This Is Who Really Has Control Of The Window Shade On Airplanes

I don’t mean to start a fight, but people really want to know the answer to this question: Who controls the window shade on your flight?

Is it the person next to the window? Is a majority vote of the passengers in the row? Or is it the flight attendant?

It’s particularly relevant this week, which is one of the busiest of the year for American travelers.

Actually, you can thank American Airlines for this post. In its controversial new ad campaign, it suggests the word’s best air travelers “always ask” before they raise or lower the window shade.

Forward to the :30 mark for the message.

And that has left a lot of you, dear readers, asking me to settle this once and for all.

At first glance, the answer seems obvious. It’s the person next to the window. Jonathan Klein, a customer experience consultant, agrees.

“If you want to control the window shade,” he says, “ask for a window seat.”

Why does control fall to the person with the window seat? Proximity. On a plane, it’s thought to be your window. If you don’t believe me, try looking out the window from your middle seat. Nothing unnerves the window-seat passenger faster than you looking out that window, too. Not your window to look out of! Don’t even get me started on trying that from an aisle seat.

Most of the time, that arrangement works. But not always. Sometimes, the people in your row want to sleep. Sometimes they want to work on a laptop computer and the glare of the sunlight makes it difficult. That leads to disagreements.

In those cases, I agree with the American ad. The “greatest” air travelers are polite and ask before they raise or lower the shade.

But what happens when it’s a flight attendant who slams the shade down? That happened to Benjamin Levine earlier this year, a case I wrote about and you urged me to advocate.

Levine wanted his window shade open; the attendant didn’t. The argument quickly escalated.

“She started yelling at me, pointing her finger in my face, right against my nose, saying that if I didn’t shut up, she was going to call the police when we landed and have me forcibly detained on the ground,” he recalled.

We ultimately decided to stay out of the case. All this over a window shade?

Related post: Solve any airline problem with these frequently asked questions.

Interesting postscript: I heard from a flight attendant who worked for the same airline.

“I would never close someone’s window shade,” she told me. “We make an announcement for people to close them so that people can sleep. However, it is not my right to close someone’s window shade.”

The problem with Levine’s flight, she speculated, was that he was on an international flight.

“Some of the international flight attendants are very old, very senior and very set in their ways and get away with what they want,” she says.

Confused yet?

Here, as far as I can tell, are the rules:

1. The passenger next to the window controls the shade. Even though it’s not that person’s window or that person’s shade, everyone understands that the window passenger is in control.

2. The middle and aisle seat get a vote. There are times when the window-seat passenger can be overruled by the passengers sitting in the middle and aisle seats. Those include bedtime, nap time and the ability to see a movie or view a tablet or laptop screen. In those instances, the window-seat passenger is expected to cede control of the shade to the majority.

3. When the cabin crew asks you to lower your shade, the window passenger should comply. They wouldn’t be asking unless a majority of the passengers wanted to sleep (it that’s even possible on a plane). Now it’s less of a democracy and more of a dictatorship. Failure to fall in line will result in raised eyebrows ― or worse. Just ask Levine. If you want your own plane, fly private.

When you’re trying to figure out who gets to decide if the shade stays up or down, it helps to remember that you’re one of many passengers and that you’re in this together. What’s best for the entire group? You may have to make a sacrifice or wear an eyeshade. But it is by far better than locking horns with a very senior flight attendant.

After you’ve left a comment here, let’s continue the discussion on my consumer advocacy site or on Twitter, Facebook and Google. I also have a newsletter and you’ll definitely want to order my new, amazingly helpful and subversive book called How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle).

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