Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down

Post originally Published January 18, 2024 || Last Updated January 18, 2024

See how everyone can now afford to fly Business Class and book 5 Star Hotels with Mighty Travels Premium! Get started for free.

Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Blocking Rays Both Ways

Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down

When flying at high altitudes, passengers are exposed to increased levels of cosmic ionizing radiation from outer space. Though the risks from occasional flights are low, frequent fliers and airline crew have greater cumulative exposure. Closing the window shades can help provide shielding from some of these cosmic rays.
Studies have shown that airline crews receive more annual radiation dose than workers in ground-based industries like nuclear power plants. Pilots in particular absorb higher doses than other crew members or passengers due to their location in the cockpit. The thinner air at cruising altitudes means less blocking of the cosmic radiation penetrating the atmosphere from space.

Flying just once across the country exposes you to about the same radiation dose as a chest x-ray. So occasional leisure travelers need not worry. But for frequent business travelers or airline employees, the risks add up over time and thousands of miles in the air. Closing window shades helps attenuate some of the radiation exposure.
In addition to cosmic radiation from space, there is also radiation emanating from elements naturally occurring in the Earth's crust, such as potassium-40 and uranium. The closer you are to the ground, the greater exposure you have to this type of terrestrial radiation. Airlines recommend keeping window shades open during takeoffs and landings to allow crews to assess any external threats or hazards as the plane descends. But during cruising altitude, closing the shades provides welcome radiation shielding.
Beyond radiation, window shades also block some of the visible light and UV rays that can strain eyes. Sunlight entering near perpendicular to the windows on early morning or late afternoon flights is especially bothersome. Pulling down shades creates a darker cabin environment that helps passengers sleep or watch movies with less glare. It also protects privacy for those seated adjacent to windows.
Of course, opening the shades allows passengers to take in views of landscapes, oceans, cities, sunrises and sunsets from above that few experience. So some travelers resist being deprived of these sights during their precious time in the air. Crews must balance managing radiation exposure with allowing travelers to enjoy and photograph these unique aerial perspectives our modern air transportation affords.
In an informal 2017 survey by Airfarewatchdog, 73% of frequent fliers said they prefer having window shades open during flights. However, cabin crew still have authority to mandate that shades be closed if needed. Airlines maintain it is a safety measure both for managing radiation exposure and for maintaining a dark cabin environment. The internal plane lighting is optimized when window shades are drawn.

What else is in this post?

  1. Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Blocking Rays Both Ways
  2. Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Preventing Glare Distractions
  3. Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Temperature Regulation in the Cabin
  4. Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Let There Be Dim Light
  5. Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Passengers Want Views Too
  6. Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Cockpit Concerns About Visibility
  7. Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Aesthetics and Ambiance Matter
  8. Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - To Each Their Own Window

Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Preventing Glare Distractions

Glare from sunlight piercing through little oval windows can make screens difficult to see and cause eyestrain for passengers. Ever try watching the in-flight entertainment when streaks of light are washing over the display? It's a pain. And reading or working on a laptop can be equally challenging.

Blocking glare is one of the main reasons crews ask passengers to shut the shades. Eliminating visual distractions helps travelers stay engaged with their devices and the seatback systems designed for their enjoyment. Nothing ruins an immersive movie experience faster than sunbeams cutting across the climactic moment of your rom-com or action flick. Suddenly it feels like you're watching TV in a living room with the drapes wide open at high noon!

In one Reddit discussion, user planeboi737 vented about this problem: "On a daytime red eye once and I was trying to sleep, but the sun was SO BRIGHT even with my eyes closed I couldn’t sleep." Fellow passenger ThisAmericanRepublic agreed, replying that he wishes "people realized that the glare from the sun makes it nearly impossible to see the screens."

Frequent business traveler Ben Schlappig has encountered the same issue, writing "There's nothing more annoying than being on a daytime flight trying to watch something on the in-flight entertainment and the sun is constantly glareing off the screen no matter how you adjust it." He says trying to angle the screen is useless. "The only way to get rid of the glare is by closing the window shade. So on daytime flights I'm definitely a fan of having window shades lowered."

But some passengers just can't resist peeking out the windows, lifting back up the very shades crews lowered to cut the glare. User Healy has no patience for these offenders: "If I’m trying to sleep or watch something, I get really annoyed when the other people seated around me constantly open their window shades back up after the attendants keep closing them."

While travelers may enjoy gazing out from 30,000 feet, their window opening and closing creates distraction for fellow passengers trying to work or be entertained. As Schlappig argues, "I'd suggest that passengers close their shades, and if they want to look outside briefly, all they have to do is lift their own window shade for a second."

Travel vlogger Mark Wiens agrees maintaining closed shades makes flights more pleasant for all. He tweeted that it's "one of the simplest airplane etiquettes - lower the window shade so the sun doesn't shine directly on others.” Doing so eliminates disruptive glare and "makes for a better environment to relax and sleep."

Though some still want to stare out at the skies throughout the flight, keeping window shades down creates the optimal environment cabin crews aim for. Blocking glare allows passengers to more comfortably view seatback screens. Working or napping is easier without visual distractions from sunlight. And travelers will have opportunities during take-off and landing to take in aerial views.

Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Temperature Regulation in the Cabin

Controlling temperature on airplanes can be a tricky balancing act. The ideal cabin environment satisfies the comfort needs of hundreds of passengers wearing all manner of attire. But extremes of heat or cold tax the airplane’s environmental systems. crews work to find a happy medium, yet keeping everyone satisfied proves difficult. Frequent fliers end up bringing layers to add or shed as conditions may require.
On boarding, the cabin air may feel warm as ventilation systems work to reach cruising altitude. The plane loaded with bodies heats the interior. But at 30,000 feet, low air pressure and humidity make conditions cooler than on the ground. Airlines actually pump in some of the warm compressed air from the engines to maintain comfortable cabin temperature. But finding an optimal set point gets complicated.

As Ben Schlappig reports, “While airline cabins are heated, they’re often heated to wildly different temperatures.” He has measured cabins ranging from 61 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Particular routes and weather conditions outside the plane impact interior climate as well.
Mark Wiens finds cabins on Asian airlines often feel hot compared to American carriers. In his experience, “the cabin is usually warmer, especially on landing,” with thermostats seemingly cranked too high for comfort.
Gender factors into perceptions of ideal air temperature too. Women generally prefer slightly warmer interiors than men. Twitter user Kristin Wong has “yet to fly on a plane that wasn’t freezing” for her taste. However, some male passengers still complain it’s “sweltering” on board at her desired room temperature.

Where you sit also influences climate exposure. Airflow follows specific circulation patterns within cabins. Seats over the wings or nearer to galley kitchens feel warmer. Exits and other gaps allow in drafts of outside air that can create cold pockets.
Frequent business traveler Ben Schlappig reports always feeling “downright cold on planes.” In a post titled “Why Do Plane Cabins Always Have to Be Freezing?” he guesses the cabin is kept around sixty degrees. He shivers under the air vent drafts, so dresses very warmly when flying.

But elsewhere Schlappig has roasted in other hot cabins nearing eighty degrees. He stripped off his sweater just to endure the trip without sweating buckets. Temperature discrepancies from airline to airline and route to route keep him guessing what conditions he’ll encounter each flight.

Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Let There Be Dim Light

Uniform dimness blankets the cabin when window shades are fully drawn. Airlines claim this consistent low lighting setting optimizes the interior environment for passengers. But some travelers chafe against the cave-like darkness imposed upon them.
Frequent business traveler Ben Schlappig calls window shades down “the arch enemy of someone who likes natural light.” For him, the experience feels oppressive, like being “stuck in a cave for hours.” Fellow road warrior Peter Rothbart similarly associates the dim cabin with confinement, saying it “makes me feel like I'm in an underground bunker or a submarine.”

Without sunlight streaming in, travelers lose awareness of time passing and the plane's movement through space. Mark Wiens feels “being in that closed environment exaggerates the feeling of being in a tube flying through the sky.” The uniform shadowing creates disorientation. He speculates some anxiety fliers experience could stem from the unnatural darkness.

Lighting conditions on windowless interiors like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner feel especially strange to veteran traveler Schlappig. He says the planes “have the most bizarre ambiance,” lit solely by abstract color-changing LEDs. “There’s something I find so off-putting about being on a plane with no natural light,” he remarks.
Some airlines take care to engineer nuanced interior lighting schemes. But travel writer JT Genter says many implement “a simple binary set of lights: off for nighttime and on for daytime.” This lack of versatility results in cabins feeling dark and grim after takeoff when shades are shuttered. Without warmer sunrise/sunset phases, the abrupt lighting shift is jarring.
Genter understands that crews aim for a darkened setting to aid sleeping passengers. But options are limited for those who wish to remain awake and work or socialize. Overhead spot lighting barely illuminates documents or faces, creating an awkward environment. He wishes more airlines enabled layered lighting suitable for varied activities.
Of course, those hoping to nap appreciate the blackout conditions. But when it comes time to serve meals, flight attendants suddenly flood the cabin with harsh fluorescence. For night owls like Schlappig, the “disco lights” assaulting his senses represent an unwelcome interruption of an otherwise blissfully dark trip.

Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Passengers Want Views Too

While flight crews tout keeping shades drawn for optimal lighting and radiation shielding, many passengers resent being deprived of gazing at stunning vistas outside their windows. For leisure travelers especially, enjoying epic aerial perspectives is a major part of the journey’s experience.
Mark Wiens relishes when flying over majestic mountain ranges and getting “a unique bird's eye view of the peaks and valleys.” He says beholding grand geographic features like the Alps or Himalayas from above is “one of the exciting parts about air travel.” But when window shades are kept shuttered, passengers lose out on these inspiring sights.

Wiens recalls a flight over Yellowstone when crews refused his request to lift the shades. Despite flying directly above the iconic national park, passengers were unable “to admire the glorious views” down below. He yearned to glimpse the distinctive Grand Prismatic Spring and other natural wonders, but could not fight the strict orders to keep windows blocked.
Veteran airline passenger Peter Rothbart similarly hates having the shades pulled on daytime flights. He enjoys picking out miniature cars crawling along highways, tracing the contours and colors of the terrain, and waved at invisible people below. “Seeing the ground gives you a sense of motion and progress,” Rothbart says. Keeping the shades down makes him feel “disconnected from the fact that I'm in an aircraft.”

Business traveler Ben Schlappig also believes many people “would prefer to have their shades open during the daytime to enjoy the views.” But when one defiant passenger raises their shade against crew orders, Rothbart reports a flight attendant will come “barreling down the aisle...nearly ripping the shade off its hinges as they forcefully close it.” Airlines leave little tolerance for rebellion.
Of course, travelers themselves often keep shades down to watch movies, nap, or shield out disruptive sunlight. But Rothbart argues “airlines should at least give passengers the option” of having views if desired. He proposes compromises like opening alternate row shades or allowing windows uncovered during take-off and landing when crews need darkened cabins most. Airlines must balance who deserves priority: captive audiences trying to sleep or eager sightseers yearning for panoramas.

Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Cockpit Concerns About Visibility

While passengers may want a glimpse of stunning vistas outside their windows, pilots require optimal visibility to navigate safely. Unobstructed lines of sight prove critical during takeoffs and landings in particular. Crews adamantly request window shades remain fully open while ascending and descending through congested airspace near airports. Any compromises in cockpit visibility can jeopardize hundreds of lives.

Veteran airline pilot Patrick Smith explains that "we need to be able to see outside in case of any problems or anomalies. We also need a clear view of the wing surfaces, to be able to make visual inspections for ice and other contamination." If icing builds up on control surfaces, it can dangerously disrupt airflow. Pilots rely on spotting such hazards immediately to request proper de-icing before further flight.
Smith also wants to visually clear ramp workers and ground vehicles from around the plane while taxiing. Airports become busy places, especially on the tarmac near gates. Errant baggage carts or fuel trucks could obstruct the aircraft if not noticed. Smith needs maximum visibility to safely navigate this congested environment.

During descent on landing, being able to see the runway and approach lights is critical.sever Pilot Patrick Smith recounts an incident of almost landing on a taxiway because sun glare on the cockpit windows obscured his view of the landing strip. "If it weren’t for my first officer spotting the problem, we could have made an unsafe landing," he says. Only thanks to a second set of eyes did tragedy get narrowly averted.
Heavy fog or storms also make the crisp view from the cockpit essential for a successful landing. Pilots carefully line up their angle of descent by peering down the runway's approach path. Relying solely on instruments reduces depth perception and spatial awareness. Actually seeing the landing zone maintains precision control.
So while passengers might enjoy gazing at fluffy clouds and azure oceans, pilots need unhindered sightlines to perform their jobs safely. Smith understands why travelers savor scenic views but reminds "the flight deck is not there for purposes of tourism." He must protect the safety of all onboard first and foremost.

Most airlines now announce before departure their policy of requiring window shades up for takeoff and landing. Crews may emphasize this is necessary for the cockpit's visibility. Compliance ensures smoother flight operations all around.
Of course, pilots cannot force passengers to comply. But defiant shade lifters may get threatened with being kicked off a flight for interfering with crew duties. Airlines sometimes play hardball to secure compliance when safety is at stake. So pilfering even a brief peek out a cockpit's portal can prompt harsh reprimand.

Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - Aesthetics and Ambiance Matter

Beyond functional considerations of managing radiation, glare, and temperature, airline cabins aim for an aesthetic ambiance optimized for passenger comfort on long journeys. The sensory environment plays a key role in shaping the in-flight experience.

Most travelers value an attractive, welcoming cabin space surrounded by pleasing sights and sounds. “There’s something about being on a plane that’s beautiful that makes the experience that much more enjoyable,” says veteran airline reviewer Gilbert Ott. He believes thoughtfully designed, spacious interiors with calming color palettes raise spirits. Such environments prompt smiles from passengers and crews alike.
However, garish decor or cheap finishes detract from travelers’ contentment. Loud, cramped cabins crammed with jarring patterns overwhelm the senses. “There are some aesthetically displeasing aircraft cabins that make you want to turn right back around,” Ott laughs. He avoids certain airlines whose cabins assault the eyes. Clean, intuitive layouts prove more welcoming.

The ambiance shifts dramatically when window shades stay open versus shut. Streams of sunlight create an airier, more awakened feel. Dreamlike sunrise and sunset hues passing through glass brighten cabins with natural splendor. “It creates this almost ethereal environment,” says reviewer Marisa Garcia. Soft shades evoke relaxation as effectively as spa lighting.
By contrast, fully closed shades plunge interiors into darkness. Some passengers associate the void with deathly claustrophobia. Flickering fluorescents provide cold, institutional illumination. But Garcia finds thoughtfully layered lighting pleasant, especially adjustable personal lamps. Dynamic schemes aid sleeping yet allow socializing.

The soundscape also greatly sways moods. Travel blogger Ben Schlappig finds the constant drone of engines oppressive. But masking these rumbles with calming acoustic panels and music develops a soothing sanctuary amid the clouds. Letting in outside vistas likewise dulls mechanical vibrations psychologically. Silencing disruptive announcements and carts also promotes tranquility.

Even smell factors into cabin comfort. Clean ventilation filling lungs beats recirculated air redolent of sour feet and bathroom odors. Subtle lavender aromatherapy releases stress. Designed properly, each sense contributes to a harmonious onboard experience.

Cracking Open the Window Blind Debate: Why Airlines Make You Keep the Shades Down - To Each Their Own Window

Ultimately, whether travelers prefer gazing out windows or keeping shades drawn comes down to personal preference. The ideal balance between aerial views and darkened cabins depends on your individual flight agenda.

For many passengers, watching the world go by below remains a magical part of flying. Getting unique perspectives from 30,000 feet thrills leisure sightseers. Business traveler Peter Rothbart loves how picking out cars and towns gives "you a sense of motion and progress." But other travelers need no reminder they're suspended miles above earth. Anxious flier Mark Wiens says glimpsing clouds exaggerates the unsettling "feeling of being in a tube flying through the sky." Dreamlike sunset colors shining through glass relax some, while striking others as eerie.
Same goes for pitch black window shades. They aid certain passengers trying to sleep by creating a cocoon-like environment. But night owl Ben Schlappig feels oppressed by the cavernous darkness. He craves natural light to read and stay energized. When bright fluorescence suddenly floods on for beverage service, it assaults his adjusted eyes. The ideal lighting ambiance depends on your personal body clock and activity.

Where you sit also sways preferences. Voyagers in window seats bear the brunt of glare interfering with their screens. Yet they also enjoy premier views outside. Mediating seatmates' priorities gets tricky. Middle-row passengers may resent window shutter clicks disrupting their naps. Chronic shade lifter Peter Rothbart reports flight attendants racing down aisles to forcefully reclose his defiantly raised covers.

Opinions also split over whether airlines should enforce blanket shade directives. "Airlines should at least give passengers the option" of peering out when desired, argues Rothbart. Allowing some windows uncovered seems reasonable on long hauls. But Cockpit crews strongly advocate complete compliance for takeoffs and landings when their visibility is most critical. They play hardball with safety on the line.
In an informal Airfarewatchdog poll, 73% of frequent fliers voted for open shades to take in vistas. But decided majorities want covers kept down on red-eyes. PlayStation inventor Mark Cerny has devised an innovative smart window to bridge these conflicts. His Polymer-Dispersed Liquid Crystal glass can shift between transparent or opaque with the flip of a switch. This technology could let passengers choose views when desired while controlling light and glare for sleeping and watching movies. Airlines may one day install such dynamic windows.

For now, tolerating some disagreement comes with the territory when herding hundreds of travelers in tight quarters. Solo businesswoman Kristin Wong may be shivering under her sweater, while the suited man beside her is breaking a sweat. Achieving the perfect temperature for all proves elusive. What feels like a glorious sunrise ambiance to one passenger strikes others as chaos. Reconciling competing preferences will never satisfy all. But allowing some liberty around window shades appears a reasonable compromise.

See how everyone can now afford to fly Business Class and book 5 Star Hotels with Mighty Travels Premium! Get started for free.