Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Click the map to go to Google Maps satellite view of this airport
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International is one of the busiest airports in the United States, and it got even bigger in 2006 with the opening of the new south runway (see map). They don’t have an official observation area, but many people watch the traffic from the roof of the South Parking Garage (4th level). If traffic is operating to the east, planes will be taxiing to runway 9L and will pass directly in front of the garage. The down side is that it will cost you a parking fee of $2 per hour to enter, and you can expect to be approached by a Security Guard if you’re taking pictures. They say it’s not allowed, but from my experience the Airport Operations Dept. does not have a problem with people photographing at this location. In addition, the northeast corner of the North Parking Garage will offer a good view of planes taxiing into the “T” gates, landing on runway 8L (you’ll need a longer lens), and entering the runway for takeoff on runway 8R.
A second area is at the entrance to a sewage treatment plant on Lake Mirror Rd. just off the I-285 service drive. This spot gives you a view of traffic landing to the west (runway 27L) or taking off to the east (runway 9L). Photography of landing traffic is best in the afternoon but departing traffic can be photographed in the morning due to the sun angle. The drawback to this location is trees and power lines obstructing the view. I had some good success a number of years ago at this spot but the trees across the street are significantly taller now.
Another great idea for planespotting here is the Renaissance Hotel on the north side of the airport. If you get a room on one of the upper floors on the side facing the airport, you will have a good view of the north runways and photography is easily accomplished with a 400mm lens from the room’s outdoor balcony. Because you’ll be facing south, photography here is best during June and July. So many planespotters have stayed at this hotel that they offer aviation enthusiast packages with room discounts (see the room packages tab on the rates page of the hotel link). Another attraction on the north side of the airport is the Delta Flight Museum, located just east of the hotel, which has many exhibits including the DC-9, 757, and 747. The hotel’s aviation enthusiast package includes museum admission.
Another possibility opened up in 2012 with the opening of the new International Terminal on the east side of the airport. There is a food court with full windows that offers a view of part of the international gate areas (see map). This view faces south so photography would only be good during the summer.
There isn’t a great variety of traffic here. The largest airline here of course is Delta and its regional affiliates, and Southwest. In the course of a whole afternoon you’ll see very few of the other major airlines. There are several international carriers operating at Atlanta, including Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, and Korean Airlines flying the Airbus A380. Various cargo airlines that operate daily here include China Airlines and Cargolux. The cargo facility is on the south side so the parking garage would be best to view them.
Interesting trivia: this airport was named Hartsfield-Atlanta in 1971 after Atlanta’s late Mayor William B. Hartsfield, and was renamed in 2003 for the late Mayor Maynard Jackson, who ran the city during the years when ATL’s current terminal was built (1977-1980). The original airport was named Candler Field in 1925 in honor of Asa Candler, the man who turned Coca-Cola into a household name by 1900.