Plane Spotting

You’ll find them at most any airport. Some spotters try to see every type of jet flown by a given airline, while others look for special liveries

A P-3 lands at Key West NAS

Recently, after attending a car show with my son Ian, we investigated one of Miami International Airport’s best plane-spotting locations, nicknamed “The Holes,” for its openings in the airport fence. There we met Aaron Carter, monitoring traffic on an iPhone app.

Planespotters are motivated by different interests — some focus on civilian airliners, others strictly on military fighters or cargo aircraft. There even are sub-specialties: airline spotters sometimes try to see every example of a jet flown by a given airline, while others spot one-off special liveries, such as NFL team jets, Air New Zealand’s Hobbit-themed 777, or the Finnair A-340 emblazoned with Finnish designer Maija Isola’s 1964 floral prints. Either way, the spotters are patient hunters with an insider’s knowledge of where to go for the best view in a post-9/11 world of increased security.

Carter told us of having recently seen one of the new American Airlines 777-330 ERs in the carrier’s new paint scheme. American had kept its same look, largely unchanged, for 40 years: red, white, and blue stripes on unpainted aluminum skins. The motivation for the new look wasn’t marketing, but the nature of modern aircraft, whose composite skins would have to be painted silver to keep the same look. For American, as it merges with US Airways, the time was right for an update.

Plane-spotter Aaron Carter watching runway 12 action at MIA's "The Holes"

Carter’s iPhone told us that a British Airways 747 was inbound, but after it crossed the beach to our east, it was vectored to runway 8R, out of our view. We kept watching the traffic on his phone, and spotted a 737 go from a blip on the screen to a flash on the horizon, and then a rubber-screeching arrival right in front of us.

My family keeps a boat at Key West Naval Air Station, another great place to watch airplanes, including the P-3 Orion shown above, which blew our hair back as we huddled beneath the runway threshold. Indeed, spotting can get hazardous, as with this group that just missed being run over by a C-160 Transall that landed short and bounced off a road.

Want to check out the action at your local airport? Find the best fence-side views at, or tell us your own favorites. Happy spotting!