We #AvGeeks are easy to please. Just give us a good view of the planes, and we’re golden. Too few airports in the US have official planespotting points, but San Francisco International (SFO) just made that situation a bit better. On February 6th it unveiled a new outdoor observation deck at the very tip of the international terminal’s G concourse.

How good is it? Very good. How close are you to the planes? Very, very close.

It’s post-security (AKA airside) so you need to be flying United or one of its Star Alliance partners to have access. But don’t worry landsiders: later this year SFO will open a pre-security observation deck in T2.

For now, read on for more info and photos from SFO’s new observation deck!

I’m biased as a Bay Area resident, but I love my home airport. And especially the international terminal, a building the city and region can really be proud of.

SFO’s international terminal has two concourses, A and G. G gates serve United and many of its Star Alliance partners like Lufthansa, Air New Zealand, SWISS, Air China, Air India, and a few others. Concourses A and G are not currently connected past security (though many years from now that might change). G gates are connected to United’s Terminal 3 via a post-security walkway.

The new observation deck is at the very end of concourse G.

Walking to the terminal from the BART station and parking garage, you can see a corner of the observation deck.

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To access the deck you walk past a new set of dining facilities and through some automatic doors.

Step out onto the observation deck and you’re immediately treated to sweeping views of the ramp, with the South San Francisco hills as a nice backdrop.

Though the space isn’t huge, it’s tastefully done up with bronze sculptures and plants that I’m told are drought-resistant and unappealing to birds.

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There’s some seating. But not a ton. If it’s a busy time at the terminal, you probably can’t count on scoring a seat.

I was by in the morning, when Dreamliners and 777s flying westbound to Asia predominate. If you drop by in the afternoon or evening you’re more likely to see flights preparing to depart eastbound to Europe and the Middle East. If you’re looking for the more unusual aircraft around, Air China’s 747-8 departs around 11AM, Lufthansa’s A380 can be seen around 9PM. Aircraft assignments change all the time, though, so if you have your heart set on seeing a particular plane you should look up listings beforehand.

During my visit in the morning, the south side of the concourse on my left was busy with United 787s.

United 777-300ERs, the pride and joy of the fleet sporting the new Polaris business class seat, can be found at the tip and right (north) side of the concourse.

An ANA 777 departing for Tokyo Narita pushed back just as I arrived.

The observation deck’s location gives you a close-up view of all the action on the busy ramp.

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One small downside is that concourse G is sort of far from the runways. To be fair, that’s only true in a relative sense. SFO has a compact footprint and so all the terminals are fairly close to the runways. But compared with T1-3, where it feels you could almost reach out and touch the planes rolling down the runway, the international terminal is set further back. T1-3 also block the point where planes rotate and lift off. But on most days, you can at least enjoy views of aircraft climbing from 28L/R, which handle many heavy aircraft departures and flights to Hawaii.

I saw a 737 departing for Hawaii.

And later a 777-300ER heading for Beijing.

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Don’t get so sucked into the planespotting that you miss your flight! A screen with passenger paging may help with that.

All in all I had a total blast visiting the new observation deck at SFO. It also seemed to be a hit with the passengers (and a fair number of flight crewmembers) who were curious and dropped by. I’d definitely recommend that any of you flying from SFO T3 or international concourse G drop by. If you’re coming from T3, leave plenty of time for the lengthy walk. To be fair, you get plenty of good views from inside the terminals at SFO. But it’s nice to hear the sound of the engines and smell the jet fuel. Plus, the glass panes at the observation deck were more photo friendly than many of the windows in the international terminal.

The big downside of this deck is that it’s airside and only accessible if you have a ticket. But good news! SFO will be opening a landside observation deck in Terminal 2 later this year. We can’t wait to drop by once it’s open!

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. Are you looking forward to visiting SFO’s new observation deck? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - NEW YORK, NY. Manu is an avid air traveler, private pilot, and a dedicated AvGeek. He enjoys writing about aviation from a millennial's perspective, and co-manages AirlineReporter's social media and video projects. His day job is as a doctor in NYC.

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Michael Moscaritolo

I can see it now… my name would be on that visual paging board. Yup. Great article! Thanks

Plane-Crazy Joe

Manu, now, several years on beyond 9/11 there’s ZERO VALID JUSTIFCATION for Uncle SCAM to continue restricting ‘visitors’ – ESPECIALLY geeks like us – from accessing an enjoying OUR airports!

Since 9/11, airport Security has been greatly enhanced. Thousands of TSA – that acronym means Terrorizing Supine Americans, to me – agents have (allegedly) been thoroughly trained. More airport and city police patrol OUR airports. OUR taxes pay the salaries of them all – as well as FAA controllers. Our taxes, to one degree or another, PAY to build airport terminals, runways, taxiways.

There are those who may claim that allowing visitors into airports – including non-traveling family – would INCREASE Wait Times at TSA Check Points. SO WHAT – that SHOULDN’T be MY problem!!! That issue can be ‘fixed’! What IS IMPORTANT is our FREEDOM; freedom to again access and enjoy our airports. It WASN’T Americans who perpetrated 9/11 – so why do we suffer the consequences!?

Visitors are permitted into national monuments – even into the White House. Into Statue of Liberty, as well. Are these any less a target … than our airports.

Is America the Land of the FREE – or the Land of the AFRAID?

Even I – who bear a valid Military ID Card am prohibited ( I had a 22 year, Active Duty, career in USAF ) cannot access MY airports as a visitor. Whereas, I WORKED on Air Force flightlines during my career. I also flew in Air Force transport aircraft. My Military ID Card permits me to access any US military base around the world – even those of our allies. Yet my ID is REJECTED by the TSA. This is SHAMEFUL – a national disgrace!!

And what did my so-called ‘representatives’ in CON-gress of our federal government do when I sought their assistance, over the years, in correcting this UNJUSTIFIABLE prohibition? NOTHING – some of them neglected to even reply to me!

Robert Fleming

I’m glad that SFO will be opening up a PRE-SECURITY Observation deck in Terminal 2 later this year. Because I don’t like the idea that only people with United Airlines tickets can go to the new deck that just opened up! Can you keep me posted as to when that other deck is opening? Thanks in advance!

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