United’s flight attendants have been told to stop overriding the electric window shades on its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners, taking control away from passengers and plunging the cabin into darkness even on daylight flights. The gentle reminder that passengers should have control over their own window shade came in a recently circulated internal memo.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner uses electrochromic technology to control the darkness of the window shades throughout the cabin. The system works by sending an electric current through a special transparent gel that’s sandwiched between two panels within the window. Increasing the voltage running through the gel makes the window increasingly darker.
Instead of a traditional window shade, passengers can control the darkness of their individual window by simply pressing a button. The Dreamliner has five settings from 1 (which is fully transparent) to 5 which is the darkest setting, although some light is still visible.
But unlike other commercial planes, the Dreamliner also gives flight attendants full control over the window shades. From a dedicated ‘flight attendant panel’, crew members can set the darkness level of individual windows or an entire cabin.
It’s also possible to ‘lock’ that setting in place, taking all control away from passengers to control the darkness of their own window. There’s even a feature to set a ‘range’ – so, for example, passengers would be blocked from choosing level 1 or 2 but could increase the transparency to level 3, 4 or 5.
Giving this control to flight attendants can be really useful – such as making sure the windows are fully transparent for taxi, takeoff and landing in the many countries where this is a safety standard. It’s also handy during a night departure when the sun is expected to rise halfway through the flight but many passengers will still be trying to sleep.
On arrival in a hot country, the ability to darken the window shades centrally also helps to keep the cabin cool.
But some United flight attendants (in fact, crew from many airlines that operate the Dreamliner) have been accused of centrally darkening and then locking the window shades on daylight flights when passengers might reasonably want to stay awake or just see outside.
“Remember, on B787s, please don’t use the flight attendant panel to force window shades to darken or lock them at a set level,” the memo to United’s FA’s reads.
“This prevents customers from adjusting their window shades as they prefer,” it continues.
Electrically dimmable windows aren’t universally popular but they’re here to stay. The new Boeing 777X will offer a next-generation version of these electrochromic windows, while rival aircraft manufacturer Airbus is now also actively exploring the technology for future aircraft.
First reported by Live and Let’s Fly
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.