That’s no bird…it’s a plane


Photo by Myles Kim

Chen snaps a photo of a Southwest 737 airliner at San Jose Airport.

Myles Kim, Editor-in-Chief

Every day, 1.6 million travelers fly in and out of airports around the world. However, some people go to the airport for a different reason: plane spotting. Plane spotters flock to airports to observe, track and snap photos of all types of aircrafts.  

Plane spotting as a hobby did not gain traction until the 1950s, and apps like FlightAware and Flightradar24 have made the activity increasingly popular and more accessible. Many airports today have designated plane spotting terraces; beaches and parks serve as great spotting locations as well. 

Sophomore Jonathan Chen started spotting in seventh grade and has continued to pursue the hobby. 

“I’ve always liked planes since I was young,” Chen said. “I got into photography when I was around 7 or 8 years old, so a couple of years ago, I thought, ‘Why not combine the two?’” 

Although there are few planespotters at Lynbrook, there is a larger community of planespotters across the Bay Area.

On most days, Chenchecks Jet Tips and Flightradar24 to track the movement of any special aircrafts with new decals or liveries, which are special stickers or paint jobs, respectively. On a whim, he might decide to go plane spotting if a certain aircraft piques his interest.

“Every time an airline wants to promote something through a promotional special or advertisement, those planes typically have some sort of special decal or livery on them,” Chen said. “Those are the planes that you’re trying to go for.”

Weather is another factor that affects how well the photos turn out. Chen finds weather that is somewhat overcast during sunrise or sunset the most favorable. 

 Chen leaves for the airport 30 minutes before the plane is scheduled to depart or land, then stakes out a good spot for photos. Using and Flightradar, he tracks where and when the plane will land and positions himself accordingly. Once he has photos of the planes, he heads home to edit the photos, a process that takes 45 minutes. 

Chen keeps track of the different types of planes he spots using his Instagram page @jonthespotter, which has garnered more than 700 followers. His photos have been featured numerous times on the San Jose and San Francisco airports’ Instagram pages.

“I decided to create [an account] because I didn’t know where else to post my airplane photos,” Chen said. “I wanted to share them with other people, not just keep for myself to look at.”

Chen has also had the chance to plane spot at airports abroad, notably in Taipei, Taiwan. 

For Chen, grabbing a camera and a ride over to the nearest airport is all he needs to relax after a long day at school