Cool cocktail lounges, delicious dining options, museum-worthy art exhibits and spas that pamper passengers from head to toe are designed to make travelers barely notice they’re in an airport.
Airport observation decks and viewing terraces, however, are all about the magic of flying.
Munich Airport, Zurich Airport, Tokyo’s Haneda and Narita airports, South Korea’s Incheon Airport and dozens of other airports in Europe and Asia have outdoor decks that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
But in the United States, post-9/11 security issues and the pressure to generate revenue caused many airports to close this once-common, almost must-have feature.
A fair number of holdouts exist at small and large airports. New York’s Albany International Airport has an observation deck. So do Albuquerque International Sunport and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. And, while not yet a verified trend, there are several new observation decks and viewing terraces being built at U.S. airports.
Here are some to look for – or look out from – on your next trip.
San Francisco International Airport
When the Central Terminal opened at San Francisco International Airport in 1954, an open-air, rooftop observation deck was one of its popular features.
That deck is long gone, but in February, SFO opened a new 2,997-square-foot post-security outdoor terrace in the International Terminal. The deck has 10-foot-high glass panels, drought-tolerant landscaping, sculptures, chairs, tables, chaise lounges and 180-degree views of the airfield.
A second observation deck, located pre-security in Terminal 2, is scheduled to open in October.
Albuquerque International Sunport
A post-security observation deck at Albuquerque International Sunport is located upstairs between the two concourses and has chairs, tables and couches. A food court is below. In addition to views of the main runway and gate activity for commuter jets, travelers can see the nearby Manzano Mountains.
Baltimore/Washington International Airport
When Baltimore/Washington International Airport opened as Friendship International Airport in 1950, it sported an outdoor observation deck.
Today BWI has a large, enclosed observation gallery pre-security on the upper level of the terminal between Concourses B and C. Opened in 1995, the gallery has comfortable seating, a cocktail bar, great views of airfield activities, a children’s play area, charging stations and aviation-related exhibits, including several parts of a Boeing 737-200 aircraft.
Gerald F. Ford International Airport
The Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has an indoor observation deck on the mezzanine level of the terminal. In addition to viewing the runways and the airport’s green roof, visitors to the pre-security deck can look down into the marketplace area of the terminal. That offers an extra chance to wave farewell to loved ones after they go through passenger screening and before they head to their gate for boarding, said GRR airport spokeswoman Tara Hernandez.
Los Angeles International Airport
Closed after 9/11 but open in recent years for limited weekend hours, the observation deck on top of the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport is currently closed to the public. An airport spokesman said the reopening of this guest amenity may be reconsidered after 2023, when a major construction project at LAX is completed.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
Easy to pass by, the 1,500-square-foot indoor observation gallery at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is up a short flight of stairs on Concourse D at Terminal 1. Built in the 1970s, the deck looks out onto one of the airport’s runways, has windows on three sides and seats about 20. (MSP also has an aircraft viewing area outside the terminals, at the end of Cargo Road next to the FedEx shipping center.)
Missoula International Airport
Montana’s Missoula International Airport has a post-security outdoor deck next to Gate 3 on the upper level of the terminal that offers great views of arriving and departing aircraft and of Lolo Peak, which is popular with climbers. Opened in 2014, the deck seats about 40 and adds a bar serving food and beverages during the summer. MSO’s new terminal facility, set to open in late 2021 or early 2022, has been designed with an outdoor deck as well.
Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport
In southern Oregon, the pre-security observation deck at Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport was built as part of the facility in 2008. The glass-enclosed space has plenty of tables and chairs and is located right next to the Sky House restaurant, which makes having a meal while watching planes come and go a popular pastime.
Pittsburgh International Airport
Like a recessive gene, sometimes an airport observation deck can skip a generation.
That’s what happening at Pittsburgh International Airport. PIT’s last terminal had an outdoor viewing deck. The current one does not.
In surveys conducted for PIT’s Terminal Modernization Program, a majority of area residents (63 percent) said they’d like an observation deck in the new terminal. So that amenity is now part of the plan.
Tennessee’s Tri-Cities Airport has an open-air deck, located pre-security on the mezzanine level of the airport, that looks out over the airfield, Boone Lake and the Appalachian Mountains.
Will Rogers World Airport
A dedicated observation tower at Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport that opened in 1967 was demolished during a terminal renovation completed in 2006.
A pre-security viewing space, described by OKC officials as a “circulation area,” is included as part of a new terminal expansion project that began in March and will provide south-facing views of the terminal ramp, overlooking existing and newly constructed jet bridge/gate areas.
“This new amenity at Will Rogers World Airport will create an exciting new public circulation area for our visitors,” said Mark Kranenburg, airports director for Oklahoma City. “It will also help us to alleviate congestion in our terminal lobby and in our newly constructed meeter/greeter lounges.”
Westchester County Airport
While it once had an open-air, pre-security observation deck, today the Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York, has an enclosed observation gallery on the third floor of the main terminal with an arrival board and several rows of chairs.
“The view is elevated and located at the middle of the airfield as well as the primary runway so, for aviation geeks, it could not be any better,” said HPN operations supervisor David Montiverdi.
Airline lounges with outdoor decks
Outdoor decks are bonus features offered by some airline lounges.
“A few outdoor decks that come to mind in the U.S. are the Delta Air Lines Sky Clubs in Atlanta and at JFK, and the United Club lounge in Terminal 7 at LAX,” said Lounge Buddy CEO Tyler Dikman. “There’s also an outdoor deck at the Star Alliance lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.”
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/2019/03/20/airport-observation-decks-viewing-area/3215090002/