Wanna turn a grown man in to the most excited little boy in the world? Take him plane watching at the nearest international airport and watch the light shine in his eyes for younger days gone by. I used to ask that question as a young child when my parents discovered my love of airplanes and took me to the airport to watch the world fly by. It still happens today because I regularly head out to some observation area or vantage point just to watch the metal move through the air, bringing people and products together all over the world.
There is nothing to stir the imagination as much as watching planes roaring in to the sky unless, of course, you happen to live near Cape Canaveral. The bigger the plane the greater the thrill and the ultimate icing is seeing a foreign flag shining bright and exotic to break up the monotony of one US airline after another, especially if it is the same airline over and over again.
Some airports are certainly better than others when it comes to having a wide variety of airplanes and airlines to choose from. JFK, London/Heathrow, Frankfurt and Tokyo come time mind while some serious international players like Bangkok and Hong Kong bring a particularly exotic feel to the comings and goings, being heavy with regional brands not necessarily seen elsewhere in the world. Combine the major players from every corner of the globe that you would expect to see at Bangkok and then add in the low-cost carriers such as Air Asia and Jetstar and 'tis a heady stew indeed of smells, sights and sounds.
Getting as close to the action as possible is the trick, of course. A zoom lens is fine for the tight shots from a distance but hearing and feeling the "heavies" pounding overhead truly gives the heart a burst of joy and adrenalin. There's a nice village pub on Spout Lane at the western end of Heathrow that offers a pint, pub grub and a spectacular view directly underneath the aircraft whether they are landing or taking off. In San Francisco at the northern end of 28-R is the parking lot to the United Airlines Maintenance Base. The concussion from international widebodies thundering off of this strip routinely sets off a number of car alarms as they head over the sea to Asia, Hawaii or Europe.
Sadly though, the current economy has curtailed this unique and free way to spend an afternoon. On a recent trip to "Funeral Hill" on the south side of Los Angeles International Airport, where the "Asian Invasion" was the highlight of any day, traffic was noticeably down from the glory days. A typical day at LAX used to see up to 12 nonstops a day to Tokyo alone - today I counted two international departures between 11AM and 12:30PM, once prime viewing time at this major international gateway.
There is still activity out there, of course, and thanks to online travel agencies it is very easy to figure out when the best time of day is for viewing at your local airport. Don't be surprised if you're not alone; rather, be uplifted at wondering which is more the child, the little boy playing in the grass and turning his eyes up to watch the next one go boy or the father who brought him as a bonding opportunity for them both or an excuse to go himself.