The Best Part About the New Emirates First Class Is Its Virtual Windows


I don’t know about you, but when I saw the new Emirates First Class product, I gasped.

No, no. I’m not talking about the fully-enclosed suite or the fancy bed or anything like that (though, yes, it is quite nice-looking). Rather, it was the windows that grabbed my attention. These may look like normal windows, but oh, they’re so much more.

See, Emirates laid out its new First Class suites in a 1-1-1 configuration on the 777. The suites on the sides are treated to several windows, but what could Emirates do about the suites in the middle? Some people love aisle seats and others love windows. (And there are probably a strange few who even prefer neither for some unknown reason.) But people generally prefer to have an aisle AND window when possible. And if you’re in First Class, that seems like quite a reasonable request. There obviously can’t be windows in the middle of the aircraft, so Emirates did something awesome. It installed virtual windows. You can see them in action in this video:

I spoke with Emirates to get a better sense of how this technology works. The airline will be mounting 3 cameras on one side of the aircraft. Those will work together to create a real-time view that will be displayed in those middle suites. I don’t know exact details of where the cameras are placed, but considering this technology is only impacting a couple of suites toward the front of the aircraft, I assume they’ll be in that general vicinity.

The end result is going to be a view that should mirror what you’d see when looking out a real window. Though there is presumably the possibility of being able to offer different views or content on those “screens,” Emirates won’t. It is simply treating these as if they’re regular windows, and that means you will be able to see what’s outside in real-time and only that. Of course, you can close the shades if you want and see nothing instead, but it won’t be anything fancier than just a window with an electronic shade.

This is much different than the standard camera views that you can get through an airline’s entertainment system. In those, you feel like you’re, well, watching a video. But with these windows, you will feel like you’re actually looking outside. It may sound like a minor difference, but it’s not.

024 Tail Camera

So why is it that I’m so excited about this? Well, I love windows. I will sit in a window seat every single time. But windows are also a real pain. (Just ask the designers of the original de Havilland Comet.) They add stress and complexity to an airframe that could be completely avoided with virtual windows. Just imagine a cargo aircraft with no windows on it. Now imagine you sitting inside that airplane but being able to “see” outside just like on a regular commercial aircraft. Though I don’t build airplanes myself, I would assume the ability to remove windows from the fuselage would allow for a stronger, simpler, and better aircraft.

This kind of technology can also allow designers to really get creative on new aircraft. Think about the B-2 stealth bomber. That kind of triangular “flying wing” design” could lend itself to commercial aviation some day, but windows would be a real challenge. Now imagine that could be built with virtual windows throughout the cabin, giving people a constant ability to look out without requiring any structural work.

Heck, you could make the whole airplane a virtual window if you want. That would result in something similar to Airbus’s 2050 concept airplane (though that plan apparently would, in theory, use transparent cell membranes or something crazy like that).

Yes, this may seem like it’s just a fake window, but it’s so much more. I’m excited about what it might mean for future aircraft development. Oh… and yeah, those new Emirates suites look pretty darn nice too.

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16 comments on “The Best Part About the New Emirates First Class Is Its Virtual Windows

    1. Kevin – I wasn’t able to get specifics on where the tech comes from. (They were going to find out and get back to me, but I didn’t want to wait to post.) But I imagine it’s something similar.

      1. And Disney Cruise Line interior “magic porthole” cabins.

        Will animated characters fly by on these though?

  1. One of the advantage of being in the middle is the ability to peek at what’s outside on both sides ! Lost with those inside panelling to make the suites !…
    Anyway, still a nice gadget, but was it really necessary to sell or comp the seat ?

  2. That business class cabin looks terrible. 2-3-2? Is that typical for Emirates? How does the person on the window or middle get out without disrupting other guests? Herringbone or staggered FTW.

    1. Matt – Yes, on the 777 that is typical for Emirates. It’s shocking that so many people think of Emirates as having a superior product when that only exists on the A380. At least these new ones are fully flat. The ones out there today are angled!

  3. One missing element is being able to see outside from different angles. What if I wanted to watch as that cloud passes along to side of the aircraft. I can’t since I presume the camera will only be pointed out and not to the sides nor up or down also. Do you know if this ‘window’ allows VR like views? Will I be able to see that blue Ocean or the snow capped mountains as they pass below the aircraft?

    1. I agree with Will. The more they try to make it look like looking outside a window, the less it looks like looking outside a window. It is what it is…looking at a monitor of a picture of part of a view outside the aircraft. It can never replace looking out a window. And it looks fake because the resolution isn’t good enough. EK is not going to splurge on 8K screens and 8K video.

      This is a gimmick to make the middle suite look less like a downgrade compared to the window suites. It’s better than no view, I guess. But it isn’t deserving of the over the top hype its getting either.

      This better not be the way of the future. I’d be pissed if I paid for a window seat and instead got a monitor with a fixed in space video feed at a not at all lifelike resolution in place of having a window.

    2. Will – Considering there are three cameras involved, I would assume there would be an element of depth here. The only way to find out is to try it.

      1. My guess is that the 3 cameras are so that you don’t have the exact same image in all three windows. With slightly different images, it’s more likely to fool your brain.

  4. It’s so exciting to read about someone so excited about virtual windows in a cabin whose occupant probably emits more greenhouse gases on one flight than an African village emits in a year or more. Isn’t life wonderful for the privileged!

  5. This would be a neat solution for the windowless row in the 737. They need to adapt some of the AR tech and track the head position of the viewer, and then present the view as appropriate for that person. It’d really add a sense of depth, if it could be done well. If you had a 360 video feed in the cabin you could do the same thing with personal devices, where a device could be made to look like it’s a window that looks through the aircraft, no matter where you point it.

  6. This is the perfect opportunity for a great prank. Late at night they need to have the screens play the scenes from The Twilight Zone with the monster on the wing tearing the plane apart.

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