A Room With a View of the Runway


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The beach near Princess Juliana International Airport in Saint Maarten is a popular site for plane spotters.

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Dennis Rivera for The New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea — As a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Frank Welborn used to spend some evenings just outside the gates of the Raleigh-Durham airport watching airliners land. “It was pretty exciting,” he said. Later, after he had become a pilot with FedEx, he would request an airfield view at any hotel that offered one, Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport being a favorite.

Aviation professionals are not the only people interested in watching the workings of busy airports. Business travelers and families with young children are among the 15,000 monthly visitors to plane-spotting-hotels.com, a website devoted to sharing news about hotels that overlook airports.

The site’s popularity is explained in part by the disappearance of many observation decks from airports, typically to make retail space available or because of post-9/11 precautions. “This has actually made the popularity of hotels with views even more enticing, as often they are the only places where you can now get great views of airport action,” said Andy Bowden, the founder of plane-spotting-hotels.com and an air traffic controller at Hamad International Airport in Qatar.

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On the roof of the Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel, an open-air observation deck provides the sight and sound of the airport.

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Rydges Sydney Airport

Most die-hard plane spotters know about Princess Juliana International Airport in Saint Maarten, where watching the jumbo jets arrive means sometimes standing less than 100 feet below them as they make their approach over Maho Beach. It’s incredibly loud and very sandy. Watching from the beach can also be dangerous; the jet blast from airplanes lined up for departure has been known to knock over spectators, even those hanging on to the airport’s chain-link fence.

The Grand Hyatt Incheon in Seoul has a vantage point that is cleaner and safer. “We don’t have a beach, and we don’t have a skyline,” said the manager, John Jun. “What we have is a view of the airport.”

The Bloc Hotel at Gatwick Airport outside London gives a discount to people who book through Mr. Bowden’s site and charges 29 pounds a day (about $43) for airfield-view rooms. Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel has a special package for rooms facing the terminal and gates.

Jessica Perrott, a sales executive at Rydges, said it wasn’t until the hotel officially opened that management realized how big the community of aviation enthusiasts was. The plane-spotting package is the hotel’s best seller, she said.

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A night view of the airport at the Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel.

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Rydges Sydney Airport

“Each time we post about or ‘re-gram’ something to do with plane spotting on social media, we get five times as much interactivity with these posts than any other,” she said.

Photos, videos and tips about which rooms in which hotels offer the best views pour in to Mr. Bowden’s site largely from Western Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan, but others provide input, too. Mr. Bowden recently had an exchange with an aviation enthusiast from Gambia. Information from readers has helped build the database so that it now contains information about 300 hotels at 158 airports.

As a plane spotter from the ’60s when my parents would take my siblings and me to spend an evening outside the perimeter fence at Miami International Airport, I understand why all those plane-spotters want to share the news about airfield observations they have found thrilling. This list is my contribution.

Rydges Sydney Airport The travel-size binoculars on my bed were part of the special package offered by the hotel, and it was a nice gesture, but from my room I hardly needed them. The Qantas Boeing 747s and Airbus A-380s were parked practically below the window of the hotel, which is directly across the access road from the international terminal. On the roof, an open-air observation deck provides both the sight and exhilarating sound of all the action at this busy airport.

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The honeymoon suite at the Hotel Hu Incheon Airport in South Korea. The window faces the airport’s approach and departure paths

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Hotel Hu

Hilton Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport The windows at the Hilton are so wide and the view so commanding that even seated at the desk or in the upholstered armchair, I could see panoramic swaths of the airport. While many of the spacious rooms provide this Omni Max-like experience, not all face the airport. To ensure you get the most out of your stay, book a room on a high floor and facing south, north or west.

Sheraton Hartford Hotel at Bradley Airport Bradley International, which serves the Hartford area, is one of the smaller airports with a hotel attached. On or above the fourth floor, the airfield-facing rooms offer a close-up of planes taxiing and parked at the gate, as does the hotel’s Concorde restaurant and the pool. If that’s not enough aviation action, the hotel provides a free shuttle service to the New England Air Museum.

Royal Park Hotel The Haneda, Tokyo Of the 280 rooms in the newest hotel at Haneda International Airport, only a few dozen offer runway views. In the majority of those, the window overlooking the gates is in the bathroom. But in six rooms, four on the eighth floor and two on the seventh, the windows are in the main bedroom and perfectly positioned. If an airfield-facing room is not available, a short walk away is an observation deck open to the public and free.

Tampa Airport Marriott The hotel is on the north end of the property, but every room has a view of some airline’s operations. Watch from the pool by day; viewing is also available in the revolving rooftop restaurant.

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The windows at the Hilton Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport offer a commanding view of the airport. To get the most out of your stay, book a room on a high floor and facing south, north or west.

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Serge Detalle/Hilton Worldwide

Hotel Hu Incheon Airport The indulgent partner of a plane-spotter might want to consider this romantic gift: a night at Hotel Hu’s honeymoon suite, where the canopied bed pales in comparison to the large window facing the approach and departure paths at Incheon International Airport, which is a hub for two global airlines, Asiana and Korean Air.

Grand Hyatt Incheon The elegant Grand Hyatt Incheon gets guests closer to the airfield and also provides a view of the airport gates. You will see more than airplanes; Korean Air owns the hotel and more than 10 percent of the rooms are booked each night to pilots and flight attendants.

Yotel Heathrow Staying at the Yotel, on the mezzanine level of Heathrow’s Terminal 4 offers no views, because windows are interior-facing. Still, it is an aviation-enthusiast-friendly establishment.

Guests are greeted by a purserlike individual who gives a prestay briefing. Rooms are called “cabins.” Microwaveable meals are sold from the “galley” and compact accommodations are just like on an airplane, big enough without an inch to spare.

Even without seeing an airplane, there was something satisfying about bunking down in comfort in the middle of one of the world’s busiest airports. I stayed the night before an 11-hour journey through Frankfurt and Doha, Qatar, and I slept soundly knowing there would be time enough for plane spotting from the boarding gate or the plane in the morning.

Correction: May 8, 2015

An article on Thursday about airport hotels with views of runways misstated part of the name of a hotel within Haneda International Airport. It is the Royal Park Hotel The Haneda, Tokyo (not the “Park Royal”). The article also misstated the number of rooms with a runway view on the hotel’s seventh floor. There are two, not four.



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