Airplane Window Shade Controversy: Raised or Lowered?

These windows are located near seat 10A on a Boeing 777 aircraft with four classes of service operated by British Airways. Photograph by FlyerTalk member BingBongBoy. Click on the photograph for a discussion amongst FlyerTalk members pertaining to seats in the business class cabin on aircraft operated by British Airways.

A ongoing debate which has caused as much angst amongst FlyerTalk members as armrests and reclining seats is the proper etiquette regarding the window shades aboard aircraft: who gets to determine whether the window shade is raised or lowered?
Some FlyerTalk members believe that passengers who site in 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.
Debating that accusation is FlyerTalk member jmorris, who claims to use sunlight to help avoid “jet lag” and keeping the window shade open is the solution — never mind that “the overhead lights have too much glare and do not provide enough light.” Besides, jet lag can make you dumb — but I digress.
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, as experienced by FlyerTalk member KarensuePDX?
What if a fellow passenger seated either in an aisle seat or in the seat behind you reached over and either closed or opened the window shade next to you if you were seated next to the window? For example, a passenger first yelled at FlyerTalk member hockeystl for closing the window shade in the first place before abruptly reaching over to raise it — but the bright light was hurting the eyes of hockeystl. What would you do?
On the other hand, FlyerTalk member JIMCHI does not like the idea of being in a “dark tube” for many hours on an international flight – but what if that is the policy of the airline?
FlyerTalk member PTravel admits to having a fear of flying in an airplane and chooses a window seat to mitigate that phobia. Was this situation handled correctly or incorrectly?
Why do you think that some window shades would be permanently closed altogether, such as on a Boeing 747-400 aircraft operated by Cathay Pacific?
This question can be moot if the flight attendant is the ultimate arbiter as to whether or not the window shade should be raised or lowered. Can you guess the reasons as to why the window shades should be raised when an airplane descends prior to landing or ascends after it takes off — or why the window shades should be lowered in the exit row of certain aircraft?
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 mitigate 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 have aircraft equipped with automated window shades; while the new Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft is equipped with windows which automatically dim.
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.
Not taking into account specific orders from a flight attendant, these are my guidelines in terms of etiquette pertaining to window shades:
  • 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.
  • Unless there are some really spectacular cloud formations, I will leave the window shade partially open so that I may admire the view below.
  • If fellow passengers are attempting to sleep or use their portable electronic devices or in-flight entertainment system, I will keep the window shade closed unless I specifically want to look out the window — 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.
  • Conversely, if I notice a fellow passenger craning his or her neck to see out the window, I will attempt to give them 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If I am seated in an aisle seat, I may place a polite request to the person occupying the seat by the window to open it if I want to see something — but this is quite rare, as I usually select the seat I want before the flight.

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.
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 enjoy guessing where I am at the moment without the use of an in-flight navigation system, figuring out which road is what and what cities are below me. 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.
Then again — as illustrated by a few examples above — 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.
I first briefly discussed the debate pertaining to window shades in a humorous manner six years ago here at The Gate, with a brief follow-up article almost two years ago. However, this time I look forward to you to please shed some light on this topic with your thoughts.

  1. It only distresses me when window shades are left low during takeoff and/or landing. Isn’t it a rule that they should be up in both cases? Not on may recent flights, especially on RJ’s …

  2. I’m the same, I like the window shades open on all but the longest of flights (or if the sun is hitting the cabin at just the wrong angle). I get a little annoyed when no sooner after take off the FA’s insist that window shades go down and stay down for the duration of the flight.

  3. Qantas requires shades up during take-off and landing, and I find it is disoriented to have the shade down during those pretty critical times. I asked the window set today to raise it for take-off

  4. My eyes are very light sensitive and I always pick a window seat so that I can make sure the window is closed.

  5. The most difficult situation is when someone on the other side of the plane and two rows forward opens their shade just a crack during a ‘night’ flight heading east. The sun is up, and the angle is just right for the light to shoot like a laser to ones’ eyes, enough to wake me if I’m lucky enough to have fallen asleep. But I’m too far away, and on the wrong side (can’t pass the bulkhead sleepers with their legs out, can’t enter another cabin, to get to the other side to ask if they wouldn’t mind either lowering OR raising their shade, as either would eliminate the ‘laser effect’. But only people who fly in coach have this problem, so My opinion may not be in the majority in this forum…

  6. If I notice someone craning to take a gander, I will close my shade or, if i’m looking at the moment, i will bodily block them.
    That’s my window. I paid for it. The idea that you have some say is down right socialist.

  7. I’m only interested in the view during takeoff and landing, and then only mildly. I actually like the feeling of being “in a dark tube” for my long international flights. It emphasizes the “magic” of walking into a room, sitting down (maybe sleeping) and walking out in a different state/country.
    But above all I think being considerate and polite is key. I rarely get (and complain if I do) window seats, but I always try to be considerate of other people when I do. When in my preferred aisle I always ask people politely if I’d prefer the shade down (for a movie, or perhaps sleep..)
    Now – kids kicking my seat from behind – that makes me homicidal 🙂

  8. The next time Boeing, Airbus etc, design a plane; why not take a cue from heavy military aircraft and skip the windows altogether- with the exception of the doors and escape hatches?

  9. Good Post, common courtesy is definitely the way forward. I do like to take a window seat and look out. Even at night when the moon and stars can be quite magical. Eastbound Transatlantic I’d rather have the shade open and stay awake but I’ll lower it fully or partially if people ask.
    I’m also bemused as to why US regulations don’t insist on shades up for take off and landing as European and Australian ones seem to. It would be seem to be advantageous for both passengers and first responders in the event of an accident.

  10. I made up the following rules – lol : If I have the window, I control the shade however reasonable requests from seat mates are always considered. If I have the window or the aisle the center seat occupant always gets the common armrest – always! In fact, I believe the center seat should get both armrests – again, always! – lol
    I will start a movement called: Armrests for Centers!

  11. Who can see out the window anyway with my big head sleeping on it? I get the window seat so I can slump over onto a wall rather than a passenger. But I will be nice and raise/lower accordingly when awake, which is rarely.

  12. As a “window seat guy,” I generally agree with Brian’s suggested etiquette. On anything shorter than a transcon, I keep the window open unless a polite request to close it has been made from a seatmate or flight attendant. I enjoy the scenery when awake, even on some routes that I fly frequently. On nighttime longhauls, such as westbound winter trans-Pacs or eastbound winter trans-Atlantic routes, I don’t see the problem with keeping the windows open from sunset onward. Views can be spectacular (the aurora borealis, the moon illuminating polar ice, etc.), and there is no sunlight to interrupt sleep or work.

  13. It would help a lot if airlines provided adequate lighting for reading. The lights on most planes vary from barely adequate to totally unacceptable, which includes some flights on Singapore Airlines in business class.

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