Windowless Airplane? I Still Say No Thanks

The advent of airplanes one day becoming windowless has again been mentioned since I first wrote this article on the topic back on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 — and my opinion is still unchanged.

Windowless Airplane? I Still Say No Thanks

Eliminating windows aboard airplanes can reduce the weight of the aircraft — which could translate into less fuel consumption — while simultaneously increasing its strength by eliminating weaknesses in the structure of the fuselage and resulting in airplanes possibly flying at faster speeds. Windows could be replaced with plastic display screens as one of several solutions.

Similarly — as I first reported in this article on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 — aircraft manufacturer Airbus SAS is seeking to eliminate the traditional cockpit as we know it from airplanes in the future. The company has already received a patent in the United States for an aircraft of the future where pilots — possibly seated downstairs in the belly of the aircraft in front of the cargo hold or upstairs in the tail — could view real-time images displayed digitally rather than traditionally through windows of a cockpit.

Discussion even occurred with which windowless airplanes could mean bringing back supersonic air travel. According to this report written by Daisy Carrington for CNN, Aerion Corporation is working on a jet that would reach Mach 1.6 and would possibly be ready for release by 2020; while Spike Aerospace has announced plans for the S-512, a business jet that could travel at speeds of Mach 1.8 and would be available by 2018. The return of supersonic travel would be exciting news — but what would be the cost? Would the elimination of windows be essential for either sub-orbital flights or an evacuated tube transport system — both of which purportedly promise to propel you from New York to Beijing in approximately two hours by as soon as the year 2020?

Potential Disadvantages to Windowless Airplanes

“However, there are a few safety concerns when it comes to eliminating the windows”, according to this article written by Cailey Rizzo of Travel + Leisure. “Cabin crew use the windows for safety checks and during emergency evacuation. To become a reality, the fiber-optic cameras would need to prove there is no lag and that they have a reliable back-up system. A compromise could be only having real windows at the points of emergency exits, one aviation consultant suggested to the ABC.”

If windows aboard airplanes are replaced by technology, what happens if the system becomes inoperable? Do passengers sit in a dark airplane for the duration of the flight? I cannot tell you how many times the in-flight entertainment system either malfunctioned or was disabled while I was a passenger on an airplane — and do not get me started about members of the flight crew who for some reason were unable to operate a video cassette recorder long after that technology became obsolete. If members of the flight crew could not get those little monitors to display images and videos correctly, what makes me think that they can reliably do this with a continuous screen throughout the aircraft?

Implementation of this technology is almost certain to include advertising. I am not against advertising, as it helps to fund many products and services which we can enjoy free of charge or at reduced costs — but do I really want a giant video selling me on the virtues of driving a luxury vehicle or attempting to get me to sign up for a credit card?

Also, how does this technology resolve the debate of the window shade, which is a controversy that has been ongoing for years? Can passengers adjust the brightness of the screens near their seats? What if a passenger does not want to have the screen display any images at all? Does this mean the continuous image will be interrupted by empty black holes?

Summary

I typically enjoy a window seat. It offers an opportunity to look at the marvels of both mankind — with the cities built and the ribbons of highways on which tiny metal cars traverse — and the wonders of nature, from majestic mountains to billowy clouds in all sorts of different formations. To see a sunset or a sunrise from the air is an especially magical treat to enjoy and embrace.”

The same thoughts were true on my very first flight from New York to San Juan on American Airlines when I was barely a teenager; they were true when I first wrote that statement back on Tuesday, October 4, 2011; and those thoughts still hold true today.

I truly enjoy the transformation of our wonderful planet evolve before my eyes — aided by the combination of the rotation of the Earth with the jet propulsion of the metal tube in which I am seated. I have always enjoyed guessing where I am without the aid of a map tracking the flight — and I am usually correct…

…unless I am over some vast expanse of water — then all bets are off on that one. The cloud formations then take over my attention — if there are any clouds present in the sky, of course. I am awed by just how deep blue the color of the sky can be; and at night, I enjoy watching the stars seemingly so close that you can just reach up and grab one. Thunderstorms below give the impression of flashes from the cameras of a thousand photographers under a veil of puffy cumulonimbus clouds. Complemented by the music to which I enjoy listening while in flight, I am truly mesmerized and entertained. The window on an airplane during a flight is my favorite mode of in-flight entertainment.

I do not want to look at some continuous screen plastered throughout the walls and seats of the cabin to see the outside. My understanding is that the view can instantly be changed: the screens could show Paris while I am a passenger on an airplane heading from Buenos Aires to Seoul. I may as well use my own computer in the comfort of my home to do that using some mapping software…

…although one possible advantage is that I could probably see more of the outside with the screens than with a typical window in a conventional airplane — but somehow I do not believe that would be enough to change my mind.

I get it that windows add weight to an airplane; and that they contribute to reduced efficiency and increased drag, which can decrease fuel economy and therefore add to the operating cost of the aircraft. How much do you want to bet that if airlines started flying windowless airplanes that they will pass the savings of their costs on to you and me?

Although I am all for finding ways to improve technology while simultaneously protecting the environment as diligently as possible, I am not convinced that the removal of the traditional cockpit from aircraft is part of the answer — nor am I convinced that windowless airplanes in general are part the solution either.

Speed, comfort, efficiency, technology — go ahead and improve all of that. Just leave my windows alone, please.

In other words: with all due respect to the implementation of windowless airplanes, my response is still a resounding no.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

2 thoughts on “Windowless Airplane? I Still Say No Thanks”

  1. JohnB says:

    I’m with you on keeping windows. I love the changing view, trying to decide where I’m currently at, and picking out various sights. Even if technology can give us some 4K or 5k image, it would be more static than me swiveling my head left/right/up/down. Then there is the cost. I don’t see airlines providing that hi-def imaging throughout the plane, not in back and likely not up front. Look at the quality of seat back monitors now.

  2. Lrdx says:

    Unless you are working for Boeing or Delta or the DOT, you don’t really have a word in this though..

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