8 airports with stunning landing views

Seeing the sights from a window seat can make you forget the worst parts of flying coach

(Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon/Taylor Garland/iStock/Washington Post Illustration)

There’s so much to dislike about air travel: the tiny seats, the arm rest hogs, the overstuffed luggage bins. That cliche that says “life is about the journey and not the destination”? Definitely not about flying coach.

But there are moments of wonder descending from 38,000 feet, especially when the scenery inspires oohs and ahs. These are the times that make aisle seat enthusiasts question the wisdom of their ways — or intrude on the personal space of their neighbors.

Travel experts shared some of their favorite airports for landing views, why they stand out and where to sit for the best views. Sometimes, it turns out, life can be about the journey.


Reagan National

Not to root too hard for the home team, but travelers adore flying into DCA, just a hop across the Potomac River from Washington. You can take in the National Mall, from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol, in one sweeping panorama.

“DCA is my home and my favorite,” Taylor Garland, communications director for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in an email. She said it’s her top choice because of “the ability to see all the monuments and the grid of the city — different than most American cities in its urban planning.”

Garland said the best seat is at a window on the left side of the plane, ideally in front of the wing.

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New York’s skyline is hard to beat — and even more impressive on the approach to this Queens airport. The view of rivers, bridges and skyscrapers is almost enough to distract you from the traffic waiting once you land.

Cessie Cerrato, founder of public relations and social media influencer marketing agency Cessie C. Communications, has lived in the city for almost eight years but dreamed of living there since she was a teenager.

“To me, the view of Manhattan as you are flying into LaGuardia means so much more than the famous skyline we all have grown to know,” she said in an email. “It represents a dream come true, and is a constant reminder of all the possibilities that still lay ahead. It gives me butterflies every time I land.”

Unless weather interferes with the approach, sitting on the left side should give the best views.


Jackson Hole

Landing at this small Wyoming airport counts as a visit to a national park; it’s the only commercial airport in the U.S. located entirely inside of one (Grand Teton).

“On a clear day, flying into Jackson, Wyoming, for the first time is one of the most spectacular landings I could have ever imagined,” Amir Eylon, CEO of tourism consultancy Longwoods International, said in an email. “I had flown in for the first time for a winter meeting and tour of Yellowstone National Park, and it literally took my breath away standing there at baggage claim with the Grand Tetons in the background!”

The right side is generally considered best for the most spectacular views.

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Portland International

As founder and CEO of Scott’s Cheap Flights, Scott Keyes has an interest in airports around the globe. But his favorite for landing views happens to be his home airport in Oregon, where he’s also a fan of watching planes land from the ground.

“Flights into and out of Portland are always a treat because most pass right by Mount Hood — so close at times you have to tell yourself that yes, the pilot certainly sees that mountain and is flying around it,” he said in an email. “Not only is Hood a beautiful peak towering alone, but it lends itself to some really interesting cloud patterns.”

Keyes said that for most flights leaving from or arriving to Portland, the left side of the plane gives the best views of the mountain.

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San Francisco International

Travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt, who is based in San Francisco, said he most enjoys landing at his home airport “just because it’s so pretty flying back into San Francisco.”

Depending on the approach (and the weather, of course), the views could include the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, San Francisco Bay and the city skyline.

Harteveldt said he always sits on the left side of the plane for a shot at the best views.


Providenciales International

Caribbean travel expert Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, who goes by “JetSetSarah,” said she has a hard time choosing a top landing in the region because of the embarrassment of riches. But Providenciales, one of the Turks and Caicos Islands, is high on the list.

“The water ranges in color from stunning cobalt to dreamy turquoise to that incredible Jolly Rancher-esque blue, and the sandy cays that float in its midst are like little pearls,” she said in an email. “It’s like flying into a screen saver.”

Greaves-Gabbadon said any window seat will work, preferably not blocked by a wing.

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Princess Juliana International

If you’ve ever seen videos of a plane looking like it’s about to land on a beach full of tourists, that’s Maho Beach on St. Martin — an extremely close neighbor to Princess Juliana International Airport. The airport even shares videos of landings on its website.

“The view from Maho Beach of planes landing is arguably more famous, but the scenery from the window seat is a great welcome to the island, reminding travelers that the beautiful beaches are just minutes away,” said Seth Miller, editor of airline industry news site PaxEx.aero.

He recommends choosing an “A” seat, on the left side of the plane, for the best views from the sky.


Venice Marco Polo

Chiara Peretti works in tourism marketing, though she jokes that she promotes Venice for free. Born and raised in nearby Padua, she said she loves the approach to the floating city.

“You can see the city … and the whole lagoon from above, absolutely stunning,” she said on Twitter.

She said a window seat the right side of the plane is the best option.

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