Who Controls The Window Shade On A Plane? Basic Principles You Should Know

If you want to control the window shade in your row of seats then you need to pick a window seat.

  • The aisle seat gets to lean into the aisle for extra space
  • The middle seat comes with a bundle of rights that includes both armrests.
  • The window seat comes with control over the window shade… mostly.

One passenger on Southwest Airlines shared their dispute over the window shade. Two passengers traveling as a couple selected the aisle and middle seats together, and leaving the window seat open. The passenger who took the window seat found the window shade closed, and opened it. The couple was “clearly annoyed.”

The window seat passenger, preferring to gaze out the window at the clouds and the world below. The couple “spent the majority of the flight blocking the sun with their hands and making side eye.” Maybe if you’re flying Southwest, boarding early, and choosing your seats and (1) you’re not going to choose the window, but (2) still have a preference for the positioning of the shade, then bring sunglasses?

Window Seat Etiquette
byu/Lavender_Hazex13 inSouthwestAirlines

There are (6) principles of airplane window shades:

  1. Shades up for takeoff and landing. That’s so everyone’s eyes are well-adjusted to the light, in order to facilitate evacuation in an emergency.

  2. The person at the window has control of the shade. If you’re in the window seat, you decide the position the shade is in.

  3. Flight attendant direction trumps. On modern widebodies window shades may be electronic and can be locked into position. A crewmember may decide all shades will be down, for instance, to accommodate passenger sleep. You may think you have control rights because it’s ‘your’ shade (usufructuary rights) but confrontations with cabin crew over this will not end well.

  4. Avoid blinding light. That’s especially the case on overnight flights and on early mornings. Traveling across time zones means that even though it’s “night” for people on board who may want to sleep, that doesn’t mean the sun isn’t shining where you are physically.

  5. Accommodate your neighbors. If someone asks you to put the window shade down (or up) consider accommodating you, especially if they have a strong preference and you do not. Don’t just arbitrarily do the thing they object to, or object to moving the position of the shade for its own sake.

  6. Close the shades before getting off the plane when it’s especially hot at your destination. That will help keep the aircraft cool for the next group of passengers during boarding.

Don’t let this happen!

I like an open window as much as possible, unless the sun is shining through the window so brightly that it interferes with screens. I don’t like flight attendants who require window shades to be closed on daytime flights from Europe to the U.S. since I never 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.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Or the opposite. One guy on a westbound TATL keeping the one shade open in J when the entire cabin has the shades closed and trying to sleep. And he was reading a book, not looking out the window at the permanent blue screen of death. Yet the FAs didn’t scold him, even though this was one person who clearly cannot read a room.

  2. Michael – KMA. My window, my choice. You want darkness, get an eye mask.

    Leff – the middle seat has no ‘rights’, and both arms are not guaranteed.

  3. Flight attendants on 787s have been accommodating when I’ve asked to have the window control unlocked.

    If an attendant were to scold me for keeping the shade open, I would politely object that it unsettles me to not have access to the outside view.

    A book with natural light is a lovely way to enjoy a flight. I don’t want to read a room; I want to read a story.

  4. I sat next to a militant African American (not African) woman who refused to open the shade even 1/3 during the last few minutes prior to landing even though she was told in the beginning that the request was only for safety reasons and that she could close the shade completely after the plane was on the runway.

    The flight attendant said she couldn’t do anything even though FA’s claim they are there primarily for your safety. The next time this happens, I am going to change seats just before landing, even sitting at the FA’s seat and almost daring them to take me off the flight after landing. More likely, I will try to locate an empty passenger seat.

  5. So #6 is kind of new to me and makes sense although since I really like the windows open! I haven’t considered that after I’m gone it doesn’t matter and the temp issue is real. Thanks!

    As far as shade control, looking out the window at the view is the best thing about being high!

    On June’s HND FRA flight on the Upper Deck I was asked to close but offered an alternative viewing location of the LR 2 Doors foyer at bottom of the stairs. Win win. I could look out both sides while flying over NW Alaska and NE Greenland. Awesome 🙂

  6. @Sanden – you are CORRECT! That jerk who is pulling down the other passenger’s window shade has his own window shade open. I can’t believe the nerve he has.

  7. W/B ex LHR at 0800 and the shades are down? You were given an eyeshade, damn well wear it.

  8. @Walter. I have heard it said before that middle seat has control of both armrests.

  9. If the light bothers me I have my sunglasses handy. I don’t pull another window shade down.

  10. #1 is not true on Delta any more. I fly at least 15 RT’s a year, mostly international, and haven’t had #1 enforced for several years. It’s not an FAA regulation, just a “best practices” recommendation. Apparently DL doesn’t care about best practices. Mostly they want shades down all the time. Helps keep the plane cool on the ground in the summer.

  11. I don’t understand why there is not a consistent mandate from US airlines about window shades being open for takeoff and landing. Many airlines in other parts of the world mandate it.

    Not only for eye adjustment, but also for orientation in the case the metal tube you’re traveling in starts tumbling around and you need to get out of it quickly.

    Nothing worse than a window hog who shuts the shade before they even fully sit down and put on their seatbelt.

    I feel The same way about FA’s who don’t dim cabin lighting for takeoff ——some do, some don’t. . Isn’t it on the checklist?

  12. Sure are a lot of differing postings here. I always get a window seat. I like the shade down on takeoff (my phobia) and I usually keep it shut during the flight, occasionally raising the shade during the flight to take in the view. Before landing, I raise the shade for my and the other middle seat passenger to view the landscape (if they seem to want to see the view), then close the shade just prior to landing (again, my phobia). During the flight, if asked, I will briefly raise the shade but will lower it after a few minutes, especially if the light is blinding. I feel that the middle seat passenger has control of the armrests. I don’t care what the aisle seat does as long as they do not impede me when I have to use the lavatory. For those who prefer for the shade to be down, since most airlines charge for a seat, check with Seat Guru (or another site that shows the interior of an aircraft) and choose a seat that has no window. Above all, try to be courteous for the 2+ hours you are aboard a plane.

  13. I am almost always in a window seat. I control the shade at my seat and accomodate requests by the cabin crew and sometimes other passengers. Number six seems to be something just made up. Half of the windows or more will not have sunlight coming into them so there is no need to close the shade for them. I have flown into and out of tropical cities many times and don’t remember boarding a flight with all of the shades closed.

  14. @Gary – While nice in theory your principles are more like the Pirates Code: a set of guidelines rather than rules.

  15. @Walter – ” Michael – KMA. My window, my choice. You want darkness, get an eye mask.”

    Wow – I haven’t seen a more disrespectful response in a comments section than yours in years. I sincerely hope you get help with your anger issues before it causes serious health issues. Common courtesy and etiquette on a plane. While you’re correct, if you are in a window seat, you do control the window shade. But on Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific flights, when it’s light during the entire flight, and everyone is trying to sleep, the etiquette is to close your shade like everyone else. I believe they also have these little things called reading lights in the coach section, which allows you to still read, so you should be fine.

    But given your answer, it’s fairly clear that you aren’t considerate of others, which is what’s wrong with our society.


  16. Carol – that’s an opinion. Depends how big you and I are compared to each other. You have no right to the arm rests just because you got a crap seat.

  17. Amen, Walter. I generally enjoy Gary’s work, but he is dead wrong (and destructive) with his repetitious “the middle seat gets both arm rests” nonsense. We all buy one seat. That’s it – nothing more or less. The airlines have no “rules” on the middle seat (even if some wacky AA pilot thinks he gets to decide), the window shade control (although Spirit requires the shade to be up for take off / landing, or any other negotiations among seat mates. I do agree with his six principles, though none is required. The notion that a blogger would recite rules that are not rules only inflames tensions in the aircraft to the extent that customers believe that his opinions are indeed synonymous with airline or government rules.

  18. I was flying with my daughter who was in the window seat. A middle-aged guy was travelling with his mother in the row behind us that didn’t have a window. My daughter was trying to sleep, so had the window shade closed. The woman reached up into our row and opened the shade. My daughter closed it again. This happened 3-4 times until the guy stood up and yelled at my daughter and made a gesture like was going to slap her hand. I stood up and told him to sit down and stop threatening my daughter. The flight attendants got there very quick to defuse the situation. The window shade stayed down the rest of the flight.

  19. Agree with Walter– 818PilotLAX is the one who’s disrespectful. If I’m flying on a transatlantic flight departing LHR at 11:00 a.m. I’m damned well going to keep the window shade up. I’ve had a good nights sleep and no need to sleep enroute nor to be trapped in a dark metal tube for hours and hours. It’s daytime and I agree with Walter- if you want to sleep during the day, get an eye mask.

  20. I’m very comfortable snuggling up to someone who wants to use the middle armrests with me. I have nowhere else to go so yes, I use both of them.

    If you think of taking over my armrest, I will find the most inconvenient time to have you get up so I can use the bathroom, on my return I will own that armrest way before you have a chance to sit back down.

  21. Patrick and 818PilotLAX – shut up and put your eye masks on bootlickers. You get your darkness, I get my light. See how that works?

    Or would you prefer I get my light from the thousand linen flashlight I’m carrying? Idiots.

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