Silhouette passenger economy class cabin sun
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

7 Guidelines to The Great Window Shade Debate

nce again, FlyerTalk members debate over the proper etiquette pertaining to window shades aboard airplanes, which has been one of the most controversial topics amongst frequent fliers for many years and has caused as much angst as the debates over armrests and reclining seats: who gets to determine whether the window shade is raised or lowered?

Before I impart my 7 guidelines to the great window shade debate, we must first explore some of the reasons as to why this debate is so contentious.

Both Sides of the Debate

Some people believe that certain passengers who occupy window seats are selfish because they like to keep the window shade fully opened during a flight at all times when fellow passengers work on their computers, use the in-flight entertainment system, or attempt to get some sleep — especially on long-haul flights — while there are other people who do not like the idea of sitting in a dark cabin aboard an airplane for many hours while the sun is shining during a flight.

There are claims that natural sunlight can be used to help avoid “jet lag”; that watching the horizon can help alleviate motion sickness; and that choosing a window seat helps to mitigate aviophobia, which is a fear of flying — all of which apparently require keeping the window shade open as the solution.

So who really decides if the window shade is up or down? Does the passenger seated in the aisle seat have a right to demand to the person seated next to the window that the window shade be raised or lowered? Does a fellow passenger seated either in an aisle seat or in the seat behind you have a right to reach over and either close or open the window shade next to you if you were seated next to the window? If someone did that, what would you do?

Safety Reasons for Keeping Window Shades Open

This debate can be moot if a member of the flight crew is the ultimate arbiter as to whether or not the window shade should be raised or lowered and when — perhaps due to the official policy of the airline or of a government — and the reason is primarily for the safety of everyone who is aboard the aircraft where in the unlikely event of an emergency, members of the flight crew need to decide as quickly as possible from which side of the aircraft is the safest to exit. If the window shades are open during takeoff and landing — the critical times of when an airplane is most likely to be involved in an emergency situation — members of the flight crew can immediately use that visual access to assess the conditions outside and be better informed when determining what needs to be done in terms of safety as well as which exits to use.

Other reasons could also include the following:

  • Passengers looking out the window could see if something goes wrong out there — for example, if smoke or fluid emanates from one of the engines — and report any anomalies immediately to members of the flight crew.
  • To assist in the eyes of the passengers to adjust to the same lighting conditions which exist outside of the aircraft — preventing vision from being temporarily blurred in the unlikely event of an evacuation — window shades are opened at takeoff and again for landing during the:
    • Daytime while fully illuminating the lights throughout the cabin
    • Nighttime while dimming the lights throughout the cabin
  • At nighttime, window shades are open and lights throughout the cabin are dimmed as it potentially helps emergency personnel on the ground outside to determine what is happening on the inside of the airplane if something is wrong.


Comfort Reason

While the aircraft rests at a gate during the boarding process, sometimes window shades will be purposely lowered throughout the aircraft during the summer to minimize the building up of heat inside the aircraft and conserve energy; while at other times the window shades are fully raised.

Some airlines such as Emirates Airline have aircraft equipped with automated window shades; while the new Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft is equipped with windows which automatically dim.

Why I Usually Prefer Window Seats

Before I travel, I choose my seat wisely. If the flight is not that long and is on a route where I have seen the scenery multiple times — and leaving the aircraft sooner is my priority — I will select an aisle seat. If, however, the flight is on a long route where I might want a wall to rest my head and where I expect to want to look out the window, I will choose a seat next to the window. I have mentioned numerous times in the past — such as in this article pertaining to the possibility of windowless airplanes in the future — that I enjoy sitting in the window seat aboard an airplane during a flight.

I personally think it would be a drag to fly in an aircraft without windows. I was fortunate to have flown as a passenger on Concorde operated by Air France; and I enjoyed seeing the curvature of the Earth outside of the window — which was heated due to the friction caused by flying at almost twice the speed of sound — from an altitude of 60,000 feet above sea level.

For me, the view outside of the window of an airplane is my in-flight entertainment. It is an opportunity to witness the miracles of nature and the tenacity of mankind with a view unmatched and unrivaled by terrestrial means — even being at the top of the tallest building in the world. I truly enjoy the transformation of our wonderful planet evolve before my eyes — aided by the combination of the rotation of the Earth with the jet propulsion of the metal tube in which I am seated. It is fun for me to guess where I am at the moment without the use of an in-flight navigation system or map to track the flight, figuring out which road is what and what cities are below me — and I am usually correct. I am usually in awe to see snow-capped mountains and rivers flowing below the aircraft, and how the sun chooses to light up the panoramic view in a way in which I may never again see…

…so yes — if I am seated next to a window, I will open that window shade. For me, it is part of the unique enjoyment of flight…

…unless I am over some vast expanse of water — then all bets are off on that one. The cloud formations then take over my attention — if there are any clouds present in the sky, of course. I am awed by just how deep blue the color of the sky can be; and at night, I enjoy watching the stars seemingly so close that you can just reach up and grab one. Thunderstorms below give the impression of flashes from the cameras of a thousand photographers under a veil of puffy cumulonimbus clouds. Complemented by the music to which I enjoy listening while in flight, I am truly mesmerized and entertained. The window on an airplane during a flight is my favorite mode of in-flight entertainment.

Then again — as illustrated by a few examples listed below in this article — fellow passengers may have valid reasons for needing to have the window shade raised or lowered. Perhaps a brief discussion is necessary whenever there is a debate over whether the window shade should be raised or lowered so that a compromise can be reached — assuming that the parties engaged in the debate are reasonable, of course.

Not taking into account specific orders from a flight attendant, these are my 7 guidelines to the great window shade debate in terms of etiquette:

1. Window Seat Occupants Have the Final Decision — But…

If I am sitting next to the window, I believe I have the ultimate say as to whether or not the window shade is raised or lowered — but that does not mean that I should be inconsiderate to my fellow passengers. Of course, this guideline is always superseded by orders from members of the flight crew.

2. …Involve Fellow Passengers on the Decision Pertaining to the Window Shade

Depending on the situation, I will politely ask a fellow passenger in a neighboring seat if they would mind my raising the window shade. Typically, that passenger usually responds that he or she does not mind and is appreciative that I asked first.

3. Be Aware and Considerate to Fellow Passengers

If the sun is shining brightly into the cabin and causing a blinding glare — especially directly on the face of someone else — I will lower the window shade either completely or at least enough to eliminate the potential discomfort of fellow passengers.

4. Compromise: Leave the Window Shade Partially Open

Unless there are some really spectacular cloud formations or other interesting views outside, I will leave the window shade partially open instead of completely open so that I may admire the view below; and I often like to watch the view while listening to music which I believe is appropriate for that moment — such as the 1976 song Breezin’ by George Benson while viewing the clouds and the blue sky.

5. Keep the Window Shade Closed When Not Using It

If fellow passengers are attempting to sleep or use their portable electronic devices or in-flight entertainment systems, I will keep the window shade closed unless I specifically want to look out the window or want a little natural light — and then, I will raise it just enough for me to enjoy the view with minimal disturbance to fellow passengers. In fact, I will usually lean forward and block the opening to further reduce any glare while I can still fully enjoy the view.

6. Give Fellow Passengers a Chance to Look Out the Window

If I notice a fellow passenger craning his or her neck to see out the window from an aisle or middle seat, I will attempt to give him or her as much of a view as possible — whether it means completely raising the window shade or leaning back so as not to obstruct his or her view. If I find that a fellow passenger is really interested and I am knowledgeable pertaining to what is outside — such as sights around New York prior to landing or after departure — I will point them out to him or her; and that person is usually appreciative enough to ask further questions, which I am more than happy to answer.

7. Place a Polite Request to the Window Seat Passenger

If I am seated in an aisle seat and want to look out the window, I may place a polite request to the person occupying the seat by the window to open it — but this is quite rare, as I usually select the seat I want before the flight. I will also let the person know when I am done looking out the window.


As I have repeatedly posted in past articles here at The Gate, politeness and respect to others go a long way in keeping as many people happy as possible — including yourself. Compromise and patience are key — and the debate of the window shades is no exception.

I first briefly discussed the debate pertaining to window shades in a humorous manner back on Wednesday, June 6, 2007 here at The Gate — when I first asked the question Do passengers seated by a window have a right to be shady? — with a brief follow-up article back on Friday, July 15, 2011.

Now it is your turn to please shed some light on this topic with your thoughts: how would you end the airplane window shade debate once and for all?

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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