Help, My Window Seat Doesn’t Have a Window

One travel writer's reoccurring run-in with the dreaded seat with no view

April 13, 2023 6:51 am
What's a window seat without a window?
What's a window seat without a window?

My life changed on August 30, 2022, and while I wish I could take it back, I know that I can’t. On that day, I boarded a seemingly innocuous domestic flight from Phoenix to Chicago, en route to Swedish Lapland via Stockholm and then Kiruna. I proceeded to my window seat, 11A, and what did I find? A total lack of windows. A barren wasteland of a wall from which I would have no view. The dreaded windowless window seat. 

On that day, my friends turned me into a meme, chiming in from near and far to showcase their real, spectacular, honest-to-goodness airplane windows, in comparison to the ignominy of my absentee window. The merciless no-window window seat struck a chord.

I consider myself a pretty well-seasoned traveler. I’ll live out of a carry-on suitcase for four months at a time, and I damn sure know how to make the most out of an airport shower. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.

Why do some airplane window seats not have windows?

While it’s not a “feature” of every make and model, there are specific aircraft out there, strutting around in the wind without a care in the world, masquerading as normal-windowed planes while displaying window-free windows. It depends on the setup and spacing of seats on a given plane, as well as the specific sub-model of the aircraft being flown. Not all Boeing 767s, say, are the same, and from there, individual carriers then install and operate their own seating configurations. Sometimes the rows and the fates align — or misalign, as the case may be — and you end up with a dead space along the exterior wall.

While I’m a sworn devotee of SeatGuru — and using the service can do wonders to improve your onboard life by avoiding many such situations — in the past, I wouldn’t bother checking seat configurations in detail for short-haul flights. It’s my fault for not following the same personal protocols and performing the correct level of due diligence in these scenarios. But for a three hour flight, what does it even matter? That’s what I thought prior to having the window shut on my guaranteed window seat, at least.

Said memes
Jake Emen

Rows closer to the front aren’t always better

For short-haul flights, I simply choose my seat using the airline’s app or website and their provided seating charts. However, these charts do not disclose when there’s no window, or any other seat issue, for that matter. Worse, my modus operandi is simply to take advantage of my airline status to get as close to the front of the plane as possible, and by doing so, I fell victim to the windowless window seat a second time within a five month span, this time heading to Mexico City on an AeroMexico flight. Soon after, a fellow travel journalist and frequent flier stumbled into the same minefield herself, on the same airline, in the same seat, and for the same reason: our status screwed us over.

On different flights, some number of weeks apart, we each selected seat 9A on an AeroMexico Boeing 737-800 (B738). The airline lists it as a “preferred seat,” meaning you have to pay to select it; unless, like the both of us, your status allows you to select it for free, and your preference is to move closer to the front. It’s the first available free row that you can select via Delta Diamond and its conferred SkyTeam Elite Plus status with partner airlines. And cue Admiral Ackbar, it’s a trap!

That preferred seat has no window, which I’m quite sure is nobody’s preference. I mentioned this to my friend after realizing we had this happen to us in the exact same seat. “Oh that’s true; yes, I got those seats in row 9 because of status, I totally forgot!” the unnamed journalist in question said. “It just seems like when you’ve pre-selected a window seat, and there is no window, the plane is playing a joke on you.”

The Boeing 737-800 is one of the most common planes filling up the fleets of commercial carriers. The aircraft logged 5.53 million commercial flights in 2022, or 17.9% of the global total, ranking as second most in the world. You’ve almost certainly ridden on one or a dozen of them. But as mentioned, you can’t take it for granted that an aircraft is the same from one airline, and configuration, to another. On Delta, the 737-800 (73H) has a litany of windowless windows, but in different spots: rows 13, 15, and 16, with several surrounding rows sporting paltry partial windows. Yet, as with the preferred seats on AeroMexico, these rows are classified as Comfort+, upgradeable from standard economy. An upgrade right into a slap in the face.

The United Boeing 737-800 (738) has three different layouts. In Layout 1, it’s in rows 11 and 12 where you would select a window seat and end up with a seat sans window. I can vouch for that — it was the Boeing 737-800 (738) Layout 1 which got me good on that flight from Chicago to Phoenix. That damn pesky B738! That’s twice she fooled me, bringing the shame, alas, unto me.

It’s not as if that aircraft is the only offender, though. The Qantas Airbus A330-300 can join the party, and on the Lufthansa Airbus A340-300, you can be in premium economy and still win the window-free lottery. We could find examples for almost any carrier, but suffice it to say you’re never safe, not fully.

What have we learned then? It doesn’t matter how familiar you are with an aircraft, all sub-models, operated by different carriers, can be different. And whether it’s for a short- or long-haul flight, you should stop taking airlines at their word in terms of the relative quality, or lack thereof, of their seating charts and the seats they place you into.

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What do the real pros have to say?

To help gain more insight into the phenomenon of wanted-poster window seats I reached out to two flight attendant friends. One works with United and one works for Delta, the two airlines I fly.

I learned that beyond getting screwed over with front-of-cabin economy rows, you can even get the shaft in business class. “Seats 18A and 18L on the 767-300 in the Polaris cabin,” Teresa*, the United flight attendant, warns. SeatGuru does not currently catch those culprits, though it does point out several business class seats in United’s prized Dreamliner with misaligned or make believe business class windows.

Teresa vowed to make a request to get United’s in-app seating chart updated with more information. “I have a friend that works with this department,” she says. Now it sounds like we’re making progress, at least.

It’s not even a given that flight attendants, the ruling dukes and duchesses of the sky, have more information than we do. “Similar to the Delta online seating chart, our work phones have a seat map for each flight, but windows aren’t mapped onto it,” says Kelly, the Delta flight attendant. “I also fly every aircraft and every variation in our fleet, so it’s honestly too much to keep up with.”

If flight attendants can’t keep track of it, how are we supposed to? “It’s happened to me as a traveler too, though at least it was easier to sleep,” Teresa says.

Well then, if you’ve felt the pain yourself, when this happens to me on your flight, is there anything you can do to help me out? “No, it’s a seat with unfortunate circumstances,” she says with a laugh.

Others may be more predisposed to giving you something as a make good. “If a passenger wants to complain to me about not having a window, I’m happy to give them something to compensate them for their annoyance,” Kelly says. “Delta gives us the ability to award miles to passengers who are inconvenienced.”

In full disclosure though, Kelly doesn’t mind helping you out either way. “I’m a terrible employee, but an amazing flight attendant, as every passenger gets free drinks on my flights, windows or no windows,” she says.

Point being, always, always, be nice to your flight attendants. Especially ones named Kelly*.

As for the wearisome window-free window seat, before booking your next flight, be sure to take a few moments and go beyond the seating chart the airline provides to research the specific plane sub-model and seat configuration in question if you hope to avoid the ordeal. Or your friends might turn you into a meme, too.

(*Flight attendant names have been changed. I granted them anonymity so they could feel free to discuss their airlines, and if need be, to talk shit or reveal that they give everyone free booze all the time.)


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