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Why seats in airplanes are not lined up with windows? Sometimes it hurts your neck

Posted May 25, 2019

Long flights can be quite boring. However, there are ways to entertain yourself. For example, you could spend all these hours looking through the window. You can see many interesting things and the view can be quite mesmerizing. But getting the window seat does not always guarantee a comfortable view out – why seats are not lined up with windows? Why sometimes we have to sit somewhere in between?

Rows of seats are never lined up with windows – you are lucky to get a comfortable view out. Image credit: A.Katranzhi via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Well, first of all, we have to start by looking at the function of the windows. They are there just for your comfort. Plane doesn’t need them. In fact, it would be stronger and more aerodynamically efficient if it had no windows at all. That is why we only get these small windows that are not really that convenient to look out of. Airplane manufacturers have little motivation to improve the window situation. It would be great for passengers, less than perfect for airlines. This is why someday airplanes will have no windows at all. Instead of them we will get some screens, which will display what is happening outside.

For now we still do have and enjoy our windows. But sometimes it is difficult to look out of them, if you get a seat, which is sort of in between two different windows. The one behind you makes you twist your neck and the one in front feels kind of far away. And there are many seats like this. You pay extra to get a window seat and you get a neck exercise with it.

The reason is that the airplane is made by big companies – Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer – you name it. But the seating arrangement is created according to the needs of airlines. Rows of seats are easily moved back and forth, because they are mounted on flexible mounting brackets. Different airlines have different seating schemes and manufacturers do not change the window plan according to them. That would be impractical. Especially having in mind that one airline may decide to change its seating arrangement during the lifespan of the airplane.

All in all, you are lucky to get a comfortable view out. And yet some airlines are still charging extra for the window street. This is a bit of a gamble, because some passengers may be seriously unhappy about the neck exercise and may complain. But, on the other hand, most don’t really mind it. People rarely look through those windows. Nowadays passengers hide their eyes in the screens of their phones and computers. And for those of us still fascinated by the view behind the glass getting two windows for the price of one is not that bad either. As long as others are not trying to close the blinds.

The future without airplane windows seems to be inevitable and quite grim. We get enough screens as is and the normal analogue view through the window seems to be that much more real. Hopefully the industry will find ways to make windows more efficient and stronger. Maybe even bigger. And will not need to install big expensive and power hungry screens.

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