In many parts of the world, it’s a legally mandated requirement for airline passengers to open their window shades for taxi, takeoff or landing (TTOL) and flight attendants rigorously enforce this policy. The reasoning behind this sometimes frustrating rule is simple and many aviation regulators believe it’s an absolutely essential way to help save lives in the event of an emergency.
If something did go wrong during a safety-critical phase of flight like takeoff or landing – say an engine fire – then it’s important that passengers can see what’s happening outside. If passengers can see an engine fire, then they can react accordingly and notify flight crew.
But this widely adopted safety measure just never caught on in the United States and passengers are free to open or close their window shades how they see fit. In some cases, passengers are even encouraged to keep their shades closed – especially during the summer when closed window shades help keep the heat out.
It’s a real peculiarity of U.S. aviation and it puts American carriers at complete odds with the vast majority of their international rivals.
Yet it now looks like United Airlines has got the memo – in a recent update to its flight operations manual, the airline says it is “encouraging” customers to open their window shades during takeoff and landing.
“For those sitting near a window, we ask that you open your window shade for takeoff.” a new onboard announcement to be read by flight attendants once all passengers have boarded the aircraft says.
A similar announcement is to be made on final approach before the aircraft lands.
The key part of this update, however, is that United is only “encouraging” passengers to open their window shades. There’s absolutely no requirement for passengers to follow that advice and they can choose to ignore the flight attendant if they wish.
And of course, flight attendants won’t be enforcing this request and won’t be checking that window blinds are open as part of their required safety-related checks.
The manual update follows hot on the heels of a request from United management for flight attendants to stop ‘locking’ the electric window shades on Boeing 787 Dreamliners onto the darkest setting during daylight flights. At least this system gives flight attendants the option to also lock window shades into a fully transparent mode for takeoff and landing.
It’s commendable that United has proactively addressed this oddity of U.S. aviation safety regulations if only partially.
Tip of the hat to Edward Russell on Twitter (@e_russell)
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.