Lonely Planet Writer

How to redesign the airplane for the modern traveler

If we've settled one travel-related debate recently, it was this: the modern traveler overwhelmingly prefers window seats.

window_aisle_smIn a poll on the Lonely Planet Facebook page, 888 people jumped at the chance to state their airplane seating preference, and it wasn't even close: 63% of responders preferred window seats. Lonely Planet founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler are in the majority as they both prefer window seats, which presumably makes it rather difficult for them to sit together on flights. Only one person stood up to defend the indefensible middle seat, but only because they like to sit next to their spouse who prefers the window seat.

63% of travelers polled prefer window seats, yet commercial airlines are fitted to have only 33-39% window seats, in direct opposition to consumer demand. Given the low supply to high demand ratio, airlines looking for yet another way to wring additional money out of travelers could conceivably consider charging higher prices for window seats. [Author update: Since this post was first written, airlines have started charging for both window and aisle seats. I'll try to keep my mouth shut the next time I have a potentially evil idea.] A better solution would be to give customers what they want and make flying a more enjoyable experience for everyone, but in order to do this the airplane itself will have to be redesigned to allow for additional window seats. How could this be accomplished?

Solution #1: The Donut Jet concept aircraft

One method of increasing the number of window seats per airplane is to increase the surface-to-volume ratio of the aircraft to provide more window room along the fuselage. To maintain the proportions of a standard passenger jet, a donut-shaped design could achieve this goal.

doughnut_jetArtist's rendering of the Donut Jet in flight

Seating chart for the Donut Jet, showing lack of middle seat

Corrects the window to aisle ratio to match consumer demand.
The dreaded middle seat will cease to exist.
The windows looking out on 'the hole' won't have the best view, but they will please the indecisive and provide the benefits of both window and aisle seats as well as some independence for solo travelers.

Roughly as aerodynamic as a bread pudding and might have an annoying tendency to spin like a frisbee, but let's hope engineers will be able to make this work.

Solution #2: The glass-bottom airplane

This is an elegant 'outside-the-box' solution to the window vs. aisle problem: everyone gets a window, it just happens to be on the floor. This could be done with a simple retrofit of current commercial airplanes: put the cargo upstairs, put the passengers downstairs, replace the metal hull with clear plastic.

'This is your captain speaking: out the bottom of the aircraft you'll see the Golden Gate Bridge.'

Breathtaking vistas on every flight.
2. In-flight bird watching.

Smudging: good luck keeping that bottom window clean.
2. Extreme vertigo and inevitable screaming/sobbing at each landing.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to desirable redesigns of the modern aircraft and doesn't address other known problems, such as inefficient boarding procedures, leg room, sleeping comfort, and overhead bin design. How would you redesign the airplane to make it more traveler-friendly?

Andy Murdock is Lonely Planet's US Digital Editor and prefers the window.