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One thing every great airport needs

An observation deck where you can watch planes really makes the airport experience soar.

Kent German/CNET

The best things you can add to an airport aren't a movie theater, a butterfly garden or a fine restaurant. Sure, those help -- just ask anyone who's been to Singapore -- but I'm talking about an observation deck. Yes, to make an airport truly great, it needs a place where aviation geeks like me can watch planes.

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At SFO, lounge chairs, plants and sculptures give you something to focus on when you're not watching airplanes. 

Kent German/CNET

Sadly, many US airports closed their decks over terrorism fears following the Sept. 11 attacks. But the good news is they're beginning to make a comeback as air travel grows and airports compete with each other to brighten the passenger experience, at least on the ground

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You get a great view of aircraft that depart from SFO toward the northwest. 

Kent German/CNET

San Francisco International (SFO) opened its observation deck in February inside the G Concourse of the International Terminal. It's behind security so you'll need to be flying somewhere to visit, but non-travelers will be able to join the fun later this year when SFO opens a pre-security outdoor terrace above Terminal 2.

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I was able to see the existing deck last week. It was a warm spring day and the deck was packed with people catching some sun in a few wooden chaise lounges or eating at one of the outdoor tables. The space affords an expansive view over the northern half of the airport, including the gate where Lufthansa parks its visiting Airbus A380. The runways are mostly hidden, but you can catch aircraft that take off toward the northwest. If art is more your thing, there are a few sculptures set in planters to view.

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A beer garden with a view? That's my kind of place.

Kent German/CNET

The airport's newest attraction is a nice diversion as you wait for a flight, but its Europe that really knows how to play the observation deck game. Two of my favorites are Hamburg, which has an attached beer garden, and Amsterdam, which hauled a Fokker F100 aircraft right onto the deck. Other airports with places to spot planes include Munch, Zurich, Cape Town, Auckland, Sydney, Nagoya, Hong Kong, Baltimore and Minneapolis.

SFO's observation deck is open 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. every day. Just bring your camera.