had a real, actual outdoor observation deck with a great view of the entire southern end of the airport. It was on top of the former (now demolished) Terminal 2, and while it had been steadily reduced in size over the years, it was open-air and pretty wonderful. I remember watching Concorde depart from up there in 2002, shortly before it was retired.

    Of course, like everything at Heathrow (and British airports in general), it couldn’t be monetized, so it had to go. And of course the replacement for Terminal 2 has nothing at all for spotters. Surprised this new little observation cabin doesn’t have an entrance fee, given how everything else at Heathrow works.

  13. Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in LHR T3 has a rooftop ‘garden’ (more patio), not bad views and at least fresh air (albeit with added jet fuel!)

  14. Lucky, I know it would mean leaving your luxury airport bubble, but if you want to see some planes up close at Heathrow, get the tube to Hatton Cross, cross the Great South-West road and walk about 200 yards to the west. There’s an open stretch of grass where the planes fly directly overhead if they’re landing on the southern runway.

    Check out @planespotter.daily on instagram to see what I’m talking about. You could even take a bottle of bubbles and some glasses!

  15. Zurich Observation Deck is the best. Also the Lounges at terminal E have great terraces. Furthermore; you can bike outside the fence besides the landing strips wich is also great for plane spotting.

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