Dubai International Airport Spotting Guide

Dubai International Airport – One of the world’s largest and fastest growing airport never comes to a rest. A mega hub which already now connects the entire globe with the UAE’s largest city! It is the busiest airport in the Middle East Area. The variety of airlines and their origin is very interesting in DXB and you get a lot of very unique stuff there, especially from the Iranian carriers, which may use very old equipment for their flights – the Boeing 727 for example but still really rare since 2014. But, officially it is forbidden to take pictures of aircraft! So please read our guides carefully, mainly our security instructions to avoid any trouble with the police.

With a passenger growth of 16 percent in 2013, Dubai is getting closer to the Top 5 of the biggest airports in the world. More than 66 Mio passengers travelled through DXB in 2013 and the active growth of its home carrier Emirates will let these numbers raise even more. As the airport is surrounded by the city of Dubai, the expansion is limited and with the opening of the Dubai World Central, more and more airlines move over to this new airport, situated almost 50 kilometres off from Dubai.

Dubai International Airport handles the most traffic during the night hours and the numbers of movements are much higher than during the day. But there are still enough very interesting carriers that you can photograph with the help of the sunlight and with only two active runways. Mostly of the time they have to used one runway for arrivals and one for departures, runway 30L for arrivals and runway 30R for departures. Emirates and Flydubai are the top dogs having their rush hour between 11 am and 1 pm during the day. During this time, Dubai Airport is at its capacity, sometimes causing moderate until heavy delays and long waiting queues inside the terminal buildings as well as on the tarmac. With only one runway in use, the airport sometimes struggles when there is a minor delay in it enormously tight schedule. The rest of the day is a very mixed of passenger airlines like Aeroflot Russian Airlines, African Express, Air India, Air India Express, Azerbaijan Airlines, Egyptair, Ethiopian Airlines, Finnair, Flynas, Gulf Air, Indigo, Iran Air, Iran Aseman, Iraqi Airways, Jet Airways, Kish Air, Kuwait Airways, Mahan Air, Naft Airlines, Oman Air, Pakistan International, Philippine Airlines, Qatar Airways, Qeshm Air, Royal Jordanian, Safi Airways, Saudia Arabian, Saheen Air, SpiceJet India, Taban Air, Transaero, Transavia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine International…

Cargo operations have been gradually cut very recently and many operators already moved to the new DWC airport. For example, Emirates skycargo isn’t operating any more to DXB and most of cargo which still operates at DXB are Aerologic, DHL, Fedex, UPS and (Georgian Star International).

Written by Jan Seba, Jeremy Denton, Julian Mittnacht and Marlin Lehmann / Last Update March 2016

 Rating Movements Visitor Rating
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Airline Variety
Photo Locations
Airport Information Runways 12L/30R  12R/30L
4.000 m (13.123 ft)  4.447 m (14.590 ft)
Terminal Terminal 1 (west) Terminal 3 (west) Terminal 2 (east)
All other carriers Emirates and Qantas Airways only Persian carriers mainly including Emirates’ low cost airline flyDubai and Iranian, Iraqi and Indian carries except Mahan Air, Iran Air, Air India, SpiceJet, Jet Airways and several others. Check for further information.
Spotting Information Ladder Not needed and not allowed
Car Highly recommend for not being spotted by the police.
Restrooms There are aplenty restaurants (also fast food) and shopping malls nearby the spotting locations.
Drinks/Food There are aplenty restaurants (also fast food) and shopping malls nearby the the spots.
Hotels This guide also provides spots which are located on a hotel roof or in hotel rooms. The Nojoum Appartements (Spot 7) and the Permier Inn Hotel (Spot 8) are to be recommended. If you don’t want to get caught by the police and just looking for a relaxing place for spotting, take one of these and read the informations you will find below. There are also aplenty of other hotels next to the airport belonging to the most diverse categories of stars. These may not offer a view onto the airport’s movements.
Sharjah is only 20 km away from the airport and hotels are much cheaper there. But keep in mind the traffic volume between both cities is ridiculously high and it can take you at least 1 hour to connect both cities during the rush hours.
Season We suggest October until April because it is too hot in the summer and the sun’s position is too high. Heat haze in December is almost not existing.
Spotting in the UAE is neither supported nor understood nor tolerated. Especially taking pictures evincing airport buildings or facilities will may cause problems and punishments (which can range from a check by police to imprisonment in worst case) by the police or airport authorities. We will not be liable for any inconviniences with local authorities. Spotting at Dubai international airport DXB is at your own risk. Keep a low profile wherever you are. Information: Our team hasn’t yet experienced (except one occurrence: Team members were taken to the police station after being caught on a parking deck) any problems at Dubai which is attributable to extremely cautious behaviour and obeying of security tips. Please always adjust your behaviour when travelling into the Middle East states including the UAE to aviod inconveniences with the police. General tip for spotting in the Middle East area: If you have a car stow your camera underneath the seat or in the glovebox of the car. Have a map with you to fake a glitch or for an alleged planning of a route.

UPDATE – PLEASE NOTE: As of 30APR2015 we now caution you against doing spotting in the UAE in general as the situation has worsened sharply. Photography of airplanes in the United Arab Emirates is avenged and punished when being caught by authorities or police. Spotting in the UAE has become extremely dangerous and we advise everbody to keep this in mind when planning to go spotting at any UAE airport. At Abu Dhabi, Al Ayn and Fujairah, spotting is highly hazardous! Dubai airport is being controlled by the police too and if you get checked, they will bring you to the police station where you have to delete all your pictures. BUT you are believed not to get imprisoned in DXB like it happened in Fujairah to fellow spotters and you will be released a few hours later.
Runway Usage  12L/30R When winds blow from the desert, 12L is in use for arrivals only. Runway 30R is mainly used for departures. During mid-day, it can occour that some departures take place on 30L due to shorter taxying-times and relief for residents as well as for some minor runway works.
12R/30L When the wind blows from the desert to the city, 12R is used for the departures only. 95 percent of the traffic during the winter arrives on RWY30L with some very few arrivals on 30R (mainly airlines located at Terminal 2).
Info Please note that sometimes during the week, one runway may close during off-peak times which usually begin at 3:00pm and last for about 3 hours. You can get further information about the runway usage in NOTAMs for Dubai Airport.


Spot #1 – Mirdif City – 30L/R Arrivals
WHERE This is the most famous spot in Dubai and its pretty easy to find. If you are on the E311, just follow the street signs to Mirdif and later on to the Mirdif City Centre, which is a very huge shopping mall next to the spot. North of the mall there is the Dubai Tennis Academy. Pass the academy and a mobile phone mast on the unpaved dirt field until you see two big trees, which is your place to stay at. When coming from the terminals, take D 89 to Al Khawaneej (east of the airport) and follow the street for about 2.5km. A large motorway intersection will appear shortly before you’ve passed underneath the runway 30L – always follow signs D 89 to Al Khawaneej and Al Awir! Exit shortly after this large junction in direction Mirdif and Mirdif City Center (keep right). Take this street for about 1.9km. Shortly before the mall appears on your left, snap off to the left onto the sandy area and park your car underneath the trees.
+++ UPDATE NOV 2017: There are construction works for a new sports stadium. The whole area is surrounded by a fence and now longer accessable. We try to find an alternative….
WHAT Perfect place for the 30L arrivals during the day. 30R arrivals can be very tricky as you need a very long lens (500mm at least for an 738) and the heat haze could be a problem.
TIME Best light conditions in the winter are between 11 am and 6 pm.
MISC. Drive to the Mirdif City Centre to find all the amenities you need. You can also travel here by public transport: Take MRed-Tube at Dubai International Terminal 3 to Al Rashidiya Metro Station and exit the train at its final stop (Al Rashidiya). Walk to the bus platform and take bus number F10 towards Al Warqa’a J for 4 stop (18min journey). Dismount the bus at Mirdiff City Centre. From here you can easily walk back a few yards to the spotting location. All stations being mentioned in this description are marked on the map. Costs for this journey 5.00AED for each trip.
SECURITY Park your car between the trees next to the Tennis Academy as shown on the picture below and stay in your car for the whole visit. Never park your car next to the road that leads to the Mirdif Mall as the police pass this way as well as next to the entrance to the Tennis Academy. The members will call the police too! Usually you will be surrounded by Bus Drivers which take a nap in their vehicle. Just be polite and you will have absolutely no problems with them.
FOCAL LENGTH 300 mm for a 737-800, 150 mm for a 777-300

Spot #2 – Emirates HQ – Taxiway
WHERE As the name suggests, this spot is located in the visitor parking garage of the Emirates headquarter. If you are on the airport road, make a right/left turn into the Marrakech Street. After a couple of meters, make a right turn into the 35th street and pass the building until you will find a small sign that leads into the visitors parking garage. Drive all the way up to floor 10 or 11 which can takes up to 5 minutes. These are the best floors as you don´t have the airports light poles within your pictures.
WHAT From this spot you can see the taxiway which is between the Concourses B & A. Traffic is limited here as only a couple of airlines use this taxiway to reach their gates. More action takes place on the runway. Aircraft leaving runway 30L or heading to runway 30R for their departure are within your sight as well. But usually there is too much heat distortion to get a reasonable picture, so we can´t recommend this place for any runway movements.
TIME The time for aircraft using the taxiway is okay from 09am until 06 pm.
MISC. Bring with you what you need before coming at this spot.
SECURITY The garage is monitored, so please be very very careful in what you are doing. If you park the car next to a concrete pier you shouldn´t be within the sight of the security cameras. Never walk along the road with your camera as you will get catched sooner or later and the security guys will kick you off the ground.
FOCAL LENGTH 50mm for heavies on the taxiway, up to 400mm for aircraft on the runway

Spot #3 – 21a Street – 12L arrivals
WHERE It is a little bit tricky to find this place. The easiest way is to locate the Mercedes Benz dealer called “Gargash Automobile”. Its the biggest company next to the spot and is located on the 12b Street which should be accessable from the E11 state road. The 21a street is located behind the main entrance of Gargash Automobile and is within a small industrial area. So if you reached the 12b street, make a turn into the 21a street, drive a couple of meters and just park your car on the opposite site of a car tire dealer (see picture below).
WHAT This is the perfect spot for 12L arrivals. You see the traffic very late, so always listen to the sound of the engines if you don´t wanna miss a plane.
TIME Best light conditions in the winter are between 11 am and 6 pm.
MISC. Take the stuff you need with you.
SECURITY You should be pretty safe at this location as its not on a main road. But always have a look around for the police and stay in your car.
Usually you shouldn´t have a problem with the local workers. Just be polite, greet them and everything will be fine.
FOCAL LENGTH 100-200mm

Spot #4 – Rashidiya Metro Station – 12R departures
WHERE This is a good spot for take-off where is located in Rashidiya Metro Station on the latest floor. You need to be on the Airport Road direction (Mirdif & Sharjah), go strait follow the indication about Rashidiya Metro Station (the metro station is Gold with black glasses) will be on your right. The Station is just next to the Dubai Air Wings VIP aircraft building. You have also the possibilities to come with the metro.
WHAT From this spot you can take picture of only take-off from RWY12R. It’s a good spot to catch every heavies aircraft and smaller like 738. Forget to have good shots of F50/F100/319. From the latest floor you will see the roof of the Dubai Air Wings VIP Aircraft so due to this, you will see the planes only in the latest moment so be ready but you can hear them.
TIME You can spot from around 10:00 to 18:00.
MISC. Bring with you what you need before coming at this spot.
SECURITY Be really careful about security cameras. At every angles there is one. I never seen any security guys, but check around, put the camera on a bag and read a book. There is a place close next to 2 cameras who is fine. Located on the left corner of the parking.
FOCAL LENGTH 300-500mm
Spot #5 – Food Court
WHERE You can find a Food Court inside Terminal 1 which enables spotting onto the taxiway along T1 and T3. When you enter Terminal 1 take the moving stairs or the stairs up to level 1 where you can buy food. We recommend that you buy something (e.g. at Subway or Bombay chicken) as a disguise. Take a seat in the dining area next to these shops preferably next to a plant which you can find approx. every 5 meters. You can choose a suitable seat for you along the long window front.
WHAT Taxiing aircrafts coming from runway 30 after landing and proceeding to the southern pier of T1 (Usually MEA, Azerbaijan Airlines, almost all Indian carriers, Saudia, Kuwait, Pakistan International Airlines, Transavia and so on…), aircrafts from T1s southern pier, aiming to depart from any 30 runway, and Emirates aircrafts parking at the very western parking stands of T3.
TIME From noon until sundown.
MISC. Food and restrooms available as mentioned above. This position is equipped with CCTV cameras which mainly function as a dummy and precaution.You can also go there by public tranportation – Station to disembark: Airport Terminal 1 Metro Station 1/2
SECURITY You should be pretty safe at this location as the police does not check out this area regularly but you should better behave despite, and always look out for security staff! When a policeman or a security guy appears leave your camera in your bag and do not photograph.
Spot #6 – 8th Street – 12L Arrivals
WHERE You can take photos of arriving airplanes into runway 12L from Al Khabaisis’s 8th Street. The 8th Street is a service road right next to Abu Baker Al Siddique Road and opposite of Hamarian Shopping Centre. When you turn into the 8th St, follow its street course until the parking spaces appear on the left hand side of the road. Choose one of them and park your car. Parking there is free of any charge.
WHAT Arriving planes into runway 12L and heavy departures from 31R. Runway 12R is very unlikely to be taken in use for landings, if so, planes will fly overhead your car so photographing them in a good angle is not possible. But this is highly improbable, if then biz jets only.
TIME From noon until sundown or all day long on cloudy days.
MISC. The Hamarian Shopping Centre is right over the way, food and restrooms are available here.You can also go there by public tranportation – Station to disembark: Hamarain Center 2
SECURITY It is quite safe to spot here as long as you keep a low profile and keep in your car whenever you can. You can photograph out of you car if you low your cars window.

Spot #7 – Nojoum Apartments – 12L arrivals, 31R departures
WHERE The roof top of the Nojoum Apartments which is situated at 134 Abu Baker Al Siddique offers a good view onto the approach path of runway 12L and the departure track of RWY31R. When you enter the hotel, take the lift to the top floor. When having arrived at the top floor take the stairs up to the pool deck.
WHAT Arriving planes into runway 12L and heavy departures from 31R. You need a high focal distance for the arrivals and heat haze is a big problem here due to the mist of the streets so its not the ideal spot for the 12L arrivals. The departures shouldn´t be a problem!
TIME From noon until sundown or all day long on cloudy days.
MISC. The roof top offers sunshades and chairs for a comfortable spotting. Food and restrooms are available inside the Hamarain Center next door. You do have a limited airport view for example onto Terminal 1 north pier or the cargo apron as well as the overnight storage.You can also go there by public tranportation – Station to disembark: Hamarain Center 2
SECURITY This might be one of Dubai’s safest spots as there is no police which checks out this place. The hotel staff completely tolerates spotting from the roof top. Please behave and keep a low profile so that it remains tolerated! We can recommend this hotel, it offers large, clean rooms some of them have a balcony from which you can easily take photos as well.
FOCAL LENGTH 70-400mm.

Spot #8 – Premier Inn – 31L Departures
WHERE The roof top of the Premier Inn Hotel Dubai International Hotel which is situated at 26 52b St offers a good view onto the departing aircrafts of RWY31L. When you enter the hotel, take the lift to the top floor. When having arrived at the top floor take the stairs up to the pool deck.
WHAT Departing airplanes from 31L only.
TIME From noon until sundown or all day long on cloudy days.
MISC. The roof top offers sunshades and chairs for a comfortable spotting. There is a McDonalds nearby the hotel (11 Marakech St – 4min drive)
SECURITY This might be one of Dubai’s safest spots as there is no police which checks out this place. The hotel staff also completely tolerates spotting from the roof top. Please behave and keep a low profile so that it remains tolerated!We can recommend this hotel, clean cheap hotel rooms, some of them offer a view onto Dubai Terminal 3 (Nightshot)
FOCAL LENGTH 70-400mm – Boeing 777-300: 250mm, Boeing 77F: 290mm

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17 thoughts on “Dubai International Airport Spotting Guide

  1. Pingback: New Airports: Dubai, Antalya, Simferopol – Blog |

  2. HN94

    This is all lies. Today i went to video with my Go Pro next to Gargash motors, the place was crawling with police, while videoing the planes taking off a police stopped me. Even though I’m from UAE i acted as if i didn’t know arabic and he didn’t know english so he just told me its allowed and i left. After that i went to the new airport Al Maktoum. That was easy go online and check the flight schedule, park in the parking and videoing its empty.

    1. MarlinMarlin Post author

      Hi Hafsa,

      Great to hear that you have had good experiences with the local police, some of them continue to be very harsh and rigid, however. Thus it is still important that you keep a very low profile when spotting there as another officer may not tolerate the hobby to this day.

      Cheers and have a great day

  3. SpotterJosch

    Is it allowed to just walk to the spots and watch with your eyes or is this also forbidden ?
    I´m new and not so familiar with spotting.

  4. Abel Polesz

    Hey Guys,

    I’m travelling to Dubai in March and as I know planespotting is dangerous and forbidden I’d like to ask for a photography permission from the police. Has any of you ever done this? If so, could you please send me the letter you wrote. Thanks in advance,


    1. JulianJulian


      there is no official photo permission that you get from the police. I know people who went to the police office and just ask if its okay to take pictures of airplanes. But don´t expect too much and usually they will tell you that it is forbidden.


    1. MarlinMarlin Post author

      Hi Milton.

      It is possible indeed, but remember that it is no ‘peccadillo’ to go up the roof without asking. I would ask at the reception to be on the safe side.
      They will surely allow you to go up, when asking kindly and telling exactly to them what you want to photograph.


        1. MarlinMarlin Post author

          Merhaba Mohammad!

          Thanks for your feedback! Woow, 100.00AED is much! That’s about 25EUR which is too much for simply photographing, thanks for finding that out!


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