The Unexpected Beauty of Airports

Air travel may be routine, but airports can still delight and surprise us, as these images show.

Airports aren’t just necessary stops en route to a destination, they’re part of the journey. A rich mosaic of people, culture, light, reflection, and architectural forms, they can make for captivating photographic subjects.

With passenger numbers on schedule to double over the next 20 years, many airports are expanding—and reengineering not only their operations but also the travel experience. Passengers are being offered more than merely views of planes taking off: daring art installations, distinctive designs, and 21st-century amenities, such as access to gardens and outdoor space.

During the busy travel month of August, we asked our Your Shot community to show us their favorite #airportscenes. More than 1,600 submissions ranged from familiar sights of jet-lagged sleepers and moving walkways to rarely seen perspectives from the cockpit and the tarmac. Several photographers posted shots of extreme landing strips, like Nepal’s Lukla airport, tucked into Himalayan peaks, and the dramatic final approach above Maho Beach in Saint Martin, battered by Hurricane Irma earlier this month. Others caught a distinct sense of place, such as the airport in Wellington, New Zealand, filming location for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. More surprises included sightings of safari species, dinosaur skeletons, and air-show acrobatics.

To participate in a future assignment, check out Your Shot, where you can share photos and connect with fellow photographers from around the globe.

See our picks of innovative airports and how both flight and airports are pivoting toward a greener future.

This article is part of our Urban Expeditions series, an initiative made possible by a grant from United Technologies to the National Geographic Society.