Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Why is that so?

There is something about planes and trains that keeps puzzling me, and almost every time I am on one or the other, I think of writing about it.

Today, I finally sit down to do so, and I can not help but wonder if other people have noticed and wondered about the same thing:
the distance at which the seats on trains and planes are placed in correspondence - or, rather not corresponding - to the windows.

How many times have I booked a window seat on a train, only to find myself sat right next to a stretch of plain wall, having to crane my neck or sit rather uncomfortably, leaning forward, if I wanted to see something else than the pages of my book or magazine?
The same happens often enough when I am on a plane; I ask for a window seat (or book one when I use self-check-in) and end up not knowing whether to lean way back or forward in order to have a view of the outside.

And it happened just the other day, when, a week before Easter, I travelled to England to see the family:

I took this picture from my seat on the plane, determined to finally write this blog entry, and you can clearly see that my normal field of vision would have been with the wall right there in the middle of my seat space instead of a window.

Now, why is that so?
Who plans these things in a way that they do NOT correspond?

Of course I know that many different companies deliver the various parts of a machine as complex as a train or a plane, and I am quite sure that whoever designs the hull and determins where the windows are going to be is higher up in the production line than the companies who deliver and mount the seats.

But why can't those people who design the interior not do their layout according to the blueprints of the hull, which I am certain they can get hold of if they need to?
Why can't they say, for instance, "Right, these windows are spaced at an interval of xx.xx cm (or inches) from each other, so let's place the seats at a corresponding interval, making it one seat per window" ?

It should be simple enough, a naive person like me thinks.
When I have a dining room or a study to furnish, I will make sure that the dining table or desk is placed at just the right distance to the window, and when someone decides to hang curtains, they usually take a tape measure to have the right length and width of each curtain fitting each window, don't they?

So why does a similar principle not apply to trains and planes?

Right now, I don't know the answer, and I have no idea whether I will ever find out.
But most of the time, in the end I do get to see something from where I am sat on that train or that plane - as I did last time, when we left the airport in Stuttgart and I was able to take this picture:


  1. Is that Heathrow? What a great shot.
    Maybe the window placement has something to do with the person who does not have a window seat.
    So they can look too, and not crane around you to have a view as well?
    Hope you had a wonderful trip

  2. No, it's just after leaving Stuttgart (South Germany).
    Your theory would be plausible - if there would be a proper ratio seats:windows, but there isn't; the seats are not evenly distributed according to the number of windows at all, and that's why I find this so odd, there is no recognizable pattern in it.
    I did indeed have a wonderful trip, thank you!

  3. My initial thought is that they could certainly design "one seat one window." They may build pieces in different places but somewhere there is a single blueprint. So the frustrating neck strain must be the result of conscious decision. My guess is that our visual pleasure is secondary to more important criteria. Maybe windows are designed in order to provide minimum structural weakness and weight. And seats are designed to fit as many as possible into the plane to make it more profitable. So if there are more window seats than windows then the odds are against getting one right next to an actual window.

  4. Mark, I am quite sure that's the truth behind this mystery. There probably is not such a discrepancy between the number of seats and windows on a private plane.

  5. Thanks for stopping by! Weren't those daffies pretty!

    Personally, I think it's all about the $$$$!!! I think some designer plans it perfectly and then some business manager says to squeeze 10 more sardines into the can! That's my take on it . . . forget about comfort! Just sayin . . .

  6. Well, from all the comments on here and on another platform where I have posted this, I gather this must be the true reason.
    Hardly surprising, actually.

    Thank you for stopping by, too, Mary!

  7. Sorry for writing in german... :-)
    Es ist ganz einfach: Ein Flugzeugtyp wird völlig unabhängig davon gebaut, wie später das Innenleben aussieht. Und Fenster in einem Flugzeugrumpf können nur dotz platziert werden, wo es die Statik zulässt.
    Moderne Maschinen haben viel mehr Fenster als Sitzreihen, eine Airbus 320 z.B. hat über 40 Fenster, aber i.d.R. nur 30 Sitzreihen. Trotzdem lässt sich das nicht synchronisieren. Ähnlich ist es in einem Zugwaggon. Es wird immer die Hülle separat geplant vom Interieur, jeweils ohne Rücksichtnahme darauf. Nur bei Einzelanfertigungen (z.B. Regierungsmaschinen) kann man solche Details mit in die Planung einbeziehen.

  8. Hallo Peter, vielen Dank für deine Erläuterung! Schade, dass da so wenig Kommunikation zwischen den Planungsteams von Innen und Außen herrscht.

    Darf ich fragen, wie du auf meinen Blog gestoßen bist?

  9. Hi, I'm reading backwards in your blog just now....I think originally the planes were planned and built with one seat by one window and then as times were economically harder the companies reconfigured the interior to cram as many people as possible in the space available and lost the original pleasant and sensible design. This may not account for all the discrepancy, but it surely does for quite a lot.