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Airlines use differently sized seats and arrange them at different distances, of course, even if we look just at Economy class, but since windows are so small – probably due to technical constraints – there are always more of them than rows of seats. For many a passenger it is a joyful experience to sit next to a window and look outside (when it is not too cloudy).

To enhance the user experience, would it make sense to have exactly one well positioned and well sized window per row?

PS: I tagged this question with cars, because it applies to busses and trains, too, although there windows are much larger often the spaces in between them block the view from some seats.

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    I suspect that if you asked airline passengers for a list of 'things which would enhance their user experience', there would be other items of higher priority than window positioning. – PhillipW Feb 8 '15 at 22:09
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not a UX question. Airlines don't care about users or their experiences. – DA01 Feb 9 '15 at 2:23
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    @DA01 - I don't thinks it's true that airlines don't care about UX, Airlines do care, but know that the passengers don't really care and they will choose a flight based almost entirely on price. Some airlines on popular routes do provide superior service, but even they have trouble competing. – Johnny Feb 9 '15 at 3:05
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    @DA10 - isn't cost/benefit always a factor in UX? It could be that a $100,000 immersive VR chamber gives the best UX for online shopping, but few could afford it so instead the designer uses a web interface. Likewise, a private suite may give the best in-flight UX, but few could afford it, instead we have cattle-class economy seats for the masses and business+first class for those that are willing to pay for a better UX. There's little demand from most consumers to pay more for better service. – Johnny Feb 9 '15 at 5:50
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    Is this question a joke? "For many a passenger it is a joyful experience to sit next to a window and look outside (when it is not too cloudy)." According to who? Why do they bother with in-flight entertainment then? – Wander Feb 9 '15 at 10:42
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To expand a bit on jamesqf's answer, while the airlines decide much of the interior layout, window placement is driven by structural elements of the aircraft. An airliner fuselage has a series of circular frames, and windows go in the gaps between these frames:

777 fuselage

You can't really change the window alignment without changing frame spacing, and doing that is a major airframe modification that requires regulatory approval. So long as airliners are built with this basic structure, you cannot easily change window spacing on the same type. Furthermore, structural demands dictate that window spacing is going to be completely uniform, like the frame -- even if airliners came from the factory with a fixed seat layout, you'd have trouble aligning all the rows of a multi-class cabin (your business/first class would need seat spacing to be an integer multiple of the spacing in economy). It's not just that you can't change windows when you change seating, it's that window spacing basically must be identical and uniform on all aircraft of a type.

While it may not be great for UX to have misaligned windows if all else were equal, it's the natural result of this structural design dictating uniform window spacing and other concerns (e.g. fitting as many people as possible, having more legroom in some seats without having to give them too much more) dictating non-uniform seat spacing. You could align them if you have few seats and can align seats to windows, but that leads to inefficient use of space in the plane.

  • 1up for the picture that clearly shows that technical constraints have already been maxed out: windows could hardly be any bigger with these frames. The one thing Boeing/Airbus/… could do is to put one window in every other frame only, if airlines really wanted 1 per row (or none) instead of 1+1/2 (or more). UX at manufacturers is probably mostly concerned with pilots and maybe cabin staff, because the interior is done by the airlines themselves or 3rd parties. If their design process was truly UX-driven they would perhaps increase frame width enabling more flexible window size and position. – Crissov Feb 9 '15 at 7:45
  • If the airframe were designed around the seating arrangement, would there be any technical problem with designing a plane with a first-class cabin that had window spacing e.g. 1.5x normal but had two ribs between windows rather than one? – supercat Feb 9 '15 at 14:53
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    @supercat Well, the first problem would be that every airline has their own seating layout and, obviously, redesigning the entire airframe for every airline is cost-prohibitive. (I think that statement is a good candidate for "understatement of the century.") Also, even the same airline will change their seating layout over the life of the aircraft. Additionally, aircraft are commonly sold to other airlines as they age. The real answer, though, is that the design is driven by preventing the airframe from disintegrating, not by window placement. – reirab Feb 9 '15 at 15:58
  • @reirab: I agree that the uncertainties of seating arrangement would limit the usefulness of non-uniform window spacing; I was questioning your claim that design constraints force window spacing to be completely uniform. I would expect that having spacing be non-uniform would add some cost, but I wouldn't think it would be particularly large. Of course, any cost is too large if it doesn't add value. – supercat Feb 9 '15 at 16:42
  • @supercat I didn't claim that. I think what cpast meant by "identical and uniform on a type" is that all aircraft of the same type (FAA-speak for 'model') have to be identical to each other, not that the spacing has to be the same throughout the aircraft. What I was saying, though, is that the airframes are optimized for strength and efficiency, not for window placement. – reirab Feb 9 '15 at 16:49
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The problem is that seat layouts are something that is decided by the airlines, not the aircraft manufacturer. There are a large number of possible seat layouts for any particular model, for instance http://www.airbus.com/aircraftfamilies/passengeraircraft/a330family/a330-300/cabin-layout/ In addition, seat layouts for any particular plane might be reconfigured several times over its operating life. So to get one window per seat, you'd have to build the planes with reconfigurable windows.

Then too, it seems that the great majority of people would rather watch movies or TV reruns than look outside :-(

  • The Airbus page only shows horizontal options (i.e. 4 through 9 seats per row), but for window alignment the vertical alignment is decisive. I don’t know how much variance there is; the distance between standard and emergency exits doesn’t seem like one could fit in another row just by squeezing leg room a bit more, but maybe I’m wrong. – Crissov Feb 9 '15 at 7:55
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    You're greatly underestimating what Ryanair is willing to do to squeeze one more row in! – skolima Feb 9 '15 at 9:02
  • They can't legally touch the emergency exit rows, though. – Jon Story Feb 9 '15 at 13:54
1

would it make sense to have exactly one well positioned and well sized window per row?

That depends on what "well-sized" means. If it is just large enough so several people could theoretically look through it at a time, that might not be enough, because the window could still be blocked by the person sitting right next to it. In that respect, two small windows could even be advantageous compared to one moderately large one, as the passenger sitting next to the windows will probably look right out of the rear one (and thereby block that), while still providing a clear line of sight for the other passengers through the forward one.

Some remarks on this:

For many a passenger it is a joyful experience to sit next to a window and look outside (when it is not too cloudy).

Yes, though there are also some circumstances opposing this:

  • For some passengers, it is the absolute horror to look out of the window while flying.
    • Unfortunately, my flight experiences have led me to suspect that some of these passengers deliberately pick window seats so they are in control over the window and close the blind immediately, thus denying passengers who want to enjoy the view their wishes.
  • And even when that's not the case, some airlines tend to have flight attendants who ask all passengers to close the window blinds. This can happen to block out sunlight during an on-board night (somewhat understandable), or so as to not disturb the in-flight entertainment (annoying and inacceptable, IMHO, and luckily getting less prevalent with the increased proliferation of per-seat screens rather than per compartment screens).
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Yes. It would make sense to have exactly one well-positioned well-sized window per row.

I believe airlines should be more fully regulated because, right now, passenger experiences are abysmal. I think the airlines need to adhere to more stringent regulations that govern passenger comfort even if it drives up prices. Right now, it's like paying for torture.

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    Vote with your money, if an airline pushes its seating configurations to rock bottom, then find another airline or get a first/business class. No need for regulations to get involved. Regulators only need to be involved to establish the minimum safety standards, and market forces can play out the rest. – Lie Ryan Feb 8 '15 at 22:56
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    @LieRyan this is completely off topic, but FYI, at least in the US, there really is no voting with your money. You are stuck with the particular airlines in your particular hub and often there is no significant difference in terms of customer service between them all. They're all working with the same business model. – DA01 Feb 9 '15 at 2:25
  • @DA01 - sometimes there is choice, I always try to take Virgin Air or Jet Blue when possible. There's alot I like about Southwest, but don't like their lack of seat assignments. – Johnny Feb 9 '15 at 3:02
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    @DA01 You almost never have only one choice in the U.S. You might only have one choice for direct flights (and even that's not always true,) but every major airline flies into every major city. Also, this answer is complete nonsense. Window placement is a byproduct of airframe design. It has nothing to do with the airlines. – reirab Feb 9 '15 at 15:50
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    @reirab we're playing semantics here. I'm saying that just because there is more than one airline you can choose from, that isn't, itself, much of a way to vote with your money--as one choice isn't significantly better than any other. Air travel is a commodity. The industry knows that, and knows that there isn't a strong reason to have to differentiate themselves all that much. The goal is to get the hub and ride it as long as they can. – DA01 Feb 9 '15 at 16:14

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