How Would You End The Airplane Window Shade Debate Once and For All?

Are these makeshift window shades the solutions to the ongoing debate about who gets to decide whether the window shade should be opened or closed? Photograph on the left by FlyerTalk member UATexasFlyer; photograph on the right by FlyerTalk member BeckhamsTears. Click on the photograph for a discussion pertaining to makeshift window shades aboard airplanes.

“I typically enjoy a window seat. It offers an opportunity to look at the marvels of both mankind — with the cities built and the ribbons of highways on which tiny metal cars traverse — and the wonders of nature, from majestic mountains to billowy clouds in all sorts of different formations. To see a sunset or a sunrise from the air is an especially magical treat to enjoy and embrace.”

The same thoughts were true on my very first flight from New York to San Juan on American Airlines when I was barely a teenager; they were true when I first wrote that statement here at The Gate back on October 4, 2011; and those thoughts still hold true today.

I truly enjoy the transformation of our wonderful planet evolve before my eyes — aided by the combination of the rotation of the Earth with the jet propulsion of the metal tube in which I am seated. I have always enjoyed guessing where I am without the aid of a map tracking the flight — and I am usually correct…

…unless I am over some vast expanse of water — then all bets are off on that one. The cloud formations then take over my attention — if there are any clouds present in the sky, of course. I am awed by just how deep blue the color of the sky can be; and at night, I enjoy watching the stars seemingly so close that you can just reach up and grab one. Thunderstorms below give the impression of flashes from the cameras of a thousand photographers under a veil of puffy cumulonimbus clouds. Complemented by the music to which I enjoy listening while in flight, I am truly mesmerized and entertained. The window on an airplane during a flight is my favorite mode of in-flight entertainment.

When a flight attendant directs the passengers to close their window shades so that they may sleep or watch a movie, I will usually lower my window shade to a point where the opening is just large enough for me to continue with my interpretation of in-flight entertainment but without disturbing fellow passengers. I rarely watch movies while in flight — or at any time, I admit, as I would rather act in them. I even have a profile posted at the Internet Movie Database with a partial list of no-name movies in which I am proud to have acted — and I intend to expand that list with future projects…

….but once again, I digress.

To “shed some light”, I asked back on June 6, 2007: “does a window of opportunity exist for a passenger seated elsewhere on an aircraft to dictate whether or not a window shade should be up or down, or does the passenger seated next to the window see right through that request?”

In other words: who has the final say over whether a window shade should be opened or closed?

This controversial topic has gone on for years on FlyerTalk and has been contentious enough at times to cause discussions to be closed to further input —such as when FlyerTalk member GordonGordon asked in April of 2009 “Why can’t you keep the window shade shut when everyone is sleeping/watching movie?”; or when FlyerTalk member librarygal inquired in a recent discussion launched earlier this month: “Is it rude to open your window shade on an international flight?

These discussions pertain to window shades equipped with the aircraft which are working properly — but one thing on which those on both sides of this debate might agree is that it is annoying when a window shade is not working properly; is stuck; or is out of commission.

For example — as illustrated in this discussion launched earlier this year, at least two people decided to use advertising placards aboard the aircraft as a makeshift window shade; while in that same discussion, at least two other people created window shades out of the emergency cards located in the seat pocket in front of you.

Technology does not seem to help matters much either. Windows which can be dimmed electronically on Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft were apparently not dark enough for long-haul flights two years ago, according to a spokesperson of All Nippon Airways.

FlyerTalk members do seem to like the “automated window shades” equipped on some aircraft operated by Emirates Airline — but that still does not resolve or mitigate the debate.

I suppose one answer could be that those passengers who want the window shades lowered could carry sleep masks or eye shades if they want to sleep — but that still does not resolve the issue if they want to watch entertainment during flights.

Another answer could be to charter a private airplane — such as these from Delta Air Lines, where you will instantly earn Diamond Medallion elite level status — but the rates could bankrupt you.

Would you travel in an aircraft without windows altogether if it meant bringing back supersonic travel — at least for business jet airplanes? Windows increase “drag” on the aircraft and add to its cost.

I personally think it would be a drag to fly in an aircraft without windows. I was fortunate to have flown as a passenger on Concorde operated by Air France; and I enjoyed seeing the curvature of the Earth outside of the window — which was heated due to the friction caused by flying at almost twice the speed of sound — from an altitude of 60,000 feet above sea level.

Not a problem: cameras would capture the views live outside of the aircraft and project them onto screens inside of the aircraft — and passengers can turn down the screens or change the images.

Would that not simply ignite this debate all over again? Besides — as cool as that may sound — I want to see the real thing live outside of a real window. I cannot imagine that the view would have that same feeling…

…but if the technology did not work, you would not be able to stuff superfluous advertising collateral into the “window.”

Okay — now it is time for you to get creative. How would you solve the window shade controversy once and for all? Please feel free to conjure ideas which seem impossible — even if it means sticking a unicorn horn into the window shade to keep it propped up…

…although you might have to purchase a seat for your unicorn to do that and wrestle it for the armrest both of you share — but that is a different debate altogether…

Comments (Showing 20 of 21)

  • langham123 at 6:30pm June 27, 2014

    I love looking out of the window tho’ I sit in an aisle seat, so feel the window seat occupier should have the say in whether or not to lower the shade, not the FA. For those who are afraid of flying, they can sit in the middle row, clenching their hands against the chair arms, wear shades or go by train! That’s rather severe I know, but clouds and things fascinate me and like you I love looking down on the world below.

    It’s always puzzled me why someone who operates a laptop or tablet or wishes to use IFE, occupies a window seat. On my recent Transatl flight the shades were down up to the Gate, and the seats were occupied by either small children furiously working their Ipods etc up to the Seat Belt sign was turned off. It makes me wonder what they’d do on an ‘Abandon Ship’ call. Frantically working while the plane submerged.

    • Brian Cohen at 6:52pm June 27, 2014

      My guess to answer your statement “It’s always puzzled me why someone who operates a laptop or tablet or wishes to use IFE, occupies a window seat” is perhaps because there is more privacy?

      Amazingly, people will fight over the office with the best view and pay big bucks to go to an observation deck of a famous landmark such as the Empire State Building — but they will literally turn their heads away from what are arguably the best views on the planet…

  • […] at occasions to trigger discussions to be closed to additional enter —reminiscent of when… The Gate Airplane Debate Once shade Window Would 2014-06-28 […]

  • matinicus rock at 8:09pm June 27, 2014

    Window shades are under the control if the passenger in the window seat. If you want to have control over whether the window shade is open or closed, sit in the window seat. Period.

  • go_around at 4:11am June 28, 2014

    Although I fly often I’m claustrophobic. Sitting by the window, with the shade always open, is the only thing that makes hours stuck in an aircraft fuselage tolerable. If an FA asks me to close my window shade, I politely refuse. It has never caused a problem.

    • Brian Cohen at 7:56am June 28, 2014

      I never even thought about the claustrophobia aspect, go_around. Thank you for sharing!

  • dedehans at 6:20am June 28, 2014

    I am with you Brian. I love looking out the window at the majesty of the earth and skies and concede slightly by pulling shade half shut if seatmate asks.
    As long as I live I shall be a nose pressed to the window in a plane…..

    • Brian Cohen at 7:59am June 28, 2014

      Aha — so you are the source of all of those nose prints all over the windows next to where I sit, dedehans!

      That reminds me: as one who enjoys sitting in a window seat, it can be annoying when numerous scratches on that window inhibit me from truly enjoying the view outside.

      If we wind up traveling together on a flight in the future, I will relinquish my window seat to you.

      I hope you are doing well, dedehans — long time no see!

  • woggledog at 11:44am June 28, 2014

    For those that argue for the right of others to ask the window seat PAX your argue is no different for people say behind you having the right to ask you to not recline your seat!

    If you want to sleep, wear eye shades.

    I love looking out of the window regardless of whether in flying over land or sea. The views, if you care to look, are normally staggering.

    I especially like flying between London and California, flying over the glaciers of Greenland.

  • rthib at 3:18pm June 28, 2014

    So if the person at the window has complete control of the window, then one can assume that the aisle person has complete control of access to the aisle.

    So if the answer for the windows is “If you want to have control over whether the window shade is open or closed, sit in the window seat. Period.”

    Then when windows seat person wants to go to the bathroom then the answer should be – “If you wanted access to the aisle, you should have picked an aisle seat. Period.”

  • SceneStealer7 at 4:55pm June 28, 2014

    @RTHIB That’s honestly how I feel. Of course I am not going to deny someone access to the aisle, but if I’m on a short flight (3 hours or less), I find it rude if the person in the window gets up and disturbs the person in the aisle seat.

    @Langham123 I used to prefer the window seat even though I don’t usually care to look out the window. I like having control over the windowshade (and do believe that is at the sole discretion of the window seat passenger, not the middle or aisle), and I appreciate not having to be disturbed if someone in my row needs to get up. However, my own circumstances have changed and I now prefer the flexibility to get up whenever I want, so I have relinquished the window and usually now choose aisle.

  • oktoberfest at 7:32pm June 28, 2014

    From the title of this post on the homepage, I thought you were going to give us the answer.

    • Brian Cohen at 7:42pm June 28, 2014

      I do not write those titles, oktoberfest.

      I am responsible for all of the content within an article — including the title — posted here by me at The Gate.

      Would it help if I said that if I could give you the answer, I absolutely would?

      I would if I could; but I can’t, so I shan’t…

  • consultant22 at 12:16am June 29, 2014

    I think it’s up to the person next to the window with an exception. If the sun is shining brightly into the cabin and hitting the face of the others in the row – it’s common courtesy to lower the shade.

    Also, if you are seated in a middle or aisle, you don’t have much of a right to tell the person at the window to keep the shade open “for the view”. If you wanted that, you should have chosen a window. UVA rays are actually pretty bad at higher altitudes so there is an additional safety argument for keeping the shades down.

    • Brian Cohen at 8:48am June 29, 2014

      In all fairness, consultant22, I do not believe many people actually choose to sit in the middle seat. If I am seated in a middle seat — rare as that may be — it is because no other seats are available on the airplane. If someone is in a middle seat and wants to see the view outside, I will usually oblige — and if they ask me politely if I can please close the shade, I usually will to the point where I can still see outside but comply with the wish of that person.

      I am also the type of person who will not only share my view, but will also play “tour guide” if the person sitting next to me appears to be interested in what is outside of the window. This is especially fun when the aircraft is on approach into my original hometown of New York, where I will point out all of the landmarks, as well as waterways, roads, etc. If the person “oohs” and “ahhs” and shows genuine interest, I will continue and even give advice on how to best enjoy New York. If the person appears disinterested, I will stop and simply continue to quietly enjoy the view…

  • Jacaranda at 2:36am June 29, 2014

    More thought and courtesy from others, as always, is required… The last few fights I’ve taken early evening flying directly North from southern Europe back to the UK passengers on the left side of the plane playing with ipads seem oblivious to the power of the Sun. One couple sharing an ipad doing the crossword, flicked it back and forth seemingly determined to burn the back of my retina out with the flashes off the surface. This was despite me being sat across the aisle in the opposite window seat. Wearing dark glasses and looking right all the time was the only way to avoid blindness! It is simple, those who have control over the window blind need to be aware of any suffering or inconvenience to others, keeping it open may cause!

    • Brian Cohen at 8:58am June 29, 2014

      I know if I am in a seat next to the window and the sun is shining in, I always look at the passengers inside of the airplane to ensure that no one has a glare “attacking” him or her. If so, I always lower the window shade until that glare is gone.
      Unfortunately, Jacaranda, some people are simply oblivious to how they affect other people around them — whether intentionally or unintentionally…

  • dedehans at 6:31am June 29, 2014

    Yes Brian, long long time no see…..hoping we might all meet up for dinner in ATL one day soon….an easy jump from MLB…..love to see you again! xod

  • dedehans at 9:15am June 30, 2014

    BTW, Brian….my nose doesn’t scratch plane windows…….:-D

  • daviator at 2:15am July 31, 2014

    Allow me to clear this up for everyone.

    1. The window seat passenger owns the window shade and gets to decide its position. However, with this awesome (?) privilege comes the responsibility to consider how the shade position might impact other passengers, and factor that into your decision. For example, if they are showing a movie on screens at the front of each cabin, you should probably close the shade at least partially to limit how much ambient light is admitted. I’ve never found it difficult to get my way and respect others all at the same time.

    2. You have the absolute right to recline your seat to its maximum any time except for takeoff and landing. This is not rude.

    3. Aisle seat passengers do not own access to the aisle, that’s just silly. And a passenger in the middle or window seat who needs to use the lavatory during a short flight is not rude either. When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. And you don’t know but what that passenger may have a medical issue, may have been on a connecting flight that arrived late and left them no time to use the airport restroom, or simple may not have the bladder capacity to just grin and bear it. I’m really rather appalled by the insensitivity and, yes, rudeness of those who would label someone as rude merely for responding to nature’s call.

    To those people who don’t like to be inconvenienced by having to get up to let other passengers in and out, there’s a simple solution (and it’s one I always use):

    Book a window seat!

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