Saturday, 19 February 2022


Today, I am beginning another subject which will have many subtitles in future blogs if I continue to write about other hobbies than plane spotting. This new subject is like the one I started earlier which is called Rabbit Hole. Thus far, however, there has only been one rabbit hole although I think that my blog on immateriality may have come close to being one. The jury is still out.

When people ask me what my hobbies are I usually am at a loss for words. What do I like to do in my spare time? Or, what do I like to do and make time for it? Today, I found myself on the internet watching I searched for plane spotting and came across interesting footage of jets trying to land during Storm Eunice at London’s Heathrow Airport, Runway 27L. The action was being caught by Jerry Dyer on his Big Jet TV livestream. This is not the first time I searched for such a topic and so I determined that plane spotting just might be a hobby!

I think I mentioned in an earlier hobby that when growing up, my dad liked to take us on Sunday nights (in the summer) to an ice cream drive-in where we all ordered vanilla/orange ice cream cones. Then we would drive to Johnson-Bell Field in Missoula, Montana where we would watch a plane or two land and take off. The activity, even while subdued compared to huge urban airports, must have piqued my interest because as I now think of it, I do enjoy watching planes. Even from my apartment window here in Panama City, Panamá, I watch a regular flow of jets turning around over the bay and heading for Tocumen International Airport, to the east of the city. I have a couple of apps that I use to identify flights. This is not sophisticated airplane spotting, but it suffices for me. 99% of flights to Panama City are international. Copa Airlines (Panama’s national airline) offers flights to David which is in the west part of Panamá. There are two international airports here, but the main one is called Tocumen International (PTY). Tocumen is the name of the town to the east of the capital where the airport is located.

AVIPEO.COM (AviationPeople) describes plane spotting as a hobby that involves going to an airport to watch planes land and take off. Although this website also adds that ‘plane spotting can be done is various shapes or forms’ most plane spotting involves actually being at an airport (often there are designated areas, which are monitored, for enthusiasts) and the filming, broadcasting, or photographing of planes in their descent or ascent. While this is a pure form of plane spotting, I take my version of the hobby to a distant perspective. Wherever I am, I am always noticing planes.

Airport terminals used to have observation decks, but those have gone the way of the last century. People would visit observation decks for the pleasure of it whether they had a flight or not. Often observation decks were well-equipped with restaurants, lounges and snack bars. These days such plane spotting might be able to be done from an airline VIP lounge (I know that at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle (Terminal 2E) has one for its national airline, Air France). Other sites for plane spotting at an airport are parking ramps (Phoenix’s Sky Harbor is a good example of this), airport hotels (an example is Frankfort International) and, of course, frontage roads and other public byways (almost any airport in the world).

Thousands of people around the world enjoy the hobby of plane spotting. There are many reasons for such an interest. There is certainly the awe of seeing a huge aircraft come from the sky and land on a narrow strip of reinforced concrete. Equally inspiring is the take-off when the roar of engines gives way to a (most-often) gentle lift and then full ascent. These sights are often described as ‘miraculous,’ especially to viewers like I am who know nothing about velocity, thrust and lift, etc.

At high-volume airports which are usually international, it is also interesting to see flagships from all around the world. Not all countries have a national airline, but those which do often view their airline(s) with a sense of pride. A national flag is always on both sides of a fuselage, so it is good to know national flags if the airline livery isn’t quite explicit enough. Respecting nations without impartiality, as the pope does, it is interesting to note that the pope, when making an airline trip, leaves Italy on an Alitalia jet and returns to Italy on the national airline (when possible) of the country he visited.

Plane spotting also recalls the precious cargo of the planes we see coming and going, the passengers. It is interesting to think of who the passengers are, and for what reason they are travelling, did they have a long flight and, if so, they must be glad to be close to landing. Thinking of passengers is particularly emotional if you have ever shared in their experience. How are the passengers feeling as their plane rocks and rolls in disturbing air currents? The spotter can see the jets bouncing up and down and they can also imagine what that feels like inside the cabin. I have been on a few wicked landings, go-arounds and even diversions and can share an empathy for passengers.

From the spotter’s viewpoint

If you are genuinely interested in the perspective of the passenger during turbulence, you can easily satisfy your curiosity by searching for ‘turbulent landings’ on any search engine. Good luck and enjoy your flight!

Published by Thomas

Retired from active priestly ministry in the Catholic Church; former Benedictine monk; francophile; Holocaust researcher; Delta One Million Miler; Ex-Patriated American to the Republic of Panama

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