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When I choose seats on an airplane, I usually go for a window seat since I love the view, especially the views of a city on takeoff/landing.

Sometimes I get good a view of the city and sometimes I don't.

How can I look up information on an airport before a flight to choose a side of the plane that will get the best view of the city?

To give a concrete example, I will be flying into DFW soon from the North. Ideally I would get a view of downtown Dallas (East of the airport) when flying in. From AirNav, and the map it links to, I can see the runways at DFW run North/South. If I pick a seat on the left side of the plane will I be guaranteed a view of downtown Dallas?

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    $\begingroup$ You can't really, because the runway in use depends very much on the wind at the time of take-off. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 8 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer Does the same go for landing? $\endgroup$ – quinten Jun 8 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, of course. The way they come into the airport may change as well depending on what runway they need to use. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 8 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, DFW is far enough (~20 mi / ~30 km) from both Dallas and Ft Worth that you probably won't see either of them, or just a few tiny, faint towers in the distance. The wind direction when you arrive will determine which of the two cities won't be seen from each side of the plane. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Jun 8 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ @NKCampbell Coulda sworn I saw Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett!, yes of course I meant Cowboys Stadium or now AT&T Stadium. $\endgroup$ – Glen Yates Jun 9 at 21:54
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It seems you already know to look up the layout of the airport, and how to check a map for which direction from the airport you want to look. The piece of the puzzle you're missing is the wind direction.

Aircraft both take off, and land into wind. So it does not matter that you are "coming from the North", if the wind is blowing from the North an aircraft will go all the way round and land on the Northerly runway. So if you were to check the weather and there is a definite Northerly tendency you would want to sit on the Right side of the aircraft.

This is nice and easy when there is a wind, and it is forecast accurately, and you can select your seat close enough to departure to take advantage of this info. Unfortunately there are many things that can throw a curve ball here

  • Changing wind patterns
  • Lack of wind / operational reasons to
  • Multiple runways

About the best you can do is be aware of the prevailing wind, and hedge your bets on which runway will be in use. You'll win some (most?) and lose some. But you'll certainly get a good view some of the time.

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  • $\begingroup$ "So if you were to check the weather and there is a definite Northerly tendency you would want to sit on the Right side of the aircraft." This would depend on how big of a loop you do around the city, right? Meaning the airplane may stay close to the airport and do a sharp turn or do a big loop around. Is that a flight pattern I can look up? $\endgroup$ – quinten Jun 8 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ @quinten I meant on the final approach. What you are looking for are called STARs (Standard Terminal Arrivals). There are many, often for the same runway, and a layman might find them quite difficult to understand (Hell, I have a license and I find them hard to understand!). $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Jun 8 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ "Prevailing wind" is probably the best general bet... Hard to otherwise predict wind direction a month or more in advance. :) $\endgroup$ – paul garrett Jun 8 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, if the wind is going from the north toward the south, they're going to overshoot the field, fly a J-hook and land facing north. But you don't know whether they'll make a right J-hook or a left J-hook. Unless there's a pattern they use conventionally. $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 9 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Harper-ReinstateMonica Planes are usually vectored from the NE/SE STARs to the east runways and NW/SW STARs to the west runways, which makes sense. But if one side is much busier at any given moment, they will shift a few planes to the other side to balance them. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Jun 9 at 20:08
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You can get airplane layouts for most scheduled commercial carriers online. You can get airport and runway layouts from sources like skyvector. The FAA US Chart Supplement gives the distance and cardinal direction the airport is from the center of its associated city.

As other posters have noted, the issue you will find is that aircraft try to always land into the headwind at the time. While crosswinds are acceptable to a point, tailwinds are avoided if possible. And, most runways can be used for takeoffs and landings from either end of the runway surface.

Just remember one thing about aircraft and airports. Getting an airplane onto a runway is a three step process. They are:

  1. Arrival to the area. This can be a simple decent from cruise or a charted arrival procedure.
  2. Approach to the airport. This can be a charted approach or an entry into a standard traffic pattern.
  3. Landing. This is a decent on final approach from the traffic pattern, circling approach or on the glideslope/glidepath of an instrument approach or VASI onto the runway surface.

All of these can be to or from different directions for the same flight. For example, an arrival from the East, to a Northbound approach, ending in circling the airport a half to 2 miles from the airport for a Southbound landing.

In the case of Dallas, the winds come predominantly from out of the South. So, aircraft will land from the North to the South. ATC will route all aircraft around the DFW airport to approach their landing airports from the North regardless of their origin or original heading. On the occasion that the wind is coming from out of the North (which is not as often as the South), ATC will reverse the flow of traffic to approach their landing airports from the South. I term it the “landing airport” because most of the airports in and under the DFW Class B airspace will take directions and follow the lead of KDFW, landing in the same direction to accommodate the very busy airspace (most, but not all of the time). Of course, the smaller and slower the aircraft, the tighter the route around the airport will be. Some routes (traffic patterns) will be less than a mile away from the runway of landing.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the details on the landing process, that gives me some really helpful context $\endgroup$ – quinten Jun 10 at 3:55

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