Windowless Airplanes? Not for Me

By Robert Mark on September 16th, 2018

By Micah Engber

Recently there has been much discussion about windowless passenger aircraft becoming the wave of the future. Based on the direction society is now moving I’m sure it’ll become a reality at some point. I also suspect that at some time we’ll see windows becoming either luxuries for the rich, or old technology left for the poor. Think about it, we already have windowless offices. Even in many offices that still have windows, those windows are left for the upper class highly paid top executives. The rest of us schlubs work in windowless cubicles and never see outside during a working day. Unless we’re let out for recess.

The kernel of this story was originally written in May of 2013 and many of you may have heard it before, but it has been made relevant again by the thought of windowless travel, and how, at least as I see it, most people won’t even notice. Here’s why.

I was ready to fly Jetblue Flight 607 but it was over an hour late departing Portland, Maine. I wasn’t worried though, I’d already changed my connecting flight in JFK. All was well and I’d just end up in Fort Lauderdale instead of West Palm Beach, really not that big of a deal.

The Embraer E190 was far from full with over 30 unfilled seats. In fact I changed my place from 16A, what was called an “Even More Legroom” seat, to 25A the last row of the aircraft that was completely empty. You see that allegedly premium seat was positioned between windows. How could they sell a premium seat for more money when there wasn’t even a window in that row? How little did I know?

We took off to the west on Runway 29 from PWM and started to bank south at about 1,000 feet. I had this whole row, both sides of it to myself, and there was no one around me. It was the back of the plane, the ghetto in passenger aircraft, but I guess I can be pretty ghetto if I have to, part of my heritage I suppose. My people were the original ghetto dwellers.

I never understood this strange phenomenon of ghettoizing the back of an airplane when all the seats are the same. If you haven’t paid for an upgrade, as I had, but ended up not using, all seats have the same seat-pitch and the same recline. Why is everyone so concerned about being in the front of the plane? Is it that two minutes extra it just might take to get off the aircraft upon arrival really worth the struggle to sit up front?

After take-off, and our bank to the south as we climbed out I could see the horse-shoe curves of the Scarborough Marsh; just a bit further east I could see Pine Point in Scarborough, Maine and could even make out my friend’s house by the beach. The E190 continued to climb and we were headed toward New York.

It was a beautiful clear day and I was looking East out my window with the entertainment system set to the moving map so I could track our speed and altitude. We were flying right down Interstate Route 95, only at 18,000 feet.

I could see Portsmouth, New Hampshire clearly, the Piscataqua River, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and the Submarine Albacore Memorial Park. Off in the distance, out in the Atlantic was the Isle of Shoals. It was stunning! I glanced up to the seatback screen; we were booking it, making up for lost time, traveling to JFK at 512 miles per hour at 21,000 feet.

By now we were over Boston. I could clearly see the Zakim Bridge over the Charles River and even make out the cable stays. There was the Charlestown Navy Yard and Old Ironsides the USS Constitution; further to the east Logan Airport was clear as a bell. A moment later we were over Providence, Rhode Island and Greene Airport. Newport was clearly visible and I could even see some of the stately old mansions from the 19’th Century.

We cruised past Newport and I was looking back at it when I realized I could see the tail of the E190 from my seat. That was a first for me from a commercial aircraft.

I looked up inside the plane and down the aisle to the flight deck door. In all honesty I couldn’t believe what I saw; everyone in the plane was looking at one or two screens at a time. Most had the window shades down.

I wanted to stand up and scream, shout out loud, “HEY YOU GUYS WE’RE FLYING!! WE’RE MOVING AT 512 MILES PER HOUR ALMOST 4 MILES HIGH IN THE AIR. HEY, DON’T YOU KNOW YOU’RE RIDING ON A MOVING MAP!! I couldn’t believe the complacency and lack of interest. If this flight were advertised as a narrated guided tour people would pay thousands of dollars for it, but as an $80.00 airline flight it was simply an inconvenience.

We crossed Long Island Sound and I could clearly see the north and south forks of Long Island, Block Island, The Hamptons and Montauk. We started to slow down and descend. Then came an announcement from the flight deck, JFK had ATC delays and was putting us in a holding pattern. There was a collective moan from the cabin, frankly I’m surprised anyone heard it, but I was delighted, really happy about it actually.

We made our turn to the east and headed back north. I was now looking north across Long Island Sound towards Connecticut. I could make out New Haven, Bridgeport, and Stamford. This flight just couldn’t get any better, but then it did.

We were now at 12,000 feet, 300 miles per hour and made another turn when I saw it, an American Triple 7 in what was then the new livery. Airplane spotting from 12,000 feet, WOW! I watched it until it was out of sight.

Another turn and it got better again, a beautiful big green bird against a clear blue sky, an Aer Lingus A330, but closer. An announcement from the flight deck told passenger not to panic and explained ATC separation standards to keep passengers calm. But there was no panic; no one had even noticed, everyone’s head was buried in an electronic screen, all the shades were down. No one had seen the other planes but me, and I sure wasn’t panicked.

One last turn and we were cleared to land; what a shame. I was intentionally the last one off the plane and stopped in the flight deck to thank the Captain and First Officer for a wonderful ride. I am not sure if they were happy or puzzled that a 50 something year old man had an ear to ear grin on his face like a little boy.

I had one more surprise in store for me, another first, and another reason why windows are important to me, not just on aircraft but at airports. When I got into JFK’s Terminal 5 and looked across from my arrival gate out the big picture window, on the other side from where we parked I got to see my first Airbus A380. Thank you Singapore Airlines! It was parked right next to a Virgin Atlantic A340 which gave me great perspective. That A380 may be ugly, but it is one big monster. Seeing them together once again showed me that the A340 is my favorite looking Airbus. What fine lines! But that’s another story.

So, windowless commercial airplanes? Probably not for me. Substitute TV screens for windows, not my idea of flying either. I mean why bother to go at all at that trouble? Why not just see far off lands or meet people on TV as well?

My guess though, after a bit of public uproar we’ll see the windows go away, and soon after that, the TV screens too. After all why would anyone want to look outside? No one does anyway.

For Jetwhine, here in Portland, Maine,

This is Your Main(e) man,


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One Response to “Windowless Airplanes? Not for Me”

  1. Bill Palmer Says:

    Right on point!
    As a pilot working international flights we sit up front and enjoy the majestic views of many beautiful places: the beauty of Greenland’s glaciers and deep blue ice-water lakes, mountains scapes and familiar shapes known from maps – the great lakes and Grand Canyon, Arizona’s meteor crater, Monument Valley, the powerful beauty of storm clouds poking into the stratosphere lit up from inside by strobing lightning bolts, and dancing curtains of northern lights and noctilucent clouds both of which are a rare sight for most people. How many have seen the volcanoes on the Kamchatka peninsula? Can you find the Great Wall of China? Untold thousands could have – few took the opportunity to lift up the shade.
    A walk through the cabin reveals that all the window shades are down. Sleeping, movies, texting, and meals supersede the killer views just outside. Even if someone would dare to lift their shade they are often admonished for shining light into the circadian lows of other travelers. You’re 7 miles up going 525 mph over beautiful terrain – NO LOOKING!

    At one time we had maps that we referenced with all sorts of interesting landmarks and little facts about them to point out along the way. Many people enjoyed the guided tour. Now the entertainment is inside on every seat back, those PAs are a nuisance, and the mind-numbing power of the digital screen has won out over reality here too.

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