Seoul Incheon Intl. Airport Spotting Guide

Our member Jan visited Seoul Incheon in March 2014 and wrote a guide about it with a total of four spots. Incheon International Airport is the largest airport in South Korea and the main international gateway for its capital Seoul. In 2001 Incheon replaced the older Gimpo International Airport, which is now mostly used for domestic and regional flights. In 2013 Incheon handled almost 41.5 million passengers. It also became one of the largest cargo hubs in the world, ranking 4th in 2013. This of course is mainly due to the largo cargo operations of local carriers Korean Air and Asiana.

These two airlines also generate most of the schedules passenger traffic. Though they operate more flights from Gimpo, you will also find most of the local low-cost carriers here like Eastar Jet, Jeju Air, Jin Air or T’way Airlines. Due to the location you will also find a few Chinese and Japanese carriers here, most notably JAL, ANA, Air China, China Southern and China Eastern. But also the smaller Japanese carriers like Vanilla Air or Peach can be found here. Of course you will also see some of the well-known larger airlines like Cathay, KLM, Singapore, Etihad, Emirates, Delta, Air Canada or Thai.

A very helpful tool for your spotting days is the official airport website, which gives you information about all the flights (even cargo!) and also accurate ETAs.
Most of the locations are only or better used with 33/34 operations. This runway direction is best for your visit.

Written by Jan Seba (visited March 2014)

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Airline Variety
Photo Locations
Weather
Airport Information Runways 15R/33L 15L/33R 16/34
3.750 m (12.303 ft) 3.750 m (12.303 ft)  4.000 m (13.123 ft)
Terminals Main Terminal Satellite Concourse
Mostly local carriers Mostly foreign carriers
Spotting Information Ladder Not required
Car Not required. The spots can be reached using a mix of buses, taxis and on foot. For taxis, make sure the driver uses the taximeter, as they will try to rip you off with high prices if you simply jump in. It is advisable to prepare some maps at home to show to the taxi driver. Make sure the maps have the written name (in Korean!) of the location (or streets) where you want to go. Do not expect taxi drivers to speak English. Though some of them know one or two words it will never be enough so that you can explain where you want to go.
Restrooms Inside terminal buildings/restaurants around the airport.
Drinks/Food Inside terminal buildings and in the business area south of the airport
Hotels South of the airport there are a few hotels and apartments, which are convenient for spotting.
Season Weather is best in spring starting from March to May. October is also fairly good. Try to avoid the summer as it gets very rainy and the sun altitude is also very high.
Runway Usage  15R/33L Main departure runway for passenger traffic
15L/33R Main landing runway for passenger traffic and also main cargo runway, both for landings and departures.
16/34 Alternately used for passenger arrivals and departures in peak times. Provided is a list of approximate times. They will vary depending on the traffic peaks of the individual day:

  • Until 0900: Arrivals
  • 0900 – 1100: Departures
  • 1100 – 1230: Arrivals
  • 1230 – 1600: Departures
  • 1600 – 1830: Arrivals
  • From 1830: Departures

Spot #1 – Meadow – 33R Arrivals Morning
WHERE Unfortunately this location is very far from the recommended hotels south of the airport. You can either get here by taxi or go by foot, which takes at least 20 minutes. From the hotels take the small foot- and cycle path next to the golfing range towards the sea. Then turn left and go straight for a kilometer until you will go below the airport road and reach the park which is to your left now. Continue on the way and cross the approach paths of both runways. After a few more meters you will reach the road running parallel to the runway. Follow this road a bit to the northwest and you are there.
WHAT This is the morning location for arrivals on the eastern RWY 33R. As you are in a field you can vary your location according to your preferences regarding angle and distance.
TIME Best light conditions are from sunrise to 9 AM.
MISC. There is nothing nearby, so take what you need with you.
FOCAL LENGTH Just below 100mm for a B773 and 180mm for an A320.
Spot #2 – Aviation Park – 33R Arrivals Evening
WHERE If you already know the way to spot #1, getting here is pretty easy. Instead of going straight after the airport road, now simply turn left into the park. From here it is advised to continue on any of the walkways in the park in northwestern direction for a couple more meters so that the angle gets better. Unfortunately you have to be a bit further away to reach a “good” angle for your shots.
WHAT This is the evening location for arrivals on the eastern RWY 33R. The park is huge and you can vary your location according to your preferences regarding angle and distance.
TIME Best light conditions are from 1 PM to sunset.
MISC. There are a few benches in the park, otherwise take what you need with you.
FOCAL LENGTH Sample images are 130mm for a B744 and 240mm for a B738, but you can also go closer (trading for a worse angle).


Spot #3 – Sky Deck – 34 Departures & Arrivals
WHERE It is located far from the other spots and not within walking distance. You can either grab a taxi to get there or take bus 306 from the Main Terminal Departure level. The bus stop to get off is called “Paradise Hotel” and the trip should take around 15 minutes.The top of that building is the Sky Deck.
WHAT The observation deck gives you a great overview over RWY 34 and you get the opportunity to take some action shots on the ground with the terminals in the background. But bear in mind that you are extremely far away here, heat haze will be a problem und everything but the heavies will be way too small to take good photographs of.
TIME Best light conditions are from 1 PM to sunset.
MISC. This spot was not visited, but it is the most well-known and should present no problem for spotters.
FOCAL LENGTH Almost 300mm for B773 and A380s.

 

Spot #4 – Terminal – Main Apron & Connecting Taxiway
WHERE There are some good location inside the Terminal (you have to be airside) to take some shots through the glass. There is no “one location” that can be sued for that. In the main terminal there are some good locations at the end of the two terminal piers facing the northwest. Towards the evening you should move to a location facing the east, so either the eastern pier facing the lineup or the western pier facing the apron between the two piers.Unfortunately the satellite concourse A is only open for passengers with flights from that area, but even if your flight is from there you will have no way to move back to main terminal after you took the underground connection.
WHAT If RWY 33L is used for takeoffs you can get some good shots of the lineup in the afternoon. In the morning or around noon it is best to shoot towards the connecting taxiway, which runs vertical to the runways. Of course you can always take pushback or taxi-in/taxi-out shots at the stands. The windows are only slightly tinted so the colors can be easily corrected during post processing.Whether the satellite also offers good photos could not be tested, but is likely that it is similarly good.
TIME You will find a location to take some shots from sunrise to sunset.
MISC. Of course there are shops, restaurants and restrooms in the terminal.
FOCAL LENGTH Varies a lot, the United B772 on the front taxiway is 45mm and the Czech A330 on the back taxiway is 110mm.


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5 thoughts on “Seoul Incheon Intl. Airport Spotting Guide

  1. Ross L.

    I was at Incheon in May 2017, I rented a car and while parking can be a problem, the hardest part about driving was following the signs to return the car at the end of the rental period, but I would not hesitate driving there again.The old golf course at present is being used as a long term car park, with about half of it cover in gravel. There was no restriction walking around this area and I found myself a nice spot under a tree to take my photos. For spot 1, I didn’t go as far down with the car. The road from the terminal, business area where the hotels are located, that leads to the cargo area, when you get to the first T intersection after passing through the tunnel under the airport expressway, turn right and then shortly after there is a car park for the park mentioned above on your right hand side. Enter this carpark and leave your vehicle there, the rates are cheap and well worth it. Most roads around the airport had small trenches dug, preventing parking on the road side. From this carpark it is a few minutes walk to spot 1, or as I did, just walk across the road and you can still get good approach shots in the morning.

    I didn’t use spot 2, as I used the golf course instead. Parking here can be more problematic, I was staying in one of the local hotels, so I parked there and walked about 10 minutes to the spot I had chosen and got some excellent approach shots in the afternoon. There are other carparks located in the area, none of which are expensive, the first hour is free in most of them.

    Spot 3 is an excellent location, easily reached by car without the hassle of waiting for buses or having a language barrier. You do need a big lens here however and may get frustrated watching the action on the far runways.

    I had some operations on the 15’s and 16 while I was there and managed to find a morning spot for 15L arrivals near the Korean Air catering facility. From the terminal head towards the cargo terminals, then continue on following the signs towards the Fuel Tank Farm. Just before the last right hand turn towards the fuel tanks, stay on the road you are on. It is a very quiet area with little traffic, the road actually is a dead end, finishing at the airport boundary fence. Pick a spot along the road and you can get approach shots for 15L until just past the runway threshold, then trees will block the view. It is also possible to get shots of aircraft lining up on 15R, though it is a narrow gap between poles requiring timing.

    Terminal 2 is almost finished and there was a lot of road works going on when I was there, some of the side roads leading off to yet to be developed sites. I have little doubt that with the Terminal 2 and these new roads, that there will be other spots open up at the northern end of the airport in future.

    I had 4 days there, some great weather, except for the ever present haze in Asia, though late afternoon shots had some wonderful light. I must say though, by the end of my time there, I was tired of OZ 330’s and KE 330’s and 777’s, you don’t realise how many they have until you spend time in Seoul.

  2. Eef Velthorst

    Dear Jan,

    Thanks a lot for all the informative information you wrote on this site. Very useful and to the point.

    Still I do have a question. The spottersites (marked as 1 to 4) are on one site of the airport.

    Did you have another wind direction by which the planes arrived over sea? And where do you take (spotter site(s)) your pictures then?

    Thanks in advance.

    Kind regards,

    E. Velthorst

    1. Jan Post author

      Hi!
      Thank you for your kind feedback.
      You are fully correct, unfortunately we do not know of any locations for ICN which can be used if they are landing from the sea. In that case I would suggest to give GMP a try or alternatively use spot #3, which will yield at least a few arrivals and departures.
      I do not know the area around the runway thresholds for landings on 15 & 16, but from what I can assume from Satellite Images I think it will be very difficult to find a location there, let alone a good one, with acceptable angle and focal length. ICN is for sure an airport, which is best visited when 33 & 34 are active!

      Best regards
      Jan

  3. GB

    Thanks for the information provided. It was very helpful on my recent trip to ICN in October 2016. Concerning the directions to spot #1 and #2, the directions are still OK, but the golf range mentioned has now been demolished and is making way for a large development taking place behind the Best Western Hotel. The path still exists through the building site.

    Worthy of mention is that there is a large bus stop on the road that you would need to cross in order to reach spot#2. This is a bit too far underneath approaches to 33R, but at least it provides benches and a shelter if it rains. A regular shuttle bus goes to the terminal from here but it doesn’t seem to have a number.

    The large photo provided for spot #2 shows what seems to be a concrete wall. Actually this is the opposite bank of a wide drainage channel. The steps shown in the photo lead down to a stepping-stone crossing.

    Also note that from spot #2 it can be difficult to see the aircraft lining up for 33L departures. From spot #2 there is an almost unobstructed view of approaches right down to the tounch-down Point. This is good for those taking videos of arrivals.

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