After just two years, United Airlines has ditched a policy that encouraged passengers to raise their window shades for takeoff and landing as an additional but not federally required safety precaution.
In a memo to flight attendants and flight crew, the airline cited the fact that it was the only major U.S. carrier requesting passengers raise their window shades for takeoff and landing as one of the main reasons for dropping the policy.
The United States is unusual in that its aviation regulator does not require window shades to be open for taxi, takeoff and landing. The precaution is mandated in nearly every other jurisdiction around the world, whereas in the U.S. some airlines encourage passengers to keep their window shades lowered from the moment they step onboard to deplaning at their destination.
The reason why safety regulators in other countries demand window shades be open during so-called ‘critical phases’ of flight is that this is when an emergency incident is most likely to occur.
When the window shades are open, passengers can act as the eyes of the flight crew and immediately report anything amiss that the flight attendants and pilots can’t see.
There are numerous examples in recent years of passengers reporting serious issues such as ice accumulation on the wings or even engine fires that no one would have known about if all the window shades were down.
In March 2020, United Airlines decided to proactively request that passengers raise their window shades for taxi, takeoff and landing with a series of announcements before takeoff and landing. The policy was unusual in that United was the only major U.S. carrier to ask passengers to raise their window shades for takeoff and landing.
Unlike on foreign airlines, however, the request was just that, and there was no requirement for flight attendants to enforce the policy.
“When every second counts, open window shades allow Flight Attendants and passengers to immediately see outside, assess conditions, and identify hazards,” notes the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) which represents United’s crew members.
The union has been advocating for a change in FAA rules for years and had welcomed United’s voluntary move on the issue.
“The moment an evacuation is necessary is not the time to waste precious seconds opening window shades,” the union, which isn’t happy with United’s decision to yet again amend its window shade policy, noted.
“If it raises the level of safety, it is difficult not to ask, what is the harm?” the union asked in a recent note to its members.
On warm days, United’s policy continues to be to ask passengers to lower their window shades at the end of the flight, but passengers will no longer be asked to raise their window shades for takeoff and landing.
Flight attendants will, however, encourage passengers sitting at exit rows to open their window shades for taxi and takeoff, although there is no requirement for passengers to comply with this request.
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.