Who Owns The Rights To Airplane Window Shades?

Filed Under: Advice

In June I wrote a post entitled “Is Opening Your Window Shade On A Plane A Right Or Privilege?”


The premise of the question was regarding flight attendants who try to dictate the position of window shades during a flight. In theory I can appreciate flight attendants trying to create a consistent ambiance in the cabin, but at the same time I think individual passengers should have the right to do what they want with their own window shades.

Should crews dictate whether window shades are open or closed during a flight?

The conclusion I came to regarding the “right vs. privilege” of opening window shades during a flight was as follows:

  • 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

So I suppose my thoughts on window shades are the same as my thoughts on seat recline — the right belongs with the person who has access to the controls, but that person should do what they can to be considerate.

Anyway, a reader emailed me the following question which is sort of a spin-off of my previous post, and it got me thinking:

I have always preferred aisle seats in my frequent flyer profiles but have recently changed that to window seats because of the trend of passengers to keep the window shades closed during the entire flight. On a recent noon flight out of  ATL, first class on an MD-88, all but four windows had the shades closed during takeoff. I often close the window shade if I’m on the sunny side of the aircraft and I’m working on my computer but for the most part I enjoy looking out the window. Often you can see other aircraft traveling in the same or opposite directions. Trying to figure out what city you are flying over on a clear day. I can often identify the city by the airport and runway configuration. What about all the beautiful sunrises and sunsets passengers are missing?

If you are in the aisle and ask your seatmate to open the window they often give you the impression that you are invading their space. Sometimes they reluctantly open the window half way! On one flight the window seat passenger refused to open the window. So if he owned the window I owned access to the aisle. When we landed I blocked his exit to the aisle until all the passengers had exited from first class. Additionally I think this is a trend of the younger generation of passengers who are dialed into their phones for emails, text, listening to their play list, or playing games. Flying to the younger generation is probably like riding a school bus to my generation.

Now, previously I concluded “the person in the window seat has full control over the window shade, and can do whatever they please,” though could the same argument be made for the person in the aisle seat regarding the aisle? Does the aisle passenger have full control over the aisle, and not have to make room if the person in the window seat wants to get up?

The above point presents an interesting perspective, but I’m still not sure it changes my opinion. I suppose what it did change is how I view this. I no longer view aisle vs. window seats as coming with certain “privileges,” but perhaps rather that you should choose seats based on what’s important to you:

  • If you have to get up often and value being able to get up whenever you want, pick an aisle seat
  • If you value having a view out the window and deciding whether the shade goes up or not, pick a window seat

And while I can appreciate wanting to look out the window when you’re in the aisle, that can also be annoying for the person in the window seat. I don’t like when I’m in a window seat working on my laptop, and the person in the aisle is glaring at my laptop/out the window. So I think there’s that side to it as well.

Ideally we could all get along and do what we can to make flying as pleasant as possible for one another. If you’re in the aisle seat, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking the person in the window seat if they wouldn’t mind opening or closing the window shade, but I also wouldn’t be mad if they refused.

The other way around, I do tend to think that getting up is more of a right than a privilege. Though perhaps if you suffer from IBS or something similar, you should prioritize that need over the desire for a nice window view. But if the person in the window isn’t being cooperative, I can see why the person in the aisle might take a “two can play this game” approach.

But that rarely ends well on planes!

Where do you stand? Does the passenger in the aisle seat have any say about the position of the window shade? Does the passenger in the window seat have a right to aisle access?

  1. I have a strong bladder and tend to hate being bothered, so I’m a window guy for anything domestic. For international, I bust out the miles and fly business, preferably on a carrier where everybody has direct-aisle access.

  2. A few months back there was this jackass on my SIN-NRT flight that wouldn’t close his window the whole flight (conveniently seated right in front of me). The flight attendants asked him multiple times to close it, but he refused and just looked out the window once every 15-20 minutes. If you’re important enough to light up and entire cabin, that cabin would be first class, because nobody that important sits in coach.

    On KWI-IAD a couple weeks ago the kids in the row behind my were messing around with the shade and opened it right as the sun rose and the parents didn’t bother asking the kids to put it down for a few hours.

  3. I understand that you’re trying to stir up a discussion but this has got to be the most autistic question I’ve ever come across. Here’s an easy solution. How about you communicate with people and determine the best thing to do in that particular scenario? If you’re both adults, you can come to an agreement without resorting to passive aggressive behavior (unlike your socially deficient reader who posed this question).

    This isn’t an analysis. This isn’t an important issue. There are expensive servers out there running 24/7 just so all of humanity can access this particular post. Did you really have to fill it with such mind-numbing drivel?

    I weep for humanity.

  4. @David what world do you live on where you think that “If you’re both adults, you can come to an agreement without resorting to passive aggressive behavior.” Because I live on planet Earth…

  5. To take this discussion one step further, I am a flight crewmemeber who just began commuting to work. Those who sit in the exit row window seats who enjoy the extra legroom AND who have accepted the responsibility in assisting the crew in the event of an emergency, need to keep their window shades open, day or night, so they may immediately assess the usability of their exit should something happen. I see people sleeping with their window shades closed who seemed shocked when I request them to open their shades for takeoff and landing. Discuss.

  6. How about an interactive airline seat map, you can pick your sears online and put a note in that you like having the window open on your flight.

    The next person booking a seat can see this online and picks to sit next to you because you like the window open all of the flight.

    Or maybe designated no windows open part of the cabin.

    I’m a window person, I like to look outside, I can watch TV whenever I want on the ground,so when I fly, I like my music on and the window open and i just watch the world go by. Yeah i’m one of those annoying people with the shade open, but if its a daytime flight , why would I be sleeping.

    During night flight it does not matter as its dark outside, and I don’t open the window shade on overnight flights until the crew do.

  7. I loooove looking out the window on flights. However, on long-hauls, particularly TPAC/TATL where everyone is asleep, or at least trying to snooze, I admit I give in to the pressure to keep the shade closed… I just don’t want to be “that guy” who opens his and illuminates the cabin. So my viewing mostly takes place during takeoffs and landings with little in between.

    There’s just something about the view from a plane that fascinates me even if all you’re seeing is blue skies and clouds, but I realize I’m in the minority on this one.

  8. If you’re sitting at a window seat, voluntarily or involuntarily, you are usually also sacrificing the comfort of an aisle seat. That needs to be taken into consideration before you judge someone for opening or closing their window shade. I was on a two hour morning (7-9am) flight a few months ago, and was flying over Spain, which has beautiful scenery, especially from the air, and I was asked to please close my window by the passenger behind me. I obliged, but I still feel that she could’ve simply put on some eye shades and she would’ve been fine, she didn’t have to ruin what is often one of the best parts of a flight for me.

  9. I think window shades are different than seat controls because they are not just for your own seat but impact many travelers – I’d consider them a “shared item” and the rights of the individual brush up against the rights of the larger group. Different cultures handle individual vs group differently, so you get the issues on flights. My take is that on an overnight flight (from departure city, regardless of light outside or not), the shades should be down, because the majority of people wants to sleep and a single open window can lighten up a big part of the cabin! On short-haul and/or daytime flights, there is less impact on others and individuals should do whatever they agree on with the people immediately around them.
    If all people would behave like adults, this wouldn’t be an issue. In our times, when enough people don’t behave like adults, the airlines should solve the problem: “pre-reclined” seats in coach and windows like B787 that can be dimmed with a central control to override all individual controls for night flights during the “core sleep time” between meals – no more fighting!

  10. I always try to get a window seat so that I can be sure the shade is closed. I cannot stand the bright light. If someone asks me to open the window during flight, the answer is NO.

  11. Totally agree with Rupert – you’re ignoring the fact, Lucky, that it is more thanbjust a couple of individuals involved here. If the majority wantbto sleep then those opening their shades are being selfish. I also dojt see jow they can ignore cabin crew instructions to open them either, they should certainly always be up for takeoff and landing.

  12. I’ve always been a window seat guy. Heck I think most if not all aviation geeks would always go for the window seat given all the cool/interesting planes you’d see around the airport right before departure or after landing.
    A good number of carriers nowadays have direct aisle access in its First/Business class sections so I was surprised you mentioned this issue since your blog tends to cater to folks who fly (or yearn to fly) in premium cabins. This seems to be more of an issue when flying in economy but I’m glad you highlighted this issue. 😉
    Anyway — I do think if you’re sitting in the window seat, you have the privilege to open/close it during the flight. I’m a reasonable guy though and if the aisle or middle person gives a pretty good reason why to open or close the shade, then I’d certainly put that to consideration.
    As for having the right to go to the bathroom as a windows passenger, I think the aisle passenger should always give way. After all, do you really want to be in a longhaul flight where the window passenger in your row had to do number 1 or 2 in his seat because you wouldn’t let that person go to the lavatory?!?

  13. There is no right or privilege to use the window shade. The crew will make the decision for you if a problem arises. Disobeying crew orders is a violation punishable with fines and/or jail time.

    Refusing to let a passenger out is a violation of civil rights, false imprisonment, and could be construed as assault/battery. By the time you pay the lawyer’s fees, who really won the battle?

    Offer to buy an item from duty free or a round of cocktails to entice the pax to share the window.

  14. Rupert, you’re right on.

    To those who think you own the shade if you have the window seat: No no no no no no no. You’re not entitled.

    I would add that even for a daytime flight, a single open window – in any cabin class – can easily ruin the comfort for many: Screen glare will render the IFE useless.

    And suggesting others use eye shades/masks is like telling bullying victims to shut their ears (and eyes) while the bully continues his verbal assault.

    Pilots or crew should own the rights to shades.

  15. @snoptro yes your example is exactly like bullying.In fact I would compare this behaviour to the acts perpetrated by the Nazis in WW2.Moron.

  16. The window shade control belongs to the person sitting by the window, it is very simple. And no, the crew should not have control over the shades.

    The person sitting by the window, picked that seat most likely because… he likes to look out of the window! So you are invalidating his preference because you want to sleep during a daytime flight? If you want to sleep outside normal sleeping hours (read: broad daylight) bring an eye shade, you get to sleep, he gets his window open, problem solved for everybody, why enforce your will on somebody else?

    Personally, if you ask me nicely, I will probably do anything for you, stop with that passive aggressive bs, we all adults, we can work something out.

    No comment for the guy that simply blocked the aisle access to get even with the person sitting by the window, childish behaviour.

  17. No one owns anything except their luggage on a plane. Like in life, you should do unto others as you would like to be treated. If in doubt ask: would you mind if I closed that window for an hour, as it makes it easier to work on my computer? Or: can I open this window to see the sky? etc. it’s not a question of owning or winning. It’s a question of living amicably with your community of passengers.

  18. One situation where passengers should not have control. On redeyes from the east coast to Europe that leave late at night (say depart at 10pm, arrive at 11am), the sun will come up ~4 hours into the flight while 90% of the people on the plane are trying to get a tiny bit of sleep. Shades should be down on those flights until an hour before landing.
    Daytime flight from Europe to US, shades open is fine.

  19. On Int’l flights, it’s inconsiderate to have it open. People are trying to sleep to either prepare for meetings off the phone or adjust their sleep schedule to the new timezone. Also, it’s highly inconsiderate for the aisle to think they can request the window be opened. I.e. Having your cake and eat it too.

    I was on a DFW-HKG 2 weeks ago and just 1 window open flooded the cabin with light as people were trying to sleep. You could see all the heads pop up all over the cabin and look over. I.e. extremely inconsiderate. Thankfully the FAs came over anytime someone opened the shade and they closed them w/o any passengers asking them to do so.

  20. On take-off and landing, I get mildly nauseous if all the windows are closed. The lack of any visual frame of reference is disorienting when I can feel that the plane is in motion. When I explain that to my seatmate, they usually prefer opening their window to being vomited on 😉

  21. If you want to look out the window, book a window seat. Blocking the aisle is just being annoying and petty.

  22. Unfortunately, many people in the window seat put their shade wide open and fall asleep. Then they aren’t aware of the strong glare that creeps across several rows and makes people wince as their eyes try to adjust, and contort to see their computer screen or IFE without getting a headache. I think there is also much more of a chance of the window seat person affecting a whole cabin with their window shade open than an aisle seat person actually blocking the aisle from anyone needing access. It’s all about consideration.

  23. All these discussions highlight a common underlying thread – a lack of basic courtesy, civility, common sense and respect for your fellow pax while sharing time in a public space with others. No pax “owns” the window shade or aisle seat. People are just self-obsessed and rude.

  24. I always choose a window seat, but it’s so I’m not bothered to constantly get up for the passenger sitting near the window. I also always have the shade shut as I am generally working on my laptop. However, my solution to this is not w/o it’s faults as it never fails that the passengers on the opposite side window seat will have their shade open w/ the sunlight hitting my side directly. Even though I always choose a window, I don’t know that I would say the rights are 100% my own. If a flight attendant asked me to open and/or close it I would just abide by the instruction and think nothing of it. I’ve yet to be in the position where a neighbor has asked me to open it though but if it did happen I wouldn’t be put off either.

  25. So it seems like the main theme here is that window light/glare is why people should close their window… to play devil’s advocate here, what are everyone’s thoughts on the person in the middle seat using their reading light?

    I find it annoying on a night flight when the middle seat has their light on because it illuminates the whole row… so, should they or shouldn’t they use the light at night?

    For what it’s worth, I take the window for any flight longer than an hour. Unless I’m trying to sleep, my shade is up no matter what. Unless you’re crew, I’m not going to close the shade for you. My window, my shade.

  26. Eye mask, check. Earplugs, check. Headphone, check. All set. Go ahead and open the window shade. Go ahead and talk loudly. See if I care.

  27. Okay, here’s the answer. “Would you please close your window shade while we’re flying within 100 feet of the sun/trying to sleep/enjoying the movie/trying not to get shot down by an RPG on our climb out?” or “Would you mind opening your window shade for 5 minutes so I can see Paris for the first time/the Grand Canyon before retinal cancer takes my sight/ the monster pulling up the skin on the wing?” Creative solution > open or close when they use the restroom. They may take hint. If not, at least you had 5 minutes of optimal shade position. Also offer to switch seats for a certain amount of time.
    Middle seat passenger with light on is excused if s/he’s working. Otherwise, death. Seat recline during meals > Rendition for torture is only recourse. Aisle seat has full control of the aisle if you’re a dick about the window. If you wanted to pee, you should have thought about that before we left Kuala Lumpur.

  28. I vote for window shades down unless instructed otherwise by crew. The glare is intense, and sometimes it’s nothing but glare. Even if I want to look outside, I will keep it shut out of consideration to others because I know how annoying/headache inducing glare is.

  29. TATL (to Europe) overnight flight in the summer: everyone should keep their shades closed. Completely inconsiderate to have bright sunlight disturbing people trying to get a little rest on an overnight trip.

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 *