Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Windows Beware

Take in a show at a live theater and the establishment knows the viewing angle of every seat in the house. They are very careful to point out those seats with a partial or obstructed view so the customers know what they're in for at the point of purchase. Book a "window" seat on an airplane and that is not always what the passenger is going to enjoy, is it?

I booked Qantas to New Zealand a couple years ago and requested the exit row window at the third passenger door over the wing, thinking I had a steal of a seat on my hands. They did not charge an extra fee for the leg room even though the view was 110 feet of metal, I had the sidewall to cuddle up against for the 12-hour flight down south. Nice? Not. The evacuation slide housing jutted in to the space where my legs were supposed to go and all I had was sidewall. The "window" was squarely in the row behind me, forcing my neck to pivot like some drunken owl to see outside if the people in the row behind me decided to leave the shade up in the first place. Lesson learned.

I never like to sit behind the wing of an airplane so when I choose a window seat there's usually an unobstructed view that comes with it. Not so the poor fools who either take what's left or don't know any better, especially when flying on the MD-80 or something similar. On American Airlines there are two rows of seats between the aft galley and the lavatory on the left hand side. Those two rows have windows, the first right next to the engine intake and the second square in the middle of the engine housing itself. How peaceful.

Even in the front, however, things are not guaranteed, as shown by those rows near the entry doors. Some widebodies such as the 767 and 747 run air ducts within the skin of the plane through the sidewalls which forces some rows again to stare at blank panels for the duration of a flight. Heaven help you if you're claustrophobic. To look at the plane from the outside it is easy to see where these window breaks are located. Thanks to the fact that nearly every airline has their own row numbering system, however, it is hard to tell or remember if Row 15 is the one to avoid or Row 21.

You would think that the premium cabins would pay close attention to such details to ensure their best customers always have a window if that is their seat of choice. Think again. The latest cabin designs for some business and first class configurations have angled the seats to what appears to be nearly 45 degrees from vertical. Not facing the window, though, no, but away from the sidewalls with the feet pointed in to the aisle. Really?

Sitting up front is definitely all about the space while the design was probably intended to meet emergency evacuation standards but still. What's the point of the window if my back is to the wall and I have to do the drunken owl neck thing again just to take a look outside? When I wake up from a snooze I like to see if the Milky Way is out there or maybe an island or range of mountains, perhaps.

Then again, I can always ask for a middle or an aisle seat and avoid the problem altogether.

Gotta go.

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