Erik, visit NYCAviation.com - you will find extensive spotting guides to the NY area airports, and friendly folks on the forum to help you out.. You can get to some of the popular spotting locations around JFK
via public transportation. It's not easy or fast, but we have a few members of the local spotting community who do travel that way. You do have to watch for runway changes at JFK
, as you can miss a bunch waiting on the bus to get to a new location.
I haven't spotted much at PHL
, and never via public transportation, so I can't help you much there, but we have a couple of regulars on the forum (here and NYCA
) who can give you advice.
You will not have your gear confiscated by the police. You may be questioned, so have your ID
/passport handy, be friendly and polite, and you shouldn't have any problems. Occasionally you may find a police officer who gives you a tough time, but they are becoming fewer, and most of the time, police are simply checking you out because some "concerned citizen" reported something. It is not illegal to take photos of airplanes, despite what some people try to tell you, and you should be fine.