San Diego International Airport

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Continent: North America Country: United States Region: California
San Diego International Airport
(Lindbergh Field)
Location San Diego, California
IATA code SAN
ICAO code KSAN
Airport type Commercial
Website http://www.san.org
Overview map Google Maps
Communications
Tower 118.3 338.225
Ground 123.9
Clearance 125.9
Approach 119.6 (West)
124.35 (East)
Departure 119.6 (West)
124.35 (East)
ATIS 134.8
619-298-0997
CTAF/Unicom 122.95

San Diego International Airport is the primary commercial airport for San Diego County. No airline maintains a hub there, and Southwest Airlines is the dominant carrier. The vast majority of scheduled flights are to points within North America; currently British Airways and Japan Airlines provide intercontinental service with flights to London-Heathrow and Tokyo-Narita, respectively. Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines also provide transoceanic service with flights to Honolulu. The airport has only a single runway, 9/27, and normal operations call for arrivals and departures on runway 27.

The airport is notable for its approach to runway 27, which due to the airport's close proximity to Downtown San Diego, allows spotters a view of many aircraft flying level to the roofs of the downtown skyscrapers.

Official Spotting Locations

Harbor & Laurel Parking Lot

Northwest A320 on final approach to 27, photographed from the Harbor & Laurel lot at street level

The airport has a small free parking lot at the intersection of Harbor Dr. and Laurel St. for spotting. From here you will see aircraft arriving and departing on runway 27, which is the airport's normal operation. You will need a ladder or tall vehicle to get camera lenses above the fence line for departure and taxi shots, however you can photograph arrivals from street level with a long enough lens if you time it right to avoid poles and trees. Posted signs prohibit unattended vehicles, so you won't want to go far from the lot unless someone is with you to stay with your car. Avoid the adjacent Solar Turbines parking lot, but the sidewalk along Laurel St. should be okay. Lighting is best in the late afternoon, especially during summer. In the winter, light is typically good all day, though you may need to vary the angle of your shot as the sun moves across the sky. If you need a snack or drink, there is a convenience store at the Shell gas station located at the intersection of Laurel and Pacific Hwy.

  • JetPhotos.net sample photo: large (final to runway 27, shot over the fence)
  • Airliners.net sample photo: medium large (taxi to runway 27 on taxiway B, shot over the fence)

Other Spotting Locations

El Prado, Balboa Park

Exit the 5 and drive down Kettner Blvd, follow Kettner until you come to the Kettner and W Laurel St interesection, take a left on W Laurel and go up the big hill. Follow W Laurel until you get to 6th Ave. You can park on 6th Ave or continue straight and park on Balboa Dr. Walk along El Prado (Laurel turns into El Prado) until you get to the bridge. There is a sidewalk on the North and South side of the bridge. Take the South sidewalk. From the middle of the bridge you have an unobstructed view of the planes on final to runway 27 with the city in the background.

NTC Park

Southwest 737 climbing out from runway 27, photographed from NTC Park

NTC Park is located within the Liberty Station complex on the site of the former Naval Training Center. This facility is just west of the airport, and during normal operations with arrivals and departures on runway 27, departing aircraft fly overhead. Traditional side shots are tricky because most aircraft will be a bit high by the time they get to this area, but if you desire underside angles of departing aircraft, or just want to watch aircraft takeoff, this isn't a bad spot. It would likely be good during reverse operations with arrivals on runway 9, but as this typically happens during poor weather conditions, it still isn't amenable for photography. However, runway 9 may also be used when strong winds from the east, known as Santa Ana Winds, occur.

Columbia Street and W Nutmeg Street

You need a tall car or a tall ladder to reach this spot in order to go over the fence. It will give you spectacular shots of short finals with the San Diego bay. You can also get the touchdown. On the down side, this spot is not balanced (it is located on an incline plane part of the street) so getting level shots may be a challenge.

Aladdin Parking Garage

This garage has amazing opportunities for capturing landings and taxiing to the runway. The parking garage is located adjacent to Laurel Parking lot, on the other side of Laurel street. As long as you pay, they will look the other way, that's what it was in my own experience. However, with an amazing vantage point comes with a price. The last time I checked, and unfortunately had to pay, the fee for parking for two hours is a whopping $14. It could be just that you have to pay a full day even if you stay a few hours, that's the rationing i'm leaning towards. If you're looking for takeoffs, you are going to need a very long lens. I have only got caught once, and got moved on by an official. Please, if you get called out for spotting by an official, just comply with their instructions.

Locations To Avoid

Solar Turbines Parking Lot

This lot is next to the official observation area at Laurel St. and Harbor Dr. It is tempting because it gets you closer to the action than the official area. However, it is private property and Solar Turbines security does patrol the lot and has asked spotters to leave. If you stay on the public sidewalk outside the lot along Laurel Dr., you should be okay.

Laurel Airport Parking

This is the multi-story parking structure that aircraft fly over just before landing on runway 27. While tempting because of the possibility of down-the-runway views of the airport and belly shots of landing aircraft, there are signs posted that taking photos and videos are prohibited, and that they can have you arrested for trespassing for doing anything other than being actively engaged in the parking of vehicles.

Spotting Locations Map

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Regular Traffic

Please note that all times listed in this section are approximate. Spotters visiting SAN may wish to consult the Flight Planner accessible at the San Diego International Airport website for exact and up-to-date information. Keep in mind also that many cargo flights do not operate a regular schedule on weekends or holidays.

Passenger

  • Air Canada Rouge: A319
  • Alaska Airlines: 737-400, 737-700, 737-800, 737-900
    • Horizon Air: Q400
    • SkyWest Airlines: CRJ-700, Embraer 175
  • Allegiant Air: Seasonal A319, MD-80
  • American Airlines: 737-800, 757-200, A320, A321, MD-80
    • American Eagle (Compass Airlines): Embraer 175
    • American Eagle (SkyWest Airlines): CRJ-200
  • British Airways: 777-200
  • Condor Airlines: 767-300ER
  • Delta Air Lines: 717, 737-800, 737-900ER, 757-200, 757-300, 767-300, A319, A320, MD-90
    • Delta Connection (Compass Airlines): Embraer 175
    • Delta Connection (SkyWest Airlines): CRJ-900
  • Edelweiss Air: A340-300 (begins June 9, 2017)
  • Frontier Airlines: A319, A320, A321
  • Hawaiian Airlines: A330-200
  • Japan Airlines: 787-8
  • JetBlue Airways: A320
  • Southwest Airlines: 737-300, 737-700, 737-800
  • Spirit Airlines: A319, A320
  • Sun Country Airlines: 737-700, 737-800
  • United Airlines: 737-800, 737-900, A319, A320, occasionally the 737-700 is used
    • United Express (SkyWest Airlines): CRJ-200, CRJ-700, Embraer 175
  • Virgin America Airlines: A319, A320
  • WestJet: 737-700, 737-800

Cargo

  • Airborne Express/DHL Cargo: The 767-200s belonging to Airborne Express parked on the northside of the field have been nicknamed "the sleeping giant" by SAN spotters because they hardly ever seem to move. Many of the 767-200s on this flight are painted in full DHL colors. It typically arrives at approximately 7:00AM and departs to Phoenix, Arizona between 5:50PM and 7:00PM.
  • Ameriflight: Ameriflight operates the Beech 1900 and Beech Airliner 99 to SAN in the early evening, with arrivals usually coming between 6:00PM and 7:00PM.
  • FedEx Express: FedEx is the largest cargo carrier at SAN, with the longtime regular A300 and MD-10 flights largely replaced by the 757 and 767. Three flights usually arrive in the very early morning, before 6:00AM, and normally have all departed by 8:00AM. A second set of two flights typically arrives between 4:00PM and 6:30PM. These usually depart again between 7:00PM and 8:30PM. One of the Friday afternoon flights, typically arriving at approximately 5:00PM and departing after dark, and one of the Saturday morning flights, typically arriving at 5:30AM and departing between 7:00AM & 8:00PM, are usually operated by MD-10 equipment. MD-11's are still somewhat rare, but made some appearances during the 2015 Christmas season. The 757 only operates at night, so they are a bit hard to photograph. Fortunately, FedEx uses a 757 nearly every Tuesday in the summer that arrives in the afternoon, along with the majority of FedEx's fleet here.
    • FedEx Feeder (Westair): A series of Cessna 208B Cargomaster flights arrive between 6:00PM and 7:00PM from El Centro supplying cargo for the larger FedEx aircraft flying out of SAN. They depart usually in the morning around 6:30AM to 9:00AM
  • United Parcel Service (UPS): UPS operates two weekday flights on a somewhat variable schedule, generally using 767s. A morning flight usually arrives at approximately 5:00AM and departs around 6:30AM. A 767 arrives from the Hawaiian islands most weekday afternoons between 1:30PM and 3:30PM. Departures occur between 6:30AM and 7:30AM and in the evening between 7:30PM and 8:30PM. UPS does not operate on the weekends.

Facilities and Transportation

There is a "cell phone" parking lot which offers up to one hour free parking for visitors waiting to pick up a passenger from an arriving flight, adjacent to the SAN Park Harbor Drive long term parking lot. Unlike the previous cell phone lot, it does offer views of the airport, however it is still not optimal for spotting as the paid long term parking lot is between this area and the taxiways. The cell phone lot has a couple of portable toilets and vending machines, along with monitors showing arriving flight information. However, if you're looking for video, this is the place to be (it will be even better if you bring a latter or stand on your car to fully see the touchdown as the spot is located abeam the threshold).

Public Transportation

San Diego Transit bus Route 992, sometimes known as the Flyer, and Route 923A provide service to the airport terminals. The lines originates in downtown San Diego, with several stops including one near the official observation lot at Laurel and Harbor. Connections to these routes can be made at various locations in downtown San Diego to other bus routes as well as the San Diego Trolley, Coaster, and Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains.