My favourite journey is looking out the window," said American writer Edward Gorey. And most will agree with him. A window is a pathway to new light and new truths. Everyone loves a window. What, then, will it feel like to be stuck in a metal tube up in the sky, knowing there are no windows? First-class passengers on the Emirates' Boeing 777-300ERs are about to find out.
No more beautiful sunsets, no fluffy clouds flying by, no gazing into the horizon where the earth meets the sky. At least not for real. The Middle East carrier is set to have a go at virtual windows. What passengers get to see could be just as beautiful as the real thing, but what they see is a projection of what is outside, beamed on the wall using fibre optic cameras.
But why would Emirates bother tampering with an age-old functioning design? The airline is well aware that the idea of windowlessness could bother many passengers.
There are sound reasons for going windowless. Removing windows will make the fuselage, or the main body of the aircraft, lighter, stronger in structure and able to fly faster. Fuel consumption will also go down and it will even enable wider seats. On top of that, CO2 emissions will be reduced. The possible benefits are not marginal but varied and truly substantial.
So far, the windowless area is limited. But according to reports, the airline's President, Tim Clark, has hinted that entirely windowless planes could be there in the not-too-distant future.
As one can imagine, there would be a plethora of safety concerns to work around if an aircraft were to go entirely windowless. There is a reason why passengers are asked to pull up the window shades during takeoffs and landings. In case of an accident, the rescue staff on the outside may need to look in to see what kind of help is needed. In the event of an evacuation, the crew will need to keep an eye out for both inside and outside. Also, keeping an eye on engines and other parts visible from the windows is important for flight safety. While the beamed image will suffice in most cases, what will happen if there is a power problem? One option could be leaving some seats (like the emergency exit row seats) with the regular windows.
As for passengers who feel claustrophobic, it will be a psychological barrier to overcome, but perhaps the virtual windows could counter that feeling.