Plane Spotting Etiquette: Do's and Don'ts for Beginners

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Photo © NYCAviation.com

There's no right or wrong way to spot aircraft. There are, however, a few unwritten rules and guidelines for plane spotting that, when followed, help keep things safe and enjoyable for everyone. Plane spotters should always be aware of their surroundings and practice common sense, but there are a few other essentials that you might like to know. Here are a few do's and don'ts for plane spotters:

Don't

  • Go into restricted areas. Usually, these areas are marked clearly with signs, but use common sense and steer clear of any questionable areas, as well.
  • Spot from private property without first getting permission from the property owner.
  • Argue with police or airport security if questioned. If you're approached by airport police or any form of law enforcement, comply with their instructions, which may include showing your identification and answering a few brief questions. If they ask you to leave, it's best to comply, even if you know you're acting within your rights.
  • Climb the perimeter fence or put up a ladder near the fence. Climbing the fence is a really good way to get arrested. If you don't get arrested, you'll attract the wrong kind of attention. Just don’t do it.
  • Touch the approach lights or any other airport property. Airport approach light systems, VOR or RADAR facilities are sometimes located in the same area you'll spot from. Don't touch them, stand on them or otherwise tamper with them in any way.
  • Be offended when approached by concerned citizens or law enforcement. Expect this type of behavior and be polite.

Do

  • Bring identification - every time. In this day and age, airport security, law enforcement, and even concerned citizens pay close attention to people that loiter around airports. You can expect to be approached by law enforcement while plane spotting and sometimes even at home days or weeks after you've been reported by a concerned citizen.
  • Research and check flight schedules and runway usage before you go. You'll want to know about any rare aircraft that may be flying in or out of the airport. Right before you leave, you'll also need to find out which runway is in use, which will help you decide where to get the best camera angle.
  • Feel free to go anywhere on public property, but pay attention to restricted airport areas. Search online for a plane spotting guide for the airport wish to spot from. Sometimes the headache of finding the perfect spot can be prevented, thanks to a previous spotter's information. 
  • Be respectful to businesses and other property owners. If you are using the restroom at a fast-food restaurant, for example, buy something from them to show your appreciation.
  • Bring extra batteries and memory cards for your camera/phone/another type of gear. Your camera battery will obviously die right when you spot a rare paint scheme.
  • Respect the airport authority in regards to safety rules and areas in which plane spotting is allowed or preferred. Some airports have designated spotting areas. Use them.
  • Interact with other plane spotters and get involved in airport events. Find a group of other planespotters, either in your local area or online. Check out popular online aircraft spotter communities like NYCAviation.com and Planespotters.net.
  • Post your photos in an online forum or photo databases like Airliners.net, NYCAviation.com or Flickr.com. Find a database that allows you to easily upload, organize and share your pictures or one where you can interact with other spotters like the forums at NYCAviation.com.
  • Report suspicious activity. While plane spotting, you can help improve airport security by reporting any suspicious activity. As a plane spotter, you'll get to know the other spotters in the area and could be the first to notice something unusual like a hole in the fence, an open gate or an unwelcome vehicle. Be helpful and alert, and call on the authorities if you notice anything suspicious.