Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) is one of the country's busiest airports, with an average of 1,600 aircrafts arriving and departing daily. CLT flies to 178 nonstop destinations worldwide and moves more than 50 million passengers each year.
It's also a civil-military airport, used for both civilian and military flight services, and is one of the few airports in the country that has a public overlook area, where visitors are encouraged to watch planes take off, land, and taxi on CLT's four busy runways.
While it's an oft-visited spot by longtime Charlotteans, who have been known to pack picnics and bring families or dates to watch the planes, it is one of the city's best kept secrets. Whether you have a long layover or are in town for a just 48 hours, consider stopping at the overlooked for unparalleled views of the city skyline and an up close and personal look at the planes in action.
From planning your visit to driving directions and tips for your stay, here's all you need to know about the CLT airport overlook.
Planning Your Visit
While most airport terminals offer a glimpse of planes taking off and landing, the CLT overlook is one of the few of its kind in the country, similar to the observation deck at Minneapolis–St. Paul's airport and Bayfront Park in San Francisco.
With just a fence and 250 feet of grass between the overlook and the nearest runway, the area offers unobstructed views for plane enthusiasts wanting a closer look or photographers desiring that perfect action shot. And it's free, which means it's a great spot for a lunch break, picnic, unique date night, or family outing.
The overlook is open from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily, and there is a large, landscaped area for laying down a blanket and picnic spread as well as several park benches for prime viewing and two park benches. Note there are no restrooms, so plan on using the facilities before you arrive. Bring binoculars, and consider earplugs or other ear protection devices to protect your ears from the noise.
The overlook is located at 7300 Old Dowd Rd on the northwest corner of the airport, just south of I-85 and east of I-485. There is a gravel parking lot with approximately 50 to 60 spaces, and parking is complimentary.
From I-485, take the Wilkinson Blvd Exit East onto Little Rock Road. This turns into Old Dowd Road. Follow this around the airport until you see a sign for overlook, which will be on your left, just past the long term parking and cell phone lots.
From Billy Graham Parkway, take the Airport Exit and head around the airport to the stoplight at Old Dowd Road. Turn right on Old Dowd Road and left at the stoplight there (you're still on Old Dowd). Continue to the first left past the end of the runway, and the overlook will be on your left as described above.
Tips for Travelers
- Check the airport's flight schedule to find out exact when planes will be taking off and landing, as there are often gaps of 30 to 45 minutes between flights. Plan on bringing a book for yourself or games for children to pass the time if you do encounter a wait.
- Note that when planes take off from the runway nearest to the overlook, they tend to leave the ground a good bit past the viewing area. You still get a great view of the planes with plenty of speed and sounds though, so it's worth checking out even during that time. But if you can visit when the planes are landing on the nearest runway, it's a much better viewing experience.
- While there are no food options at the overlook, food trucks like Queens Ice and Cousins Main Lobster occasionally sell snacks during warmer months. Check the overlook's Facebook page for updates on events and vendors, and consider packing a picnic or snack if you plan to stay for a while.
- Share your photos and videos! The airport has an active Facebook page for visitors and plane enthusiasts to share their experiences.