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The Showdown at the Window Seat (wsj.com)
19 points by prostoalex 21 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments

Contender for the biggest non-issue of the year award.

You have a problem with the window screen position and aren't under specific instructions from the flight crew to keep it in its current state? Speak up to your fellow-passengers and find a solution together. It's really not that difficult.

I agree with all you say, but it's a reflection of a new generation of travellers who don't want to interact with other passengers. I've seen the effect over and over again when flying. More and more of the effort of flight attendants is being shifted from serving travellers to acting as a buffer and mediating disputes between passengers.

There's another story on HN now about Amtrak shutting down their dining cars. I read the story, and one of the reasons they are ending dining car service is because when they got focus group feedback from millennials they found that most of them didn't want to sit next to a stranger while dining.

I find the fact that we are more digitally connected than ever before but correspondingly more socially isolated quite troubling.

One of the results from happiness research is that people rate their expected enjoyment from an interaction with a stranger as very low, but if you ask them after such an interaction, they usually rate it very highly.

Maybe we're risk averse because most interactions are mildly positive, but a tiny number are exceptionally bad, triggering the availability hueristic. Not sure.

Either way, we're probably more avoidant than we should be.

Interesting point and I agree as I was about to post something similar. The vast majority of interactions I've had with strangers has been mostly forgettable, but there's a few great outliers in the negative direction that really makes me try and avoid these interactions unless I really need something.

> but there's a few great outliers in the negative direction that really makes me try and avoid these interactions unless I really need something

Especially when it comes to air travel, it's probably a self-fulfilling prophesy. There's the perception that people are grouchy when traveling (and doesn't seem to matter whether infrequent leisure traveler or road-warrior on business) and when we combine that with largely only remembering the negative reactions and...there you go.

Air travel has become so uncomfortable[0] and the loss of control feels so total that people seem more likely to enforce what little territory/control they have just because they can, not for any rational reason.

0 - Yes, yes, I know, mathematically it is cheaper, safer, more frequent, and so on... But it doesn't matter. It's turned passengers into self-loading cargo and every part of the experience, from queuing to be argued with when dropping off a bag (or dealing with a half-broken and poor user experience automated kiosk), then queuing to be yelled at through the shitty experience that passes for "air security" in the States, then queuing in a blob to get onto the pressurized metal tube then squeezing into ever-smaller seats[1], to be lectured at about how the twenty minutes of rules barked at me are for "my safety and comfort" meanwhile I can't even go pee once on a four-hour flight because of the seatbelt sign, and so on. People have compared it to "bus travel in the sky" but I have a far better experience riding King County Metro in Seattle--at least I can move around and pull the cord to get out wherever I want--than I do on almost every airline flight I take.

1 - Yes, yes, I know, you get what you pay for, but increasingly airlines are only willing to sell me two kinds of fares: a) rock-bottom, $79 each way each person, absolutely-nothing-included-except-maybe-emergency-oxygen, 37 rows back next to the aux power unit, and with add-ons bringing the per-way, per-person fare to $341.92; or 2) exotic business class with throne seats, flatware, a three-course meal served even on a flight from Dallas to Houston, no lines anywhere, and a personal thanks of gratitude from the Captain, First Officer, Purser, and Chief Baggage Handler, all for the low price of $4,027.88 per person, per way. On the handful of flights with "premium economy" (that get me a little more leg room, which I like, but no more seat width, which i don't), they're increasingly taken by the airline's Elite Travelers and what used to be $30-$60 to buy up has increased to $70-$100.

Yes. Maybe 75% of the time i discover that the random stranger is a total lunatic. If they arent a flat-earther or trying to convert me to thier cult, they want to complain about how nobody wants to listen to them anymore.

“If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you're the asshole.”

Raylan Givens

This doesn’t sound like a random sample.

Interesting insight yeah, I hadn't yet looked at it that way. I was thinking more along the lines of people these days expecting an unrealistic level of comfort for what they're paying (not just in transit but also theatres etc.). Social discomfort hooks into that though.

I suppose its also true that a lot of people would sooner purchase in-flight WiFi and complain about the window screen position on social media, than talk about it to the person who sits in the window seat.

> they got focus group feedback from millennials they found that most of them didn't want to sit next to a stranger while dining

That's... surprising. The trend in "cantine-style" restaurants is still going strong, isn't it?

I think sitting with a large group of people cantina style is much easier as you’re one in a big crowd. One couple having to sit at a four-person table with just one other random couple? That’s very awkward.

And in related news there's apparently a loneliness epidemic.

> I find the fact that we are more digitally connected than ever before but correspondingly more socially isolated quite troubling.

Those two would seem to go hand-in-hand naturally to me.

> Mr. Hayes thinks it’s a matter of airplane etiquette: Passengers should go with the collective good. “If everyone else has it closed, why do you have to be the one person?” he says. “I personally think it’s a bit selfish.”

I think some people are just wired like this. I think that everyone else having it closed gives them more reason to leave theirs open.

Personally, I love looking out the windows the whole flight. I get to turn my brain off and just look at clouds. That being said, I was raised to be aware of others' needs and if I sense it bothers someone I draw the shade down.

If there's glare on someone's screen or in their face then sure, I'll lower the blind.

Otherwise no. If you care so much, book the window seat yourself. If you want a dark cabin, book a plane where you control the cabin.

When I read any article like this I always go back to Louis CK's "Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy" bit. Like, c'mon people, can't you just let someone happily experience the miracle of flight while you watch your downloaded Netflix shows? Is that so hard?

If you're trying to sleep and the light bothers you, bring something to cover your eyes with. If you can't sleep with something on your face, maybe practice a bit before you fly.

I personally have a _very_ hard time sleeping on moving objects of any kind. I have to be at my wits' end of sleep deprivation to be able to do this. I would not think of suggesting a bus driver stop so I can get my winks -- it's _my_ problem, and I'll deal with it as such.

The sense of entitlement in this article is huge, and this is also one of the most first-world problems ever.

Almost every airline except the budget airlines (Frontier, Spirit, Southwest) make it possible to book a window seat at no extra cost. If it's this much of a problem to you, you should get a window seat yourself to grant yourself that control.

> The FAA has no regulations on shades up or down, though many countries require windows in exit rows to be clear for takeoff and landing, when an accident could jam a closed shade and prevent passengers from seeing if they were opening an emergency door into fire.

Is this for real? I was under the impression that SOP is, all shades up during takeoff and landing, for safety reasons. I this mandated in Europe, or do I use a skewed selection of airlines as this has been enforced on every flights in the last years?

I've been told to raise the shades in Mexico & Peru as well, but for the US they don't care.

the FAA not taking a stance doesn't mean that the airlines can't mandate it individually. I thought it was an FAA thing to have the shades up during landing to let in light during a crash to let people see inside the plane but I guess that's not a regulation.

The bigger problem is the middle seats on aircraft with 3+ adjoining seats. Your seat mates almost always commandeer the armrests, and if you're seated with large people, it's miserable.

I've seen a few different seat configurations that fix this, but there isn't really much incentive for the airlines to adopt them.

My rule here is that the middle seat always gets the arm rests because they don’t have the window to lean on or the outside isle for space.

That's a great rule, but often an awkward conversation that can end in an even more miserable flight.

Reminded me of this video of two bus passengers having a silent dispute over window. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQqeTEYBFfM

From the Article:

Mr. Hyman thinks the power breakdown for airplane seating goes like this:

- The window seat passenger gets to control the window shade.

- The middle-seat passenger gets the armrests.

- The aisle-seat flier gets the most freedom of movement.

Basically it's this: If you want to control the shade, book the Window seat. Simple.

The most annoying outcome there is when you book a window seat, only to find no window thanks to a plane switch - at which point it becomes worse than a middle.

Advantage of a windowless window seat is still ability to rest head at an angle against the wall. I can't sleep when I'm forced to sit straight up, I tend to fall-forward and then snap awake and catch myself.

Being able to put my head against something is the difference between sleeping like a baby on the flight and being awake from coast to coast.

Wow people are petty. I think you’re never going to have a good experience in economy - might as well just go to sleep for the duration and not worry about what anyone else decides to do.

I don’t know why people choose to struggle to eat, read, or watch videos.

Unfortunately, there is a large group of the population like myself that is cursed to never be able to sleep on an airplane.

That is a problem for a few reasons:

1. It's hard to sleep for all of a 13+ hour flight (North America->Australia).

2. I'm 6 foot 2, and my head doesn't touch the head rest on most planes (even when it's possible to lift up the thing with head flaps on it). It's hard to sleep when your head is not supported.

I probably don't literally sleep the whole time either, but I do still just put on an eye mask, headphones and sit there and zone out, and don't really expect reasonably to be able to achieve anything more than that.

> I don’t know why people choose to struggle to eat, read, or watch videos.

Because a) I can't sleep on planes and have given up after years of attempts and b) I don't want to sleep at times that will mess up my night-time sleep schedule.

You can definitely learn to sleep anywhere at any time and not have it impact your schedule - anyone who has been in the military learns this very quickly, but I'm not sure if I could tell you what the technique is.

You're overgeneralizing. The vast majority of people in the military are quite young. A few developed the habit when they were young. None have significant health problems, or they wouldn't still be in the military. It's a bit different when you're dealing with an older, less fit demographic. Consider the fact that your bubble does not represent the whole world.

I mean, I am young, fit and free of health problems. I sleep great at home, in hotels, in airbnb's and on ultralight backpacking sleeping pads.

If I board a red eye flight after a tiring day, put in my ear plugs, cover my head and close my eyes, I'll just sit for the duration of the flight without being able to fall asleep and arrive at my destination ruined for the next day.

Anecdotally, people in the military who are able to do this are simply operating in a continual state of sleep deprivation, not something I have interest in replicating.

I can't sleep when the window shades are open...

So buy an eye mask and now it is not a problem.

Or just have a bit of consideration and leave the blind down when the people around you are sleeping.

Not everyone finds eye masks comfortable. Different people respond differently to all kinds of stimuli, so "now it is not a problem" is not necessarily true. My wife can't sleep without an eye mask and earplugs, even at home. My daughter can't abide either. Some people can't stand the vibration on a plane, even if they can block out noise. Some people find the seats unbearable. Suggestions are great, but assuming people haven't already heard them or that their outcome would be the same isn't particularly helpful. It comes across as preemptively dismissing other concerns they might have.

If you've got issues that are this particular then I think you just have to accept that an economy-fare ticket is not going to give you the privacy you want and you're going to be uncomfortable. You may have some genuine unique issue making it impossible to sleep with the blind up but someone else may have some genuine unique issue making it impossible to sleep with the blind down. If people have needs this specific you are never going to find a compromise, are you.

I personally have no problem sleeping on planes, even without artificial aids. I just have empathy for others who are less fortunate, and such issues are not at all "particular" or "unique". Try empathy, and while you're at it try reading comprehension.

Yes we should all try to be as considerate to the needs as others as possible. Unfortunately, if you try to rely on others' consideration when they're not required to do so I think you're likely to be disappointed much of the time - the article is talking about the conflict people find when trying.

> and while you're at it try reading comprehension

You're just being personally abusive here - please don't do that.

>Not everyone finds eye masks comfortable.

You can't sleep with the shade up, nor can you sleep with an eye mask?

Too bad. These are your issues, not those of the people around you. How did we get to the point where everyone expects the people around them to bend to their idiosyncrasies?

I'm confused why one poster's response has been generalized to an "everyone".

Also, I don't think this poster was at all saying that anyone should bend to their idiosyncracies, merely pointing out that the situation may not be as simple as "just sleep with an eye mask".

See my response to chrisseaton, who seems to have the same issues you do.

I can't sleep with an eyemask or ear plugs, hence I'll sleep with a blanket over my head and headphones on playing non-stimulating music - and that's in business class.

I can't sleep on my back, so I can only sleep in a window seat.

Dont worry, windows on planes will go away soon enough. They make planes heavier and are going to be phased out. The replacements, screens, will be a great medium to further monitize the cattle.



My wife and I were on a 10 hour flight to Tokyo earlier this year and we happened to sit next to a lady with unbelievable resolve to keep the window open.

It was a very big plane and in our portion of the plane, every other window was closed (several dozen). We debated asking her to shut it, but decided she must have her reasons.

For a flight that was supposed to have a sleep segment, we were quite grumpy to realize this wasn’t going to be possible.

Why didn't you just ask her? It's not "resolve" if she doesn't know it bothers you.

Didn't the airline provide blindfolds?

Probably another US-specific issue... I am not really a frequent traveler but I've accumulated around 10 legs of flights from Asia to Europe and within each continent. I do not remember encountering anything similar.

I've been flying for many years and I always choose the window seat for the view, and for the best reading light. There is nothing like natural light on a printed page, punctuated by the visual glory of the earth and sky sliding by.

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