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.
My home US airport- VPS- is a joint military-civilian airport. There have been a handful of times over the years when ATC would specifically request shades down during taxi and takeoff or landing because there was something under development near the runways that wasn’t Top Secret but they didn’t want photos of it all over the internet yet.
As a UA frequent flier, I’ve loved this announcement and am very disappointed that it’s going away. Too many people plop into the window seat, slam the shade down and sit in a dark tube for the duration of the flight. I can’t stand that and it’s why I’ve taken to always booking a window seat, in spite of the aisle being roomier. At least I can see the wonders outside and have control of that. But to be flying on a 3 hour flight at 11 am in near darkness is so boring.
And, to me, you SHOULD be required to have the shades up during takeoff and landing for safety reasons. Imagine if there was an accident on landing and all the shades are drawn? The additional disorientation could cost lives. United was right and it’s too bad they’re backing down.
I agree with you and think they should just take the shades out.
I flew on 2 separate United flights on 3/3/2022 – one out of Sacramento and the other out of Denver and the announcement was made to have the shades up for takeoff and landing still.
Open shades also allow fire crews to see inside if needed…
So the new amendment is actually to “encourage” those seated in the exit row only now to open them during critical phases. The new announcement will change officially soon to reflect that. So its not completely going away. Just only the exit rows and the verbiage is “encourage”.
Many, many thanks. Yes! This detail has now been added.
Alaska had also started this policy recently.
This is a very dangerous decision by US carriers. How do your eyes acclimate to light levels outside if there is an emergency? How would an engine fire or wing flap issue be noticed? How would you know what side of plane there is an active fire so you must evacuate other side? Americans are getting more selfish and self centered so they can close shades and read their technology and in turn turn aircraft into a flying coffin.
At least Hawaiian Airlines still has open shades.
I really dislike shades down for take off and landing. Safety is one reason they should be up, as noted. I fly internationally and domestically and I’ve noticed over the past 5-8 years less and less people raising the shades. Sad that people find no joy in anything outside of the phone and laptop. I feel better on departure and landing if they are up. I like to know what’s happening, what the weather is going to be like on landing and just get my bearings. I don’t like flying coffins either!!!
name one flight incident/crash that was made worse or caused by people having their window shades closed. dramatic much?
Ironically, your lead photo illustrates a 787 Dreamliner interior. Dreamliners do not have window shades – they are electronically made increasingly opaue (closed) or clear (open) by using the switch seen under the window in the photo.
This system also allows the Cabin Crew to electronically “Close” (make opaque) or “Open” (make clear) **ALL** the windows simultaneously, overriding the individual passengers’ selections.
This is very true. However, UA’s flight attendants have been told not to override the window shades on daylight flights.
I flew United 2 days ago. They requested the shades be lowered and raised on both flights. Makes sense for safety.
In case of an emergency, every second counts. Not having to adjust your eyes could save lives.
It’s a terrible US habit, to look at shitty TV instead of watching our beautiful planet earth from above.
Might as well use submarines….
What a bunch of nonsense. Name one plane crash ever that was caused by closed window shades. Good grief.
Good grief indeed. You’ve entirely missed the point. Closed shades will never cause a plane crash. Open shades can help avoid issues. So the question is how many incidents were avoided because of open shades.
How can you spot a fire or a busted wing flap? Lol. It’s 2022 people. Your car tells you when someone is next to you. You think a commercial airliner doesn’t signal the pilot for mechanical error. Lol. How is this even a thing?
And yet no flight in the US has been crashed because people had their window shades closed…. Its an asinine rule the rest of the world has for some odd reason.
Idiotic comment. No one said having the shades down has caused a plane to crash. But people have said that if a plane crashes, with the shades up, you can get a better assessment of the situation to see if there is a fire that has broken out and where that fire is.
A stunning number of people with reading comp challenges read this blog. Nobody said that window shades cause a crash.
The reason to keep the shades open during take-off and landing is so that (a) if there is an emergency during those stages of flight (the most dangerous portions of a flight) people can see outside to determine whether there is fire or other obstacle, and (b) decisions can quickly be made whether to evacuate on that side of the aircraft.
And no, the cockpit will not always know if there is a fire or fuel leaking or some other hazard following an emergency landing.
People who have shades down throughout flights is symptomatic of American’s deliberate ignorance. I’ve witnessed this over and over in recent years especially among younger Americans. These closed-shade-fliers take no interest in the physical world, show no curiosity, nor even a simple kindness for other travelers who are interested in seeing blue skies or vistas. The behavior represents yet another symptom of American society’s weird egotistical decline relative to the rest of the world.
Not true. I just flew United Airlines on March 9th and they most definitely did announce that passengers sitting in Window Seat should lift their window shades for takeoff and landing.
The policy has literally just updated. It’s true.
Two days ago we got back from the UK flying with United. They still announced to put the shades up for taking off and landing.
On long overseas flights having the shades open actually helps the body adjust to new times zones and modify jet lag – especially Westbound. It is sad how people have so little interest in looking at the wonders of the worls underneath them and would rather stare at a little screeen.