overhead light airplane
Photograph ©2022 by Brian Cohen.

Using the Overhead Light Aboard an Airplane: Rude?

This topic needs enlightenment.

Is using the overhead light aboard an airplane rude to a fellow passenger who wants to sleep — or should the passenger who controls that light be able to activate it anytime he or she wants?

Using the Overhead Light Aboard an Airplane: Rude?

overhead light airplane
Photograph ©2022 by Brian Cohen.

Every seat aboard an airplane is equipped with an overhead light if a passenger wants to spend the time aboard an airplane reading or competing a puzzle or game — especially when the interior cabin of the airplane is darkened overall by a member of the flight crew at night time…

…but if a fellow passenger wants to sleep — or, perhaps, finds darkness to be peaceful and calming — he or she might object to nearby illumination, as that may interfere with his or her overall comfort.

“No problem with the overhead light!” FlyerTalk member doc4science opined. “However please don’t be like the person next to me on an EWR-FCO flight that decided using his phone flashlight would be a better option after lecturing me on the impacts of blue light on sleeping… as I tried to sleep…”

Final Boarding Call

overhead light airplane
Photograph ©2022 by Brian Cohen.

I have been a passenger aboard airplanes on which members of the flight crew not only ordered passengers to close window shades; but also turned the overhead lights off themselves without asking the passengers. In those cases, what the passengers wanted did not matter. That is unfair because one passenger gets what he or she wants; while the other passenger does not.

As always, respecting fellow passengers should be considered and a mutual compromise should be reached, if that is at all possible — but I believe that the person who controls the overhead light aboard the airplane should generally be able to activate it, as the design and purpose of the light is for the individual passenger and therefore not rude.

I like to leave the window shade open a crack so that I can look out the window with minimal disturbance to other passengers —compromise at play here, I thought —  but during at least one flight, a member of the flight crew would not even allow that.

A person who sits adjacent to a window should have control over whether the shade is up or down, in my opinion. I also believe that if a passenger is seated in a middle seat, that person should have primary access to both armrests.

All photographs ©2022 by Brian Cohen.

  1. This is why I carry an eye mask – they can have the light on and it won’t bother me. One annoying thing is when the light from another passenger is pointed at my seat…

  2. On a late night flight (ie after 10pm) Using the light for a brief period is not rude. But why would you need it for extended period? Can read with a kindle or watch shows or compute without a light. So yes, rude to keep it on.

    What bothers me more are the people who keep window shades up on daytime flights completely oblivious that the sun is blinding the aisle passengers. Be considerate and be aware!

    1. I have seen passengers seated on the other side of the airplane blinded by direct sunlight, Boraxo; so I lower the window shade accordingly.

      I wish that sometimes someone on the other side of the airplane would grant me the same courtesy when the sun shines directly on me…

  3. I consider the light to be used at the sole discretion of the person in the seat, whether or not it’s a red eye. I consider others getting up to be more of a nuisance when sleeping.

  4. I was asked by a flight attendant to turn off my overhead light. I am a book reader, not into electronic books. So I turned off my overhead light and put on my headband light and read for the whole trip. I was a day time flight. I believe I should be able to use my overhead light if I want to but carry my headband light just in case.

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