Who’s Right In This Airplane Window Shade Dispute?

Filed Under: Advice

There are an increasing number of people who seem to approach flying in a hostile way, which might explain why we see so many stories of people being kicked off planes. While flying is getting better in many ways (there are more ways for people to stay entertained while traveling, it’s more affordable than ever before, etc.), the amount of personal space in the back of the plane is in many cases as limited as it has ever been.

Beyond that it’s also reflective of how divisive our society seems to be. People come on planes saying anything they want, and are shocked when they find out they don’t have “freedom of speech” on a plane.

To chime in on the most popular “issues” we seem to see when it comes to passenger etiquette:


I guess on the most basic level, follow the golden rule and treat other people the way you want to be treated. Regardless of what the rules technically are, just apply common sense. If you do get in a situation that can escalate into a dispute, involve the crew immediately, and don’t try to take it into your own hands.

Which brings us to a question that reader Jack posted in the Ask Lucky forum:

Hi I have a question regarding the perceived right to open or close a window shade. I was on a flight today and I sat in 2F in first class. A woman who was sitting next to me was either nervous or inquisitive because she was looking across the aisle out of the windows on the left side of the plane because both window shades next to me were down. I noticed her looking at the downed shades so I lifted both shades as a courtesy to her, at which time she stated that she was going to ask me if I minded lifting the shades. It was a 10:05 AM flight so it was not like anyone around us was trying to sleep.

The gentleman in front of us in 1F immediately closed the shade that was adjacent to his seat, which we both thought was kind of rude, given the fact he could not see out of the window without turning around and most of the window was actually even or past his seat into our aisle. I did not make a big deal out of this, I didn’t say a word or open the shade again, but I was wondering, for future reference, the etiquette regarding a situation like this.

If the shade was open, both of us (2D-2F) could see directly out of the window while mister 1F, would have to turn around to look out. Who has the right to that shade? I know this might seem trivial but I was kind of perturbed he immediately shut it without asking me if I minded, when most of the window was behind his seat. I do travel quite often so this might come up in the future and I would like to know the right of way if you will.

I think this is a case where there’s not a right or wrong answer:

  • Generally speaking I think the person who has the direct view of a window has the right to decide how it’s positioned
  • At the same time, this isn’t so clear cut, as windows are often not allocated to specific seats, and often windows behind a seat can cause glare
  • This is a case where some communication might have helped; if the lady in 2D really wanted to look out the window, I would have asked the guy in 1F if it’s okay to open the window, after he closed it; I suspect he would have been fine with it, but if not, it’s probably not worth picking a fight over


So while it seems that Mr. 1F may have been somewhat rude, I also think that communication from both sides goes a long way. If someone actually is a jerk after trying to communicate with them, it’s not worth escalating.

Jack did the right thing for looking out for the person seated next to him, though there’s no clear cut answer here as to the guy seated in front of him, in my opinion.

  1. If you control the window, because your closest to it, I guess I control the aisle. So good luck getting to the lavatory. Middle seat is just in for tough luck.

  2. You buy the seat, you have the right to control the window shade. I’ll never understand why people on LAX-JFK 9am departures insist on closing the windows and sleeping – the entire cabin is dark, which just results in complete and utterly screwing up my sleep clock especially on an eastbound flight. I’ve encountered the people who insist on slamming shut windows next to my seat in F, biz, and coach, and each time I politely tell them that I’d prefer the window up and the discussion ends.

  3. Another situation for Mr. Manners: I am aware of and accept the “middle seat privilege” (the passenger in the middle seat has the right to the armrest on each side of them; the window and aisle passengers get the armrest on their respective sides). However, where do the borders actually begin and end?

    I believe the obvious answer is, the middle seat gets the armrest but not anything beyond that. However, I’ve had some aggressive neighbors in the middle-seat (not persons-of-size) whose elbows encroach a least an inch beyond the armrest, and into my seat.

    My response has always been to not say anything, and stand my remaining ground. However, this only results in a stranger’s arm pressed against mine for hours on end. Is there any “right” way to tell them to get out of my seat?

  4. All passengers in the row should have veto power against closing the shade at take off and landing, at least to half way open. If there is a fire, you want to know if it is on your side.

    I once had a women who refused to open it even 1/2 way upon landing. I should have yelled that either the shade gets open or this plane is being hijacked. Oh wait, I don’t want to be in prison.

    The FA said it was recommended to lift the shade but not required. I should have asked to be reseated for safety reasons and because a stubborn passenger (that women) is a security risk

  5. You control both your hands. Man up and throw some punches.

    I have always said the only thing that pervents Americans from transforming into marauding criminals like in Africa or middle east is prosperity. And I am proven right everyday.

  6. I had an interesting seat-reclining situation yesterday, and I’m interested in what you think in this case:

    My wife and I had a baby in a car seat with us while in economy. We (had to) put the car seat in the window seat, but due to United’s cramped Y section, it just barely fit, touching the seat in front making the reclining in that seat impossible.

    As it happened the woman in that seat (the exit row FWIW) had had back surgery and informed us very politely that she’d need to recline the seat during the flight. She also refused to switch seats with her husband in the middle and recline there (which I suggested). I sympathized with her and offered to figure something out in the air, which she seemed fine with.

    Once air born I asked the FA what could be done, maybe we could move the car seat sideways or something. She asked the woman if she could switch seats (she refused again) so the FA offered her free wine, saying the safety of the baby having the car seat correctly positioned and strapped in was more important.

    Thankfully the woman seemed okay with this and everything was fine the rest of the flight.

    My question: Does a person in that woman’s position have the right to lean back when there’s a car seat behind them? Does it make a difference if they paid extra for an exit row or E+/E Comfort/MCS seating?

  7. Oh this can of worms again.

    It’s all about courtesy, if the lady next to me was freaking out, I would have opened the window blind, if the guy closed it, I would have politely informed him the lady next to me was a nervous flyer, depend on his reaction then, he could say…

    1.Oh i’m sorry, please open the window blind for her (end of discussion)
    2.It’s staying closed and she can deal with it (press call button and ask cabin crew what to do)

    The problem for my lies on daytime flights, if its day I want the window open as its DAYTIME, if its a night flight with an early sunrise it stays closed for everyone.
    I don’t mind closing the window on flights where I Would be sleeping, but its the middle of the day, I can’t sleep or concentrate much when flying, so why am I forced to sleep.

  8. @JoshR

    Your situation was an interesting one. If I was her I would have cashed in on the free wine and then made a complaint to United later, not about you but not being able to recline, they would have probably given her some miles.

    But it was NOT your fault, the safety of your child is very important and she could have switched seats and reclined in the middle one to start with, as its still the same recline.

  9. @ Mike — Ugh, agree. I hate the day flights LAX-JFK where everyone shuts the windows. Huge pet peeve.

  10. @JoshR – just curious, since the woman in front wasn’t willing to move, why wasn’t it an option to put the baby and car seat in the middle seat between you and your wife? Too much hassle if whichever one of you was in the window seat not being able to get out?

  11. @Jack, was the person sitting in 1F watching a movie? I know when I watch a movie during the day, I prefer the window in between my seat and the seat behind me to be closed to prevent glares on my screen.

  12. @James I agree, she should have switched if it was a big deal to her. The bigger question was how was a woman who just had back surgery and needed to recline seated in a window exit row seat? Am I to believe that such a person is actually able to remove the window in case of an emergency, attach a life raft and help people out of the plane?

    @gstork Airlines only allow car seats in the window seat to the best of my knowledge from a safety perspective. The person in the window seat wouldn’t be able to climb over the car seat in the case of an evacuation while it’s easy to just grab your child from the car seat and run out.

  13. I don’t understand why some airlines say it is policy for the shades to open during takeoff and landing but other airlines aren’t bothered? In my mind they should always be up for take off and landing and then after that, be open during the day (unless it’s way too bright) and closed during a night flight or long haul flight where most people are sleeping. I can’t bear if I’m not at a window seat and someone has the shade closed for take off. I can’t understand why they wouldn’t want to see out. Why else have they taken the window seat?!

  14. While I broadly agree with your opinions on “who controls what” (except the window shade – I hardly see how proximity means anything. I’m tall so closer to the lights, can I therefore control the light of the person next to me?), it seems incredibly arrogant and egotistical for you to state your opinions are facts and then base everyone’s “rights” on them! As far as I’m aware, you don’t have any regulatory power in this field?

  15. wgatevet happened to communicating? Ask the person if he minds keeping the window open and then open it. If you just raise the shade which is also accessible to him, without asking that is the first rude step. If the window is within my seat area, irrespective of whether I have to turn to look out of it, I have some measure of control over it. I think his reaction is fairly justified.

  16. ” I would have asked the guy in 1F if it’s okay to open the window”

    I’m hoping that nobody is opening windows on a flight – I’m pretty sure that could cause decompression issues at cruising altitudes.

    Yes, that was my attempt at a joke…

  17. If I were to become airline Czar, I would do away with window shades and give every passenger a personal sleep mask. btw I always carry one and wonder why others do not.

  18. So heres the situation. On log haul flights I try to sleep at the time that is night at the destination and try to keep awake when its day at the destination so as to minimize jetlag at the destination.
    What this means often is after boarding in the US I want to go to sleep immediately and then later in the flight keep the window open to have the sunshine adjust my body clock (sunshine triggers melatonin formation)
    Somehow however the long haul flight crew like to do exactly the opposite. They want to serve dinner after boarding and then keep the shades down afterwards. What this means is you are totally jetlagged when you land. I can skip the meal and sleep through it but problems start later. Now the crew by dimming the lights sets an expectation its time to sleep so when I keep my window open for the sunshine I get arguments from other passengers. Who is right here?

  19. “In my mind they should always be up for take off and landing and then after that, be open during the day (unless it’s way too bright) and closed during a night flight or long haul flight where most people are sleeping.”

    For a night flight (when it’s dark out), why does it matter if shades are up or down? It’s dark outside. If I’m awake, I generally keep the shade up at night as I like to stare out of the window.

    LAX to JFK flights at 9 AM are morning flights – people may want to doze off for a few hours. The cabin should be dark.

    I think the general rule is that you shade the windows when the light may disturb passengers. That means for morning flights (say before noon), shades should generally be down so passengers can sleep, eat, read, whatever. For true afternoon flights (say lunch until sundown), it depends how bright the cabin is in general.

  20. It’s so easy to avoid this kind of aggressions, causing nothing but trouble. The airlines should ban passenger controlled blinds (crew could do it) and reclining seats. The reclining angle is tiny in Economy, so it would not be a huge loss.

  21. I had a situation regarding the window shade on a day time flight a while back. I was in 3F with the window open, working on my computer and referring to paper documents. I have relatively bad eyesight, so working with the shade down and the overhead light on was not really an option.

    Apparently, the guy in 4E was bothered by some sort of glare that the open window and my computer screen were creating. He was really nasty about it when I explained that I needed to get my work done and needed the window to be open (I don’t know, maybe it’s because I look young and he thought he could just order me around). When I refused to close my window, he reached over and shut my window himself. Of course, not only did I immediately open the window but also at that point was unwilling to compromise.

    Generally, I think the person in the window seat has *more* of a right to control the window shade, but even more important is being respectful.


  22. I find Americans change into different people when inside an airplane. While they can sleep without quarrels in cars, buses, trains a.s.o. in bright daylight, entering an airplane means shades down, 3 double scotch or five glasses of wine ( that was “breakfast” for a couple of folks in F this morning ) and sleep. The shades are down even before boarding is complete. LH requires shades up during takeoff and landing for safety reasons. As a side point it is such a shame that most pax have never seen the beautiful landscape of Alaska when flying to and from Asia. They don’t know what they are missing. I just did ICN-FRA, what a beautiful view over Russia.

  23. Saying that you don’t have freedom of speech on a plane is probably a bit of a sweeping statement (US only rule?).

  24. Windows are rarely alligned correctly in first class. Mr. 1F may have had some light go into his eyes when the shades were up. Or he may have felt the sun on the side of his face/ear. I e closed blinds because I could feel the sun against my face and it is very uncomfortable

  25. When is the right time to recline your seat after take off? I always believed it is when the seat belt sign goes off. I was on an internal flight from Houston to San Fran. and the passenger in the seat in front reclined their seat on take off – I was so shocked thinking the seat was broken that my immediate reaction was to push the seat back up – the person turned to me and advised that they had reclined the seat and to leave it alone. Buzzing the FA did no good as they were seated in their seat for take off.
    So what is the correct procedure?

  26. I was once on a plane heading back to US from Europe on business class. Everybody was asleep, except for this one guy who had his window up working on a computer. Everybody was looking at him staring at him. No one asked him to close the window. Why? Because he was flight crew (he was wearing a uniform). Not sure if he was really part of that flight crew or just along for the ride.

  27. Its crazy. I think the problem is that everyone has taken the position that somehow if you pay money for xyz then you are entitled to have master control of said xyz, all others be damn. Seems to me people who are that manic about whether the shade is up or down have deeper problems like their life is out of control. When pet peeves becomes a life catastrophe event for you it’s time to chill the heck out. You’re going to give yourself a tumor.

  28. I flew Garuda Business Class in Oct 2016 SIN-LHR. It was a day flight lasting 14hours. The crew and airline found it absolutely acceptable for ONE passenger to leave his shade up the entire flight citing

    ‘Passenger with window open – We request customers to keep the window shade shut, we cannot however force a customer to shut window shades’

    Also, this response from their customer non service person in London was sent from his fxxking iPhone. Talk about professionalism.

    The irony was that the rest of the bloody aircraft was in complete darkness to allow passengers to sleep and rest. Their lame crappy excuse and severe lack of customer service is never really talked about or reported on this blog at all.

    So, if you are thinking of spending good money and booking on Garuda…think, think again, and think some more and then say NO!

  29. The window shade:

    Hey, I used to be terrified of flying. I used to not want to see down so I would get a window seat. Deal with the window seat rights. You never know what people plan to make travel tolerable. It’s not always about cavalier and stupid considerations.

    I love flying now. The fear gone for about 30 years.

    Everyone should just calm down and if you want the window seat, book in advance, pay the premium, show up early. That’s the system.

    Happy travels!

  30. Compromising works. When there is something to actually see, but it’s a bad time for others, you can partially open it enough for your row to see out if they want.

    One thing I’ll never understand happens when I fly to China from Florida. It’s 19 -23h. AA Departures are typically 9pm with one connection at ORD, LA, DFW. That means due to the time zone difference of 12 hours, arrival is 7 – 9am. Once you’re over the Bering Strait, it’ll always be light. So 100% of the ppl keep their shade down the whole time and keep sleeping on US EST. So upon arrival, your body thinks it’s time for bed in a few hours. I’m going to work! I change up my sleep days before I leave to specifically avoid jet lag.
    If you try to slightly crack that window at ANY time during the flight, it assaults the whole cabin, so I go back to chat with the crew for happy hour.
    Just don’t understand

  31. @ Carl P

    “If you control the window, because your closest to it, I guess I control the aisle. So good luck getting to the lavatory. Middle seat is just in for tough luck.”

    I’ll assume your comment is hyperbole but having set that, everyone is entitled to access to the aisle out of a necessity as people do need to board and disembark the airplane. I am also willing to bet, if you refused to let someone pass and made it difficult for them to do so, a call to the FA would blow the aisle seat controls the aisle argument.

    Having said that, it would be nice of whoever is sitting in the window seat to accommodate a request providing is it reasonable; and they aren’t just refusing out of spite or willfulness.

  32. “You have the right to recline your seat as much as it will recline.” Seriously? Really? Umm, no. Maybe back in the 1960’s, when flying was premium, but now???? No. It is just flipping rude, given the design of most airplanes for domestic travel in economy. When you recline your seat, guess what, I cannot open my tray table. I can’t reach down to my purse. Oh, there are so many things I cannot do, because the dude in front of me has reclined fully. I curse him, I curse the airline industry for providing that guy the option of sticking it to me, and yeah, I curse you for sugesting it’s just fine. You. Are. Wrong. It. Is. Not. Ok. In any. Circumstances. May many toddlers seated behind you kick you into oblivion.

  33. Is it possible that the light from the window was creating glare on his laptop/IFE screen rendering it useless? Often times during day time flights I find that to be a big problem.

    (Didn’t read through all the comments to see if anyone had already suggested that as a reason he wanted it closed.)

  34. @Gail. The seat is not supposed to be reclined until the seat belt sign goes off after take-off.

    As for the window shade issue…it can be avoided if you just take the 787 and the cabin crew makes the determination 😉

  35. @Atif Totally agree. Window shades open means somewhere in the cabin strong sunlight could be causing a huge problem. Worst personal case was on ANA 777 from Seoul-LAX – their screens in J were awful and I could not watch a single movie in almost 13 hours because of glare from an open shade on the far side of the cabin. Asked the FA to ask the passenger to lower the shade but this did not work for long. There is nothing to see when you are flying over the Arctic so the logic of leaving the shade open escapes me other than as a “control issue” (I control the shade so screw you). Reverse herringbone or other configurations many time alleviate this problem but definitely people should be considerate of others. I have often opened my shade an inch or two to peek out and then close it again.

    Also outside of US it is mandatory to open shades on landing and take off.

  36. @Mike @Tiffany “I’ll never understand why people on LAX-JFK 9am departures insist on closing the windows and sleeping”

    It could be a minority case but I’ve had international arrival the night before and waited at the airport until morning flight and I’m sleepy due to jet lag. In general I’m sensitive to glare so prefer to stay out of those. They make working on laptop hard.

  37. Well If I had paid for a J seat from SIN to LHR and wanted to look out the window – thats my right.

    I do that on Garuda and I do that in SQ and I would do that on any other airline I travelled on.

    I rarely need to sleep on airplanes – and plan my travel accordingly.

    If it is dark outside I like to see the lights below – the lightening in the sky etc .. if its daytime I like to see where I am flying over.

    My most recent flight was SIN to SYD left SIN at 0045 arrived SYD local time at 1020 – I did not plan to sleep – I wanted to watch the view – but was asked to lower the shade – really if you want to stay sleeping after dawn you should be asleep and have your eye shade on etc.

    Its all about personal choice but I hate this idea of the FA that once the service is done everyone wants to sleep –

    when it really is a plot by the cabin crew to send everyone to sleep so they have less work to do

  38. I would like to know the official rule on when you can recline. I get sleepy during taxi and like to have a 15 minute nap during take-off. I recline at wheels up. However, the rest of the flight, my seat is usually not reclined. I believe if you are trying to sleep – recline. Otherwise, keep the seat up as a courtesy to your fellow passengers. These days, even in business class, reclining is an encroachment. I am so happy that my favored airline, Delta, has more and more flatbed seating for domestic flights. 0ne, two, one seating of a jumbo jet. All aisle access and no recline encroachment – makes flying almost enjoyable.

  39. @Tiffany, @Mike: I’m absolutely with you! I’ll never understand why people close the shades on a “fully” day time flight. Scientific evidence on jetlag shows that sunlight helps adjusting your body clock.

    While I have no experience flying LAX to NYC, I find westbound transatlantic increasingly troublesome. E.g. MAD to BOG which is usually departing around noon and arrives to BOG late afternoon local time, but well before midnight MAD time (equally on IB, AV and UX). So it’s a fully daytime flight from BOG point of view (which is relevant for body clock) and – depending on season – 70 to 100 percent daytime MAD time. There are no connections from Asia AFAIK (PVG and NRT arrive too late for same day connection). So there is no objective reason to sleep on this flight (and many similar flights, indeed).

  40. @Andy – There are incredibly obvious objective reasons why people may want to sleep on that flight. Firstly, maybe they’re tired (weird I know, but sleep is a well known cure for tiredness). Secondly, maybe they’re bored and/or uncomfortable so want to sleep to avoid it.

    And if they’re awake with the shades closed, maybe they want to watch a screen, the sun is in their eyes or they have a headache.

    Though these seem so obvious I don’t know if you’ve deliberately ignored them as they don’t apply to you personally?

  41. There are many times I close the window shade (I always get window seats) so that I can watch something in my ipad of the seatback. Also, the sun can glare quite a bit and I have had it where someone’s ipad across the aisle was totally blinding me as she was moving it around and it would catch the sun. Same thing with peoples jewelry at times. In this case I asked the FA to ask the person if they would shut the shade and why, and it has never been an issue.

    I often am up very late the night before a flight and try to sleep on the flight when I first get on, well, anytime I can, actually.

    People often have very good reasons why they do what they do. Flying can be so stressful in so many ways I do always try to understand someone else’s perspective and be kind and considerate when I can be.

  42. Why does everyone commenting assume that the window shade and darkness has to do with sleeping during the day? I usually close the shade to reduce glare on my laptop, or even just so I don’t have to crank the screen brightness all the way up… that way I can get more battery life from it. While I appreciate your desire to see clouds or some landscape, I’ve often got work to accomplish.

  43. Sorry, but glare, getting blinded, trying to sleep, trying to watch video all leads me to keep the shades closed. I hate it when everyone is trying to watch video and one guy has his shade up and he’s reading (not looking outside) (turn on your lamp if you want to read) and you can’t see your screen because of the glare. People are so inconsiderate. And if you are getting blinded by the sun, I would hit my flight attendant button if I got nowhere with the other person. Once again, people are so inconsiderate.

  44. I so agree! Why be a prat who leave the only blind up when the rest of the cabin is in pitch dark with everyone either resting or watching their IFE screen?

  45. I wanted to offer a different perspective not mentioned in these comments in case someone comes to the thread years later like I have.

    I have inner ear issues. I need to convince my brain as much as possible that I am in the sky and that it’s ok. I flew from SFO to HND the other day. I kept my window open for the full 10 hour flight and stayed awake even though I was on minimal sleep. If I fall asleep on the plane, when I land I feel like I’m still moving for a week if not longer. I also take doctor prescribed pills to deal with the issue whenever I fly.

    There was a woman in the middle section that asked me to shut my window and I told her no. I offered her a brand new sleep mask as well. Eventually the flight attendants moved her. I think the only reason they wouldn’t just force me even though they asked was because I was in Polaris. They even tried dimming my window twice.

    Some of us keep it open for medical reasons.

  46. I paid for a window seat so I can look out the window. Don’t like it, take a night flight or get a sleep mask. Plain & simple.

  47. Flying is an amazing and beautiful gift we enjoy. For me, it is disconcerting to be sitting inside a darkened metal tube and landing or taking off without open window shades during critical points of the flight.

    Now, I usually pick an aisle seat – so it’s not my call whether to open or close the shade. But when the entire cabin of passengers all fall in line, it just seems so absurd and bizarre to me when the plane is touching down and you don’t even know what’s going on outside. Try driving a car with all the windows covered. Just seems weird to me.

    People have become whinny, spoiled babies. Look at all the griping here because some people choose to look out the window and paid for a window seat.

    This being said however, I’m the first one to respect common sense and the person in the seat next to me, and lower the shade if the sun is streaming in or the person next to me wants to sleep or is unduly upset about the window shade.

    It’s like airlines have become airborne nursing homes where the people are kept sedated and quiet by the nannies putting them to bed and turning off the lights. Dare one of them open a window to see anything.

    Maybe we should start complaining about IFE and laptop screens having to be shut off or closed because those are ruining our sleep also?

    Then again, airlines treat passengers like cattle anyway, so who needs windows to see outside the barn, right?

  48. One more thought…

    I think the airlines should make some announcement at the start of the flight to use your window shades with courtesy of your fellow passengers (but not mandate they be closed) – although the FA should still have protocol regarding sleeper flights.

    Don’t leave it to the passengers to either get angry with each other or feel guilty for wanting to see the countryside roll by.

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