Is Opening Your Window Shade On A Plane A Right Or Privilege?

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

There are a few topics which seem to spark huge debates over whether something on a plane is a right or a privilege. I think seat recline is one of them, as we saw with the huge debate which was started over the “Knee Defender.” My personal opinion is that reclining your seat is a right, though if you’re a decent human being you should be courteous and still make sure it’s okay with the person behind you (even if that just comes in the form of turning around and making eye contact).

Reader James sent me the following email, which raises another interesting airplane “right vs. privilege” question:

Hey Lucky,

Just curious what you make of this thread and your in flight experience with FAs making you close the window blind all the time, maybe during night flights or daytime flights.

In case you don’t want to read the actual thread, it’s about crews being “militant” about requesting that passengers close window shows inflight, in this particular case on a redeye.

It goes without saying that there’s no “absolute” right answer here. Use of windows isn’t covered in the contract of carriage or fare rules, and there are no FAA regulations when it comes to this.


So where do I stand? I think flight attendants have the following “power” over window shades:

  • On many airlines, flight attendants have the right to request that your window shades be open during takeoff and landing as a safety precaution (which I think is smart — it amazes me that US airlines don’t have similar regulations)
  • Flight attendants can ask that you keep window shades closed during a redeye or longer flight to keep the cabin dark, but it’s simply that — a request; the reason for this request could be to allow others to maximize rest, which perhaps in part may be motivated by the crew having to do less work (more people asleep equals less service)

Where do I stand on the “right vs. privilege” of airplane window shades?

  • The person in the window seat has full control over the window shade, and can do whatever they please; after all, the window shade controls are at their seat
  • At the same time, the person in the window seat should be a decent human being and try to be considerate of seatmates; if it’s an overnight flight where the sun is going to rise, keeping the window shade open for hours on end isn’t very considerate

Note that all of the above doesn’t apply on the 787, which doesn’t have window shades. While passengers have “buttons” to control the window settings, the crews can override those controls and set the “dimming” to whichever setting they’d like.


As far as my personal “agenda” goes, I actually find I have slightly the opposite problem. It sort of drives me crazy on longhaul flights when the crews decide to take it upon themselves to open all the window shades way before absolutely necessary, to wake up all passengers and prepare the cabin for landing early. If they have to open all the shades before landing, I wish they’d do it a bit later.

Bottom line

I think it’s reasonable for crews to kindly ask that you close your window shades in order to make the cabin ambiance more pleasant for the majority of passengers. But I also think it’s reasonable to choose to keep it open, assuming it’s not inconveniencing the people around you.

Where do you stand on window shades? Is their “position” (not to be confused with yesterday’s Virgin America Tweet) up to the crew, the person in the window, or some other combination?

  1. I bet there’s a direct correlation between Full Rocket Recline Guy and Windowshade Always Open Guy

  2. Unfortunately like you said, on the 787 you don’t have a choice. I was on a day-time United flight and they overrode the controls the entire time. It was very frustrating.

  3. Here’s an interesting one which I was wondering if you can confirm (I can’t). My parents flew Avianca at night into Bogota a few years back and pax were requested the opposite by the crew on landing and take off (to close their shades) due to security reasons. I can’t think of a good reason for this measure other than to make the cabin less visible from the outside in case someone wants to take a shot at it, or to make the plane less visible, which I can’t even think how it would even be possible. Have you seen this case before? Didn’t make much sense to me.

  4. I was in F on just a basic domestic flight in the middle of the day and the passenger behind me had the FA ask me to lower my shade because its was too bright. I think FAs need to deflect some of these requests and not let them to the pax and put them in an awkward position.

  5. I feel that on a daytime flight it is a right. On a nighttime flight, as defined as 30 minutes after sunset, you should never have it open. But having it open halfway isnt going to hurt anyone on a daytime, is it? On a recent lonhaul, the flightattendants turned the lights off, and everyone closed their windows. You would think the FA’s WANTED you to go to sleep so they wouldnt have to serve you! Who wants to sleep after sleeping at home or in a hotel? All the pax. Must have felt lazy that day.

  6. FWIW, Delta does require that window shades are open for takeoff and landing, though it isn’t always enforced. (Or maybe it’s not a rule at all and some FAs just enforce it themselves, who knows.)

  7. Another time that window shades should remain closed in on the tarmac during a hot day. Those that are first to board should keep the shades closed to keep it cool in the aircraft.

  8. Can’t stand the glare.

    During cruising, as long as there’s (anticipated) light out, keep it shut.

  9. Just flew AMS-MSP on Delta One during the day and one passenger had his window shade open the entire flight. Very annoying since most of the passengers were trying to sleep and there you have this dude watching a movie with the sun shinning on his screen. Oh well!!!!

  10. On a recent return flight from London I was asked to lower my shade. It was a daytime flight, I didn’t sleep and most other passengers in the cabin (business) didn’t sleep either. But the crew wanted the cabin to have a low-ish level of light for some reason. It wasn’t a big deal, I lowered it, I was on the sunny side of the plane and the light was a bit bright. But I wanted to look out, that’s why I chose a window seat, and I wanted a higher level of light so it would feel like daytime to me, to help me adjust to my home time zone.

  11. It’s a complex question, at night it should make no difference as very little light creeps in…

    On longhaul flights it’s particularly tricky, as pax want to get as much rest as possible, and crews aid this endeavor as it results in lowered levels of work for them.

    But on a flight like Sydney – Johannesburg, I want to be awake at the times I would be awake in joburg. Sleeping until 1pm South African time is not wise if you want to rapidly adjust to the timezone when you arrive. I thus open my shutter by 9am SA time at the latest.

    Crew members have however become smart to my timezone argument, insisting the light affects visibility on the IFE screen for surrounding pax, and has nothing to do with sleep patterns (which it should)

  12. I always sit in the window seat because I enjoy looking out the window – so typically I keep it open unless it’s causing glare or temperature issues. I fly through the American southwest monthly where temperatures can easily be 100F (37C) on the ground, so crews normally ask the pax to close the shades and open all air vents upon landing. I’ve never experienced a domestic carrier in the US ask pax to open or lower shades in the air… and I fly 2-4x month domestically.

    I’m not sure if I would close the shade during the daytime if someone asked me – I chose that window seat for a reason. I’m not a Fullrocket Recline Guy, but I guess I’m a Window [almost] Always Open Guy.

    At night, however, there’s nothing to see so I always close my shades to avoid sunrise waking me and my seatmates up before landing.

  13. I think that if the seat reclines, people should be able to recline, if they want to – especially on long-haul flights. Likewise, I think that the person in the window seat gets to control the shade – up or down as they choose. (Personally, it irks me when people keep the shade closed on descent, because I would enjoy the seeing the landscape. But if I chose an aisle seat, for whatever reason, then I live with what the window seat person decides to do.) I think it is selfish to ask everyone not to recline and to keep the shades closed. Whoever decided that that was the polite thing to do? Sheesh!

  14. We flew IAD to SNN last year on UA, overnight, and the FA’s didn’t request shades to be lowered and the cabin lights weren’t dimmed for quite awhile after food service. Therefore most people stayed awake, chatting in the aisles. Made it very difficult to get any rest at all. Of course this was economy, so I wasn’t expecting a fantastic sleep, but would have been nice to be able to catch a little nap. On the daytime return flight from EDI to EWR on UA, the flight attendants requested the shades to be lowered. Daytime flight!! I thought both flights were a bit strange for that.

  15. I flew on a UA 777 recently I was amazed by how many people kept their window shades down for takeoff and landing. When I have a window, I like to look out! But I guess it’s not everyone that agrees with me…

    I think that the person who sits in the window seat can do whatever they want. But they should also be considerate. Opening it a few times during a nighttime flight to look out is okay (I do that). Keeping it open the whole time is less considerate.

  16. Shades should be closed (or mostly closed) at cruise altitude. Always.
    If you are at the window, it doesn’t seem so bright. However, when the rest of the cabin is dim and you have one person’s window wide open with direct sun coming in, the glare is terrible. It’s very uncomfortable for others’ eyes adjusting (akin to looking directly at a flashlight and then into darkness). Not to mention the inability to see anything on the IFE in a dark scene. I hope the auto dark 787 shade system becomes widespread. I don’t actually care if the shades are open when I’m sleeping. I use eye shades.
    I think if “open shade” guy had to actually fly for 8 hours during daylight in the middle of the plane with an adjacent guest’s shade open, they would change their mind about this annoyance (at least I hope they would as a decent human being).

  17. On long haul flights, particularly TPAC where i try to adjust my sleeping schedule almost immediately i would want them shut. I’ll ask the FA to have them closed if its super bright and light is shining directly onto my face, though this usually only happens when one or 2 window shades are up out of the entire cabin.

  18. @Barry is right. If it’s daytime, on the side of the plane with the sun or if it’s around noon the light coming in will bother someone in the cabin. Usually not the person at the window.

    If there is built in IFE, it will bounce off the screen and catch someone.

    That being said, I agree with Lucky’s assessment and usually don’t ask – I hold a newspaper or menu up to shade my eyes. That often precipitates an observant window seat passenger to lower the shades.

    What disturbs me is when people sleep with the window shade up.

  19. @FreeTravelGuys…This sort of thing used to be really common flying into Eastern Europe. Shades shut means you’re not looking at potentially sensitive military operations at the airport.

    And yes, it’s Kabuki.

  20. The only time the shade open bothers me is when there is clearly a tv/video screen at that window that people in rows behind are reliant upon and the light messes up their view of the tv.

    I get more pissy about people who leave reading lights on when they sleep at night around me then I do about window shades.

  21. exposure to daylight is a huge factor in circadian rhythm adjustment and therefore the amount of jet lag you’ll experience at your destination. i often fly the 7pm HKG-JFK flight which arrives at around 11pm. the best way i’ve found to minimize jet lag on this flight is to trick your body into thinking you’re taking off early morning NYC time instead of dusk local time. You eat “dinner” and by the time you’re over the pacific, it’s bright outside. I like to keep the shade up at this point because I want exposure to daylight to feel like I have my “daytime” in terms of the NYC clock. Other pax, of course, want to sleep because it’s technically the wee hours back in HKG. i wish i could say “use the damn eyeshade then” and let those of us with a jet lag plan get our daylight but the crew insist on shades down. oh well. it used to bother me but then i realized i’ll feel like crap for a few days no matter what i do.

  22. I loathe it when I’m on a very long flight and the entire cabin is pitch-dark the whole time. I find that this rarely happens in economy class or first class, but frequently in business. I’ve had Cathay Pacific FAs ask me to close the shade when it’s daytime at both the origin and the destination, and I’m trying to work and stay alert but there’s one guy sleeping on the other side of the plane.

    If there’s a period of the flight when a large majority of the cabin are sleeping, then, fine, I’ll close it. And on a short red-eye like LAX-JFK or JFK-LHR, yes, keep it closed. But when sleep is more of a luxury than a necessity then, if I’m at the window and I’m awake, my shade will be open – and I resent it when FAs make me feel guilty about that.

  23. Two reasons flight attendants want you to follow their window shade instructions during take off/landing: so they can see if there is fire during critical time, and your eyes are adjusted during emergency to the brightness/darkness of the outside when you need to get out quick and slide down that emergency carpet ride.

  24. @JB

    “I’m not sure if I would close the shade during the daytime if someone asked me – I chose that window seat for a reason. I’m not a Fullrocket Recline Guy, but I guess I’m a Window [almost] Always Open Guy”

    Picture yourself as the guy RIGHT BEHIND YOU who has the blinding glare from the wing coming in through your wide open window, then ask yourself if being a “window almost always open guy” is such a good idea. Not that I condone bad behavior, but seat kicking, letting the tray table repeatedly slam open/closing it with full force, and pushing LCD buttons with way too much pressure are all options open to the passenger sitting behind you.

  25. I always close them. As soon as wheels are up, they are down regardless the time of day. I can’t stand when a passenger can’t decide if they want the shades up or down. It’s dark 5 minutes and then it’s bright again. That’s the most annoying.

  26. I was on an ANA flight from ORD-NRT in May, and these two idiots on the left side of the plane kept snapping the window open for 10 seconds, every 15-20 minutes. This was in the middle of the Pacific, so its not like there was anything to see. In the middle of a long-haul, where people are trying to sleep it is completely rude, especially to do it over and over again.

  27. @Barry,
    I guess that could have been me you are referring to. I absolutely love keeping the window shade open during a flight. Love looking out and love the warm rays of the sun that help keep me warm because planes are always freezing. You will see me with a winter coat, hat, and gloves on almost all flights and that extra amount of sound keeps me just comfortable.


    Nope, I always keep my window shade open on a plane because as I mentioned above I look to look out and enjoy the view and it provides a means for me to stay warm. I fly over 50,000 miles a year and have had to sit in the middle seat of a 777 several times due to irregular ops and I am thrilled when people keep their shades open in the middle of the day. Plenty of fellow passengers did this in Main Cabin Extra on my flight to Hong Kong several months ago. The ability to have the sun warm the cabin up is great, and I am still able to view my inflight entertainment screen. This may come as a shock but there is likely a high correlation between people who watch television in their house with their window shades open and the sun reflecting onto the tv to window passengers who keep there window shade open and watch an in-flight movie on the seat back screen.

    I agree with Lucky that passengers who sit in the window seat have full control over the window shade at their seat. I have had on several occasions passengers ask the flight attendant to request I close the shade and often I politely refuse. If the shade is fully open, I will gladly close it 75% or 80% as that still provides sufficient sunlight to keep my seat warmer, but I will never close it completely. Heck, if sleep is so important on a flight, then perhaps you as the passenger should have brought an eye mask with you that work wonders. They don’t take up much space, cost less than $5.00 and provides you full control over the level of light that you are comfortable with. Why should you impose your wishes on others just because you came ill equipped?

  28. @JC… Do you not get that you are also imposing your wishes on others because you came ill equipped? Perhaps you should pack disposable hand and body warmers for your next flight if you are always so freezing. Don’t like that idea? Then don’t expect others sitting around you to wear eye masks or sunglasses either.

  29. I find it very irritating to have direct sunlight streaming in from even the other side of the plane when trying to watch anything on my IFE screen. A ‘milky’ picture plus a developing headache from an intense light source is not ideal. Considering the problem is coming from a number of seats away poses problems I feel, and can realistically only be dealt with by a willing FA.

  30. @chancer,

    I have tried on multiple occassions and the TSA has always confiscated them claiming they contain liquid even though they are air activated. Plus, if you are so bothered by the glare perhaps an investment in a good pair of sunglasses may be necessary.

    I didn’t realize that what bothers you is more important than what bothers me. When did my rights become less important than yours? When did the fact that there is something as simple as an shade which can go up and down next to one individuals seat become the domain of every other person on the plane? If I paid extra for that window seat since it was a choice seat, does that now provide me with the right to do as I please with the shade versus if I didn’t? Everyone can always argue that no matter how polite you are and how much you go above and beyond for others that you are inconveniencing someone else. Human beings by nature are selfish and interested in only themselves. This served us well when we were hunter and gatherers as it allowed us to survive and eat. However, in this modern era it doesn’t serve that purpose. However, the thought that what the majority wants should always win is a false believe and one that the United States founding fathers’ shunned. That is why we don’t have a democracy in the true sense in the United States and instead we have a republic. The founding fathers did not believe that the viewpoint of the majority should infringe on the rights of minority. However, you and many others on this blog are falling into the viewpoint that what the majority wants is considerate and what the minority wants must therefore be inconsiderate. This is not correct logic or thought process. Therefore, let us agree to disagree.

    During day flights all window shades on planes should be opened. The sunlight is required for a normal circadian rhythm and allows your body to better adjust to jet lag. And if you are one of the many that like to sleep on planes during the day and want to impose your unnatural sleep patterns on others then I don’t understand why you don'[t do that everyday. Are airplanes now the new kindergarten for adults complete with nap time? After all, didn’t you sleep the night before a proper amount? If not, is that my fault? If you did sleep the proper amount, then why do you want to sleep more? Should the fact that you desire additional sleep and want to throw your circadian rhythm out of wack mean that I now have to suffer for days with an out of whack circadian rhythm as well?

    I think the issue with airplanes is that no one knows who else will be aboard or where those individuals will be sitting. Therefore, unlike in a restaurant where if you sit next to disruptive kids and then ask to be moved to another spot, you have to endure the other individuals quirks for the duration of the flight. However, just because something I say or do including keeping the window shades open bothers you, doesn’t mean that I am not also negatively influenced by something you say or do which could include a quirk of yours. And let me tell you, almost everyone if not everyone will say or do something or possess a quirk which bothers another individual on an airplane. Afterall, have you never sat next to someone who has horrible body odor or passes wind or talks with food in their mouth on an airplane. Does this not bother you during the flight. Yet, instead of complaining to the individual that they stink in your opinion or to control their bodily functions you keep it quiet. So why is an airplane window shade any different? Is it because if you say something the individual may complicity comply for fear of retribution by you or being shamed by you? If this is the case, is this no different than bullying someone into submission?

    This blog will never resolve the issue on airplane shades because it really comes down to human nature and psychology.

  31. Well, as was predicable this discussion is turning south…obviously there is no “correct” answer, only personal preference, but everyone is very adamant about their “rights”. If you don’t like the window open, then close it and get an eye mask. If you like it open, then keep it open, but show some courtesy by partially closing it if the cabin is full of people trying to sleep. These days the argument favors those who like darkness so they can watch crappy IFE. That was not the case waaay back, when all you had was those crappy plastic headsets and three channels of looping, crappy music. Times change. FA’s love to close them, because then they force you to try and sleep – especially heading westbound despite flying in daylight, so they can relax and work less. It’s not rocket science.

  32. @Santastico
    I had that exact situation on Delta but it was from ATL-AMS. And the best part was, the passenger was sleeping when he had the window open and then would close it when he woke up for a meal service!

  33. @ JC~ wow! what a rant! Hope I never get stuck next to you on any mode of transport; what a boring chatterbox you would be. 🙁

  34. @JC eyeshades do not block out all the light. Why does your circadian rhythm trump everyone else’s? An open shade will impact people throughout the cabin, and the shade open 20% will still bathe many people with light, if they are trying to sleep. If you sat in the center of the plane you wouldn’t be so cold either.

  35. @JC~ You really should book in Princess Class, where your every wish and desire is anticipated. There are also no other people to bother you.

  36. I only fly domestic, so it isn’t usually a huge deal. Nonetheless, I get window seats for a reason. I make sure sunlight isn’t directly shining on anyone and may thus close it somewhat, but I want to look out to the greatest extent possible.

  37. what about seats where the window is in between two seats. Who has the right or privilege to dictate whether the window shade is closed or open

  38. If the sun is beaming directly through the window, most people at window seats will close their shades because the glare is as uncomfortable for them as everyone else. Otherwise, I don’t think the person who chose that seat, maybe to watch the scenery, or for any other reason, should feel compelled to close the shade so that others have total darkness to watch video screens even if a flight attendant encourages them to do so. This is especially galling if the airline requires payment for headsets.

    Economy is claustrophobic enough and it’s nice to have an unlimited horizon to take the edge off of that. In expressing this view, I am not taking into account how the on board entertainment is often nothing but drivel or how watching a bright screen in a totally darkened space may cause eye strain and fatigue.

  39. I agree with closing the shades during nighttime flights. However, it drives me crazy when the crew asks everyone to close their shades for a movie during a daytime flight. I like to read on board and it’s very hard to do that with the appalling small light on top of your seat. Also, it throws off my body clock, especially on day flights back to the eastern U.S. from Europe when I’m trying to stay awake so I can get used to the eastern time zone.

  40. Absolutely agree with you about wishing cabin crew would wait until closer to landing before forcing all the blinds open and waking everybody up.

  41. Everyone needs to take their own eye shades. I always do and they most definitely totally block out all the light. It’s part of being a prepared adult while traveling. If I have my mask then I don’t need to worry about what anyone else is doing because I have premptively solved the problem.

  42. Post Doha/LA ultra-long-haul flight with a belligerent couple behind me refusing to close the windows for the entire 17hour flight; I’m now on the “Just close the windows” side of the fence – cabin disrupted entire flight, pax ineffective, eate myself across the planet. Only course of action was severe flatulence and air vents pointed behind me. Not proud of it but had to fight inconsiderate fire with fire.

  43. Unless the sun is low on the horizon and at a 90-degree angle to the airplane, I believe shades should always be open. If you’re seated by the window, you’re there presumably to enjoy the view. So enjoy it and let others benefit from the daylight entering the cabin. A view out the window relieves claustrophobia, makes the cabin brighter and more cheerful, and can help with airsickness by focusing your attention on what’s outside the plane rather than what’s in it.

    If the sunlight bothers you then get a center or aisle seat, plain and simple. If you want to spend the entire flight napping, bring earplugs and a blindfold. It is absurd that someone would vy for a window seat just so they can shut the shade; it’s like moving from a cubicle into a corner office and then covering the windows in drapes. I can deal with people leaning back too far in their seats, crying babies, and overhead bin space hogs…but this is by far my biggest pet peeve about air travelers today.

  44. I like a window -seat because I like watching the scenery(and the clouds).Plus, I am extremely claustrophobic and shudder at the thought of sitting in a huge darkened aluminium tube (the plane cabin) with no natural light coming in, 30000 feet above the ground! I can’t understand why PAX can’t use eye-shades if they want sleep.

  45. Like MoiraAtLarge I read during the day (from paper).
    So when I have the window seat during the day I want the blind at least partly up – natural light is better (for health of eyes).
    But I share the annoyance regarding crew raising blinds overly early on overnight flights.

    I am always surprised by how many people sleep on day flights.
    Presumably this is a result of the “modern world” epidemic of people not getting enough sleep?
    Well, that’s their choice/fault, so should not alter the norm that during the day in a shared public space on the ground one would close blinds sufficiently to avoid glare, but not enough to make the inside dark.

    I suppose the ideal would be if there were some sorting mechanism whereby for daytime flights those that don’t want to sleep are grouped together in specific sections of the cabin.

  46. I never had a problem with Lufthansa, but I used SwissAir for the first time in a very long time and I was very disappointed about how militant the crew was about me opening and closing the blinders.

    They were rude and even woke up people just to open – or close – the blinder – and that not only a few minutes before landing, but much earlier!

    I am glad I found this article and truly hope that I will not have to go through this again – I will never take SwissAir though, after this treatment 🙁

    Being politely asked is one thing – but there was a moment where I questioned the lady, WHY I had to do it – and she stared at me as if I had murdered someone…

  47. To second what Richard Sage wrote, someone PLEASE tell me what is the deal with so many people sleeping on daytime flights? Grown adults sleeping during the middle of the day as if it’s nap time at Mrs. Jones’ Preschool.

    While I agree 100% that air travel is not as comfortable as it used to be, at least one thing has improved and that is the variety of in-flight entertainment options. On most longhaul flights today, you have your own personal video screen with a plethora of movies, TV shows and video games to keep you occupied. As if that weren’t enough, in many cases wifi is available. So I can’t fathom how people could be bored into a slumber. I’ve always thought the reason people preferred window shades down was to reduce glare on their screens; however this is not a valid argument since I always find more people sleeping than using their screens, tablets or laptops.

    I also don’t understand why people feel it’s necessary to keep the window shades closed at night when there is no light outside to bother other passengers.

    So unless the sun is shining directly in (and I try to be considerate of my fellow passengers), I always like my window open regardless of the time of day.

  48. I don’t sleep on airplanes, so I’m awake the whole night/day whatever. I used to be a window seat person and would enjoy looking out the window even at night and you can see lights and towns at night so there is something to look at. Now I’m a convert to the aisle seat, since being in the window seat made it hard to crawl over people, especially sleeping ones, to go to the restroom at night. Now I feel that the window seat person should have control of the shades to do whatever. If you want to sleep then use a mask. Then everybody is happy!

  49. More importantly, how do I select for flights where shades are always kept open? “Rest periods” in broad daylight are asinine.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *