Its not a unusual sight to see airplanes in an airport because, duh, that’s what airports are for, right? However, true to its unique style, Amsterdam definitely decided to give you some surprises in that department too. And on a Panorama terrace, no less.
I had ensured that my trip to Amsterdam coincided with the annual Canal gay pride festival in the month of August. And in my hurry to see the colorful pride, I had not taken much time to explore the Schiphol airport. I finished the pride, a road trip through Western Europe, and on my return, I was ready to finally explore the Schiphol airport. I had a 20-hour flight from Amsterdam to Singapore – with a transit in Doha on the way, thanks to Qatar Airways – and I needed some time to get sober from the craziness that is Amsterdam, and get ready for the long haul. So, I arrived early for my flight.
Purely in terms of numbers, the Schiphol airport is the 3rd busiest airport in Europe – after London and Paris. The area was a large lake in the 18th century, and it was believed that many ships had drowned here due to the bad weather. But when the land was reclaimed in the 1850’s no ship wrecks were found. Yet, most ironically, the name remained.
You see; Schiphol translates to ‘ship grave’ in Dutch.
That was an eerie thought when I entered the airport. Because after all, airplanes are also called air-ships, right? Oh well, I put that aside and proceeded to the check-in and security procedures.
Schiphol airport may be a single-terminal airport, but it did have 4 lounges. And the setup and décor of the lounges were different based on the travelers that they were targeting. (Not my words. Straight from the airport website). So, lounge 1 was designed for those taking the European flights. Which probably explain the bars and restaurants. Lounge 2 and 3 are for intercontinental or long-haul flights. And hence is packed with shops and even some of the airport experiences like a miniature Nemo museum. Lounge 4 is for the low-cost airlines. And understandably, has much less to do and is rather compact too.
Read: If you are looking for quirky airports around the world, Dili in Timor Leste was one of my most adventurous ones!
I wasn’t interested in the lounges. Much before I reached the lounges, there was something else that I wanted to do for myself.
A hobby called airplane spotting
As a kid, I used to watch enthusiastically at an airplane every time I saw one in the sky. The adult in me, had stopped doing that. I don’t crane my neck anymore whenever I hear an airplane in the sky. But there are a group of people who do this. And trust me, it is serious business.
Airplane spotting – like numismatics, or stamp collection – is a serious hobby for some. Airplane spotters do exactly that: they spot airplanes. They note down their flight number, engine position, wing position, the speed etc. And most of the time, they also take a picture of it. And share it on social media platforms. There are plenty of Instagram and twitter hashtags related to airplane spotting. If you are still not convinced, there is an entire site, airliners.net designed specifically for these hobbyists. Some have taken it a step further and even started airport spotting resources. It was a fantastic new world out there, if you were keen to discover it!
And one of the reasons why many airplane spotters liked the Amsterdam Schiphol airport, was the Panorama terrace.
Getting to the panorama terrace is easy, as there are clear signs to a staircase for the terrace, from the arrivals area. The staircase leads to the departure floor above, and even further, to the terrace. There is also an elevator, in case you are grouching about all that staircase walking!
The terrace opens up to a small alfresco bar. It was a rather cold evening, so nobody was sitting out there with a pint in hand. But once you look out, you see the most amazing sight you could have imagined.
There was an actual KLM cityhopper Fokker 100! Right on the roof!
Meet the Fokker
In case you are not an aviation expert (neither am I. Google helps!) the Fokker 100 was the largest jet airliner ever built by the Dutch airline company called Fokker. Fokker and the Fokker 100 had practically ruled the civil aviation market before WWII. Fokker went into bankruptcy in late 1990’s, and the Fokker 100 was stopped. As of now, there are very few Fokker 100’s remaining in operation, mostly in Australia and Iran. But they had some notable users in the past. Mainly the KLM cityhopper, which was the regional airline subsidiary of KLM.
KLM cityhopper had replaced their entire line of Fokker 100s, and most were sold to other airline companies. But one remained. After 21 years of service with KLM, one lucky Fokker 100 was lifted to the terrace. For any visiting passenger to visit it.
Entry inside the Fokker 100 is free. KLM and Schiphol airport combined their minds on this one, to give a very unique experience to people who were interested in aviation – and even those who were not. The interior seating was completely removed, converting the airline into some kind of a museum. The walls had informationals about the history of aviation, KLM and the Schiphol airport. Unfortunately, the cockpit could only be viewed as it was not possible to enter it. Nevertheless, it was quite an interesting experience.
With the excitement of the Fokker 100 behind me, I also discovered that the panorama terrace was one of the best places for some serious airline-spotting. Even if I was not into this hobby, I couldn’t help but take notice of the different flights scattered all over the runway. Mostly the distinguishable blue and white colors of the KLM, but plenty of others too. Some aircraft were even parked right below me, as I had to reach out to look down!
For the rest, the ones that were spread out over the runway, there was a telescope too. In case you are thinking of taking airplane-spotting seriously.
Note that the Panorama terrace is not open 24 hours. During summer, the operating hours are 7 AM to 9 PM. And during winter, its 9 AM to 5 PM. Yeah, the Dutch clearly don’t want you to catch a cold heading out into the open!
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