What are your interests in life, besides points and miles, that is? Do you ride horses? Do you like to rollerblade, go for bike rides, or take motorcycle trips? Are you a birdwatcher? Do you enjoy art, architecture, photography, or history? Well, here’s your opportunity to combine your interest in air travel with these other eclectic pursuits.
Look no further than your nearest airport! Airports in the United States and overseas include these and other fun activities in their public programs:
Indulge Your Inner Geek
If you think about it, airports are like small, self-contained communities, employing thousands of people. They must provide a variety of public services: Air traffic control, maintenance, food service, security, bus and subway transportation, emergency services, art exhibitions, etc. Airports are also major public works projects, and a showcase for public art and aviation history.
For people fascinated with air travel, a tour is a fun way to get a window into airport operations. Dozens of airports around the country and the world offer behind-the-scenes tours of their facilities.
The target audience for these tours ranges from cub scouts to aviation geeks. Some airports will tailor a tour to your specific interest, for example environmental protection, firefighting, cargo handling, or photography.
Airport tours typically last one to two hours, and are often free of charge. In almost all cases, advance reservations are required, sometimes by a month in advance. Many tours are seasonal.
I highlight some of the more interesting offerings here, but keep in mind that your local airport may very well offer tours for the public.
Cincinnati – Northern Kentucky Airport on Horseback (CVG)
The Cincinnatti-Northern Kentucky airport offers a unique equestrian program to the public. After completing an orientation, horseback riders have access to several miles of trails just beyond the fence line that offer great views of airport operations. As long as your horse doesn’t spook easily, this could be a really interesting ride!
The airport also offers an Environmental Science tour, that focuses on measures the airport authority is taking to treat toxic runoff before it reaches nearby creeks. There is an 1.5 hour Airport Discovery tour, too. Tours and parking are free of charge.
Berlin Brandenburg Airport by Bicycle (BER)
The new Brandenburg Airport in Berlin, Germany offers a variety of tours, but the guided bicycle tour gives visitors a chance to experience the airport from a unique vantage point.
The tour takes you from the new Willy-Brandt-Platz terminal through Airport City and past many operational buildings. After riding through the construction site entrance, you visit the apron and pass by the air traffic control tower and the pier’s jet bridges, where the aircraft dock. Lastly, you bike over a runway to the Infotower.
The price for the two-hour bike tour is €15 per person which includes a packed lunch.
Zurich Airport on Rollerblades (ZRH)
If you have time to kill at the airport in Zurich, Switzerland, you can explore the surrounding area by rollerblades! The airport service center rents a variety of sports equipment, including inline skates, Nordic walking poles, and bicycles. Rollerblades and bikes are available in a variety of sizes for children and adults. Bike helmets are also provided. If you need to freshen up after your ride — the service center offers showers, complete with towels and toiletries. Rollerblades rent for 15 Swiss Francs per half day, and bikes for 20 Swiss Francs per half day.
If you prefer a less strenuous activity, Zurich airport offers a 1.25 hour guided bus tour. The tour visits the aprons, docks, and airside center. You drive through a tunnel underneath a runway.
The narrated bus tour also takes you to the nature conservation area between the runways, the air rescue service, cargo area, hangars, maintenance workshops, emergency services, and a stop at the runway intersection. Tours are 8 Swiss Francs for adults and 4 Swiss Francs for children.
San Diego Terminals to Tarmac Tours (SAN)
San Diego International Airport is one of the few, and perhaps the only airport to offer a tarmac tour.
The two-hour public tour of the airport and airfield includes an up-close look at the runway, endangered species habitat areas, and public art. Free youth tours of the San Diego airport sometimes include a stop at the fire station and a visit with the Harbor Police.
Oddly enough, San Diego Airport is one of the most productive nesting areas for the Least Tern, an endangered species. Last year, 139 Least Tern nests were established on the sand and gravel in the five oval areas between the runway and the airplane taxiways. During the nesting season, the airport takes special care not to disturb the areas where the birds congregate.
Long Beach, California (LGB) Art Deco Design Tour
Long Beach Airport in southern California runs a free tour for groups interested in airport operations, aviation history, art deco, architecture and mosaic artwork.
Long Beach municipal airport, constructed in 1940-1941, has one of the few historic terminal buildings that remains in operation today. The airport authority received an award from the Long Beach Cultural Heritage commission for its preservation and restoration initiatives.
The airport terminal is a masterpiece of early Streamline Moderne art and architecture. In 2012, workers at the airport uncovered a series of tile mosaics commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1941. The art deco artwork was created to represent the city’s origins in transportation, oil and communications.
Airport tours vary depending on the status of daily operations, and can include the terminal, fire and rescue squads, and a historic exhibit honoring many local aviation legends.
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport Tour (CLE)
A highlight of the public tour of the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is a visit to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tower and an aircraft tour. The Airport 101 tour provides in-depth coverage of: Airport operations, TSA Security, the FAA Tower, the grounds, and an airline-sponsored aircraft and hanger tour. Due to security considerations, the hanger, FAA, and TSA tours are not always available.
Tours are offered at no charge to groups such as civic associations, schools, and scouting organizations, from April through October.
Have you been lucky enough to tour an airport?
Photo Credit: Cincinnati – Northerner Kentucky Airport
Deborah Shprentz, aka the Priceline Queen, is an environmentalist, a Mom, and a budget traveler with a penchant for quirky attractions. She blogs about ways to travel cheap, save money, and have fun at www.Fishing4Deals.com.