Ask the Captain: Why Aren’t Plane Windows Bigger?

Question: If aircraft weight is so important, why aren’t aircraft windows made larger? Aren’t those materials lighter than the rest of the aircraft?

– Daniel Lilly, Little Rock, Arkansas

Answer: The structure around the window is heavier. If you look at airplanes designed as freighters, they do not have windows. This is done to reduce the weight and maintenance costs.

Q: Is it practical (or safer) to make a fuselage with no windows and use a camera system to allow for virtual windows, so passengers can still see outside via monitors where the windows would be?

– Dave, Jacksonville, Florida

A: It is technically possible, however it would be more expensive and heavier. For those reasons, it is unlikely to occur.

Having windows allows passengers to see if there are threats to a particular side of the airplane, such as a fire following a runway excursion.

Q: Why do flight crew ask us to raise the window shades during takeoff and landing?

– Nehad, France

A: The window shades are opened in case an evacuation is needed. If there is a fire or other obstruction, it is possible to see it before opening an exit.

Q: I happened to travel from Amsterdam to Detroit during daytime, and in the course of traveling we were forced to shut the window shades until we were approaching Detroit. Why shut the window shades during daytime?

– Ikusubisya Kasebele, Tanzania

A: Usually flight attendants will ask that the window shades be lowered on oceanic flights to allow passengers to sleep or watch the entertainment system. There is nothing but ocean to see so helping others sleep or improve the visibility of the screen makes sense. 

Q: As a passenger, usually in the economy section, is there a way to estimate the altitude of the aircraft just by looking out the window?

– Elaine Jobin, Los Angeles

A: No, the cruise altitude would be very hard to estimate from the window. Many newer airplanes have entertainment systems with the flight information available.

John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.

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