Create An Airport Control Tower With Just A Hotel Room And A Laptop

This is well worth considering if you have kids who are a teeny bit obsessed with planes.

There are often deals to be found at airport hotels in the UK, especially during quieter periods, and try and look for a room that is advertised with a ‘runway view’ (a quick phone call to reservations will usually put you on the right track).

We did this recently at the Radisson Blu at London Stansted, but the Hampton by Hilton offers a good view as well. For other airports, check out one of the many planespotter forums around Google for tips.

If you are anywhere near London Southend Airport (like myself), the Holiday Inn is fantastically placed right on top of the runway and practically half of the rooms overlook it as well. The top-floor restaurant and bar offers the same views (see pic below for ‘Breakfast with the Airbuses’), and I have to say from experience that the staff are fantastic as well. I’m not just saying that because I’m a local and one or two of the team follow me (hi Sam and Louise, btw) – everyone is lovely there and they made a huge effort over lockdown to ensure that local essential and critical workers had somewhere safe to stay.

Once you’re checked in, grab your laptop (or even a tablet to be fair) and head over to flightradar24. If you’re not familiar with this site and mobile app, it is a real-time flight tracker service that shows you the majority of aircraft movements in the skies at any given time. Origin, destination, aircraft type, speed, what the pilot had for lunch … it’s pretty comprehensive. There’s also sometimes a free trial of the premium version as well which gets rid of the adverts, but to be fair it’s not that expensive anyway.

With a little bit of practice, and a second window showing arrivals and departures, your kids (or their parents) can spend many happy hours tracking incoming and outbound flights. Passengers, freight, whatever. Simply search for the flight numbers on the airport’s departure and arrival boards, and you’re all set. I think Luke’s record was four hours straight once, but it’s really good fun.

If you bring a simple HDMI lead with you as well, you can sometimes get the flight tracker on the big screen as well for that extra touch of control tower class. IMPORTANT: I take no responsibility for you buggering up the TV in your hotel room while doing this. Sometimes it’s simple, but sometimes they have all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff in place to stop you using a HDMI lead in the telly. No idea why. You can achieve the same sort of thing with a Chromecast but hotel wi-fi makes it notoriously difficult to do this because it’s one giant network for the whole gaff, and I have been known to take my own USB-powered 4G router into hotel rooms before to try and get around this.

Perhaps this is more of an ‘overnight stay’ thing than a full-blown holiday (although some may beg to differ), but it’s fun regardless.