How Flight Crews Control Your Window Shade And When Can Passengers Open Them?

I’ve been barked at by cabin crew for opening my window shade during turbulence on a long flight, just appreciating a bit of situational awareness. This is something that’s happened most often with European cabin crew.

Now that the latest generation of aircraft have electronic window shades, that you control with the push of a button instead of sliding up and down, flight crew can control them all too.

They can dim everyone’s shades in the cabin. They can also lock the shades up or down – up for takeoff and landing, because situational awareness matters in case you need to evacuate the aircraft, and down for darkness to promote sleep (and, perhaps, to promote fewer passengers bothering them).

One American Airlines passenger expressed their frustration at having the shades locked on a daytime flight from London Heathrow to Philadelphia. As I understand it this is not protocol.

About 15 minutes after take off the crew overrode the dimming controls and set the shades to half darkness – I really hate this on a day flight, I want to do this myself and anyone who wants to sleep usually has eye shades. The darkness makes me feel claustrophobic and I like to look out especially if there’s turbulence. Plus daylight is a proven help for jet lag on a west bound flight.

About 30 minutes later they set the controls for full darkness so it was just like a night flight till about 30 minutes before landing. I found the crew on this flight very, very unfriendly and they just didn’t seem in any way approachable so I never mentioned it but this flight seemed looooong as a consequence.

People pay for window seats to look out the window. There are magical sights up in the clouds, they want to appreciate the approach to their destination, or maybe look down at the ice around Greenland. Other passengers want to sleep. And like so many things in a plane, preferences come into conflict.

On a night flight, open or closed window shades don’t much matter when you take off – it’s dark outside, and cabin lights are usually on for meal service. But as the flight goes on and service stops, people begin to sleep. And for the hours as you approach you destination it may be light out. You don’t want the sun shining into the cabin while everyone’s still trying to get sleep. This is especially important on short East coast transatlantics where there’s not much time for sleeping anyway.

On a day flight, such as Westbound from Europe to the U.S., it’ll be light out for most of the flight. Some passengers will try to nap, since they’ll be landing with a six or nine hour time change and struggling to stay up and adjust to local time when they arrive (plus, for some, it just passes the time better).

Some people sleep, some don’t, and it’s… day time. So I think the etiquette is different here.

  • Shades should be down when it’s light outside on an overnight flight

  • Shades should be at the discretion of the window seat passenger on day flights

  • However be aware of your surroundings. When most of the cabin is sleeping, keep your shades down as much as you can, especially if light shines into the cabin

  • Meanwhile as a passenger you should take matters into your own hands if you want to sleep. Get comfortable wearing eye shades.

I like an open window as much as possible, unless the sun is shining through the window so brightly that it interferes with screens and sleep of others. I don’t like flight attendants who require window shades to be closed on daytime flights from Europe to the U.S. since I rarely sleep on those flights and I find them less draining when I have light. But there’s not a lot I can do on a Boeing 787 when they control the shades, or when crew come around scolding passengers who open their windows.

Ultimately, the person at the window should have control of the shade. If you’re in the window seat, you decide the position the shade is in. However flight attendant direction trumps whether they’re being reasonable or not. If you’re at the window, be considerate and avoid blinding light and accommodate your neighbors. If someone asks you to put the window shade down (or up) consider doing as they ask if they have a strong preference and you do not. And in summertime at warm weather destinations close the shades before getting off the plane to help keep the aircraft cool for the next group of passengers during boarding.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is nothing more than FAs trying to get people to sleep for their convenience. If it were for the betterment of their passengers, the shades would be fixed open on westbound transatlantic flights. That would better fight jet lag as the passenger states.

  2. And the biggest reason for the discussion should get discussed because of the JAL accident at HND – safety.
    US airlines are NOTORIOUS for allowing passengers to close window shades during all phases of flight.
    Initial videos from inside the cabin of the JAL flight showed that most window shades were up.
    There is no way to accurately assess what is happening outside with window shades down. portholes in emergency exits are small.
    It is not necessary to have window shades open for all phases of flight but it should be mandatory below 10,000 feet.
    Whether the IFE is washed out or people can see their Iphones simply doesn’t matter.

  3. Now this has to be the most stupid rule in the article… “Shades should be down when it’s light outside on an overnight flight”.
    If it is light outside then it is NOT an overnight flight. It’s a daytime flight in the daylight. If it’s daylight out, then I am looking outside because that is why I purchase a WINDOW seat!

  4. Couple of comments. From an air safety perspective, the shades should be open for all ground operations and takeoff and landing. If they are down, rescue can’t tell if the row is occupied.

    Delta used to enforce this. Doesn’t seem to be happening any more. Emirates does. Can’t comment on the rest of the carriers.

    In the air, I like to read. If it is daylight I want the shade up enough to read.

  5. I don’t know what they are showing on U.S. tv but I’m in Tokyo watching the news. There is video from inside the plane shot out the window showing the plane on fire while still decelerating on the runway. I’m sure being able to see the issue with the window shade open let the crew and passengers prepare to evacuate the plane in the proper direction to safety. Since this was an inter island flight on a holiday most of the passengers were Japanese. If this were a flight originating from the U.S. half of them would have died trying to get their carryon first.

  6. Lol, it’s not a matter of get a pair of eye shades.

    I’ve been on flights where the sun came thru the window, reflected off the entertainment center and was blinding.

    It’s not always just an inconvenience to someone sitting next to you, but across the aisle and around.

    Hint, you aren’t going to spot the ice around Greenland st 31,000 feet.

  7. Fortunately I have not been on a flight where flight attendants had direct control of the window shading. Because of that I have some great memories of snowy landscapes in Alaska, a state I have never stepped foot on. The only overflight I had of Russia also was at night and I just happened to pull up the shade at the right time to see the end of Alaska and the start of Russia. Very interesting after KAL 007 years before. It seems like some flight attendants are bent on creating the most miserable experience possible.

  8. Lol @ that Karen crying about feeling “claustrophobic” when the shades are dimmed.
    Then stay home you dumb ****.

  9. Jeez, what crawled up your bunghole? Never read the comments – the ugliest people you will ever meet exist there.

  10. I enjoyed seeing various landmarks on my flights back from Europe.
    I think identifying the carrier involved in complaints like this would allow future passengers to choose others that provide a better experience. The hint that 787s give the FA control would suggest to me that I should avoid them.

  11. After so many years of wearing eyeshades in-flight, I now even use them at home in bed in order to sleep.

  12. I agree with @H2omN. I watched video of both inside the smokey cabin and of passengers sliding down the chutes in amazement of the calm, orderliness, and rapidity of the evacuation – over 370 made it out in 90 seconds. I cannot imagine this happening on any US airline flight I have been on.

  13. @Dave, I am half French, half Spaniard and I am often surprised of the aggression in the comments here. US is supposed to be the kingdom of the politically correct, isn’t it?
    And by the way, me too I get claustrophobic with all shutters down on a 787

  14. When I was growing up, I swear I was told that it was that law (US) that shades had to be up for takeoff and landing. But as an adult, I’ve rarely seen this command given.

  15. pascal
    I’m not sure where you got the notion that Americans were capable of talking in a civil manner to other people but that changed more than a decade ago in the US and, sadly, there is no going back.

    and no one should take anything that takes place in this or any other comment section as reflective of anything as long as people are allowed to post anonymously using made-up user names. Some people use the internet to take out their aggression on anyone and everyone.

  16. Tim
    I just asked you yesterday if Tim Dunn was your real name? And you purposefully didn’t respond. In fact, you said it wasn’t the point of your rant on OctPhl but rather some other random reason (after going off on him for using a pen name?)
    Are you now saying Tim Dunn is your real true name? As I said, you’ve said multiple times that it isn’t on some of your rage-infused rants.

    you have some gall talking about made up usernames otherwise, worldtraveller (and other names before your entire home IP address was banned…)

    As said before. Quit this nonsense about fake usernames when you constantly use one
    Hell, you get drunk and make up random guest names to make you look cool and everyone knows it
    Roberta, was it? Lol

    If tim dunn is your real name, own it. But everyone knows it isn’t and it doesn’t excuse worldtraveller or your numerous other fake names you’ve used for decades.

  17. “Flight Attendant Direction”? One must comply with proper flight attendant instructions. Flight attendants say a lot of things; do I have to obey all of it? I agree with my fellow Torontonian above who wants his shade open if it’s light outside. I’ve a “protocol” too: when “directed” to close the shade, I say “I’m aware I must comply with flight attendant instructions. I shall always do so. Are you instructing me that it’s compulsory to close my shade?” So far, every flight attendant has chickened out, explaining that they’re requesting it as a courtesy to other passengers who want to watch sitcoms on a screen. Someday, once, just briefly, I’d like to experience their courtesy towards me. Open your window, let the sun in, and read a book! FYI this has never happened in longhaul F, where I was usually not the only book reader.

  18. It doesn’t matter what’s happening outside. Passengers don’t need situational awareness. You have no impact on anything happening outside. If you’re going to die with he window shade up, you’ll still die with it down

  19. DenB, an excellent response. While the FA has her opinion of courtesy, passengers may have different views. Especially if there is a conflict of wishes — seeing scenery, having sufficient light to read or work, being able to see a screen and sleeping appeal to different groups of passengers. Obviously the FA’s that “chicken out” realize that they are going to be reported if they do make it mandatory, and unless they can point to something in safety regulations or terms of carriage they may be disciplined for claiming authority they don’t have.

  20. The only time I have ever seen the northern lights was during a night flight to Fairbanks AK…the sky was always overcast during my 3-day stay on the ground there. I’m sure glad the cabin crew couldn’t electronically shut the blinds on that aircraft.

  21. I only fly Southwest. The only time the FA’s have said anything about the shades is when they ask, after landing in Vegas during the summer, to please lower the shades to help keep the cabin cool while the airplane is on the tarmac.

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