I just flew in a rear-facing seat for the first time — Here's what it was like
It’s not often that you get the opportunity to fly facing backwards. Few airlines offer rear-facing seats in their cabins, and even when they do, I’ve always been hesitant to try it out. Maybe its because I’m scared I'd get nauseous? Or maybe I just don't like the unknown?
British Airways is the airline flying the largest number of rear-facing seats. In my past flights in Club World, I’ve always made sure to select (read: pay extra, even in business class) for a forward-facing seat. I didn’t want to get stuck on a longhaul flight in a seat I may not like.
So, when my travels brought me to Dallas for the American Airlines MD-80 retirement celebration, I decided to route onto one of AA’s more interesting domestic flights — a shorthaul flight operated by a widebody Boeing 787-8.
American’s 787-8s feature 20 business-class seats. The stakes were low on my two-hour flight from Chicago to Dallas, so I figured I’d assign myself a backwards facing seat. Looking back on the experience (pun intended), I definitely didn’t love it, but I also didn't hate it. Would I do it again though?
I was in love the minute I sat down in Seat 4L. Glancing out the windows and having a direct view of the massive carbon fiber wings and General Electric GEnx-1B engines was nothing short of marvelous.
As an Av-Geek, I jump at any opportunity to get better airplane and airport views. So I was ecstatic when the rear-facing seat afforded me the opportunity to capture great airplane pictures throughout the flight.
Aside from the incredible views, I also loved the thrill of the takeoff roll from my rear-facing seat. As we gained speed on runway 28R, I witnessed the signature 787 wing flex without needing to twist my neck.
I was so excited about this sensation that I quickly promised to choose a rear-facing seat next time I could. However, the excitement I felt towards my rear-facing seat quickly dissipated as our flight climbed to cruising altitude.
Once we crossed through 10,000 feet, I opened my laptop to wrap up some time-sensitive work. As I tried to work, I couldn’t get comfortable.
With the aircraft nose pitched up, every time I tried typing, my computer kept falling backwards. At this point, I definitely started getting nauseous and had to put away my computer until we leveled out at cruising altitude.
Admittedly, the ascent only took 15 minutes, but I definitely felt uncomfortable for the first portion of the flight. Others may be less sensitive, but if I end up flying in a rear-facing seat again, I’ll be sure to enjoy the views until we reach cruising altitude.
Lack of privacy
Many airlines choose to install rear-facing seats for the ability to squeeze more seats into the business-class cabin. This quest to maximize space often comes at the expense of privacy.
Unsurprisingly, my biggest issue with the rear-facing seat was the total lack of privacy. On the AA 787-8, the rear-facing window seats face the aisle, while the center seats in the same row face each other. While this configuration was designed to maximize privacy, I still ended up having multiple staring contests with the woman seated in the center seat 4H. (I won, don't worry.)
To solve for the lack of privacy created by the alternating seat configuration, airlines have installed privacy partitions (hello: British Airways) or doors (hello: Qatar). Sadly, AA chose to install neither, so you’re stuck staring into the eyes of your neighbor across the aisle.
Flying in a rear-facing seat was another item on my Av-Geek bucket list that I've gotten to cross off. I loved the views from the seat, but definitely wasn’t expecting to feel nauseous on the climb out. While the outside views were great, the views inside weren’t, as my seat faced directly into my neighbor’s eyes.
So, would I do it again? It depends. I probably wouldn’t fly backwards again on American. But on another airline where the rear-facing seat actually has some amount of privacy, then I definitely would. The Av-Geek in me can’t get enough of the #views.
All photos by the author.