I'm more of a trainspotter myself, but I make a point of swinging through airport viewing areas when they're present. A dying phenomenon—the terrorists won—you can still find official on-property observation decks around the U.S. Baltimore, for example, has one actually indoors in the airport for nontravelers as well as a classic runwayside zone for feeling the actual take-off rumblings in your feet. To see the full extent of airport fandom, this insanely detailed guide to planespotting all around the world should give an idea. LAX? Try watching from the Westchester In-and-Out Burger.
The intense fandom shouldn't be any kind of surprise or novelty. Flying is one of the most beautiful things that humans do that isn't actual art, and even then it's pretty far up there. If you ever want to be totally convinced, take a flying lesson or even just arrange a flight in a tiny plane. Feeling the float is crucial. It's bizarre and perfect how something can seem like so much of a technological gimmick and at the same time feel so natural.
An airport at night is something even more. The lights, the blue dotted gridlines, backlit esoteric signage, the red arc of lights rising higher and higher at the end of a runway. This is naturally something befitting time lapse and photographer Owen Scharlotte set to work at San Francisco International last month, after a long delay in gaining access after the June crash of Asiana Airlines flight 214.
Scharlotte writes on "SFO at Night"'s Vimeo page, "'SFO at Night' took twenty hours to shoot over four nights, which resulted in about 8000 RAW photos. The editing took significantly longer because 150+ GB of data had to be converted into video through a workflow of at least three pieces of software." Many more details are outlined on his blog.
If my enthusiasm in this post strikes as a bit incongruous with its title, just conider the typical airport experience for travellers, a chaos of humiliation, waiting, marked-up chain restaurants, baggage fees, and other people right there in your personal space feeling the exact same feelings of humiliation and frustration. It is, arguably, worse than the sum of its parts.
Still, the moment when a 737 becomes free from the ground—the only event in which that lifting-off experience is available for most humans—is as awesome as it was the first time I can remember feeling it on some Eastern Airways or TWA jet back in the '80s.