Plane spotting – the glamorous end of “geekdom”

Plane spotting

Plane spotting geeks get chic. Allegedly.


So a survey by London City Airport has done for plane spotting what Carol Vorderman did for mental arithmetic. They have somehow made it glamorous. Not that Insider had any doubts that these aeronautical “twitchers” were at the racier end of the world’s hobbyist community.

And that isn’t because, as the survey found out, that plane spotters tended to be youngish, in a meaningful adult relationship outside their hobby and not adverse to putting away the anorak and heading for the world’s beaches in their bathing suits.

Far from being geekish, the undeniable truth is that plane spotting can be dangerous and may well land you in prison. Sure, there are spotters who tend to stay on home soil and visit their local airport in order to pursue their pastime. Most airports in the UK are highly amenable to these hobbyists granting them special car parking privileges, designated “spotting” areas and so on. But as the LCY survey points out a lot of spotters are keen to travel to far off and exotic locations to get the best view of their beloved Iron Birds.  And this is when they can fall foul of the law.

In 2015 three British plane spotters were held in prison in the United Arab Emirates for eight weeks accused of spying – even though plane spotting is perfectly legal in that country. They were eventually released without charge but they had been warned they faced a life sentence or even the death penalty.

In 2002 a group of 12 spotters from the UK and the Netherlands were convicted of aiding and abetting espionage by a Greek court. Their convictions were eventually overturned on appeal but provoked what is commonly known as “an international incident” between Britain and Greece. There were even mutterings about the Elgin Marbles.

Which proves what Insider has long believed – too many nation states take themselves far too seriously and lack a sense of humour about their critical national infrastructure – regardless of whether they put a military badge on it or not.

After all, major hardware is designed to be impressive.

People are fascinated by planes and airports – a sensibility that harks back to the days when air travel was a luxury enjoyed by the few and venturing abroad was considered to be bohemian and exotic.

My father travelled with his work a lot and as children a real treat for us would be a trip in the car to Heathrow (we just called it “London Airport” back then) to pick him up. It was always the same ride in – very little traffic, easy parking at the front of the terminal and the sun shone through the plate glass window as my face was pressed against it, watching the inbound BOAC flight from Geneva or Frankfurt taxi to the gate.

There was no danger of me becoming a plane spotter but for a kid born at the start of the 1960s it really did feel an exotic place to be. A feeling I try to remember at airports around the world now when I am being manhandled and barked at in the security line.

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