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I have always wondered why the windows shades have to be raised during take off and landing. I can't think of any safety issues by having a closed window.

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I suspect that it's highly airline and region specific. I don't recall having been asked to open the window shades in any of my (many) flights in the past few years. –  Roddy of the Frozen Peas Sep 2 '13 at 22:39
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I thought I noticed this on all flights involving night time (or simulated night time), but maybe it's just confirmation bias? –  hippietrail Sep 3 '13 at 3:15
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I have told people it's so the passengers can see the flames on the engines. When they scream, it alerts the captain. –  Coomie Sep 3 '13 at 4:46
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This was asked a while back on Skeptics: Why do we open the window shades during landing and take-off? and it's worth having a look, as their top answer looks into what legal rules do or don't exist around this matter. –  Mark Mayo Sep 3 '13 at 15:27
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Apart from the highly improbable events mentioned by others, I can think of a day to day use for this. Most aircrafts usually bump a few times while landing. Depending on the pilot and other conditions, these can be very bad thuds. Knowing exactly when this occurs can help in preparing your body for it. –  user8287 Sep 4 '13 at 0:56

2 Answers 2

up vote 213 down vote accepted

I will answer this with a very long answer, since aviation safety is my day to day job.

The window shade opening is a part of a long process to prepare the cabin for sudden (unexpected) emergencies. Why is that? Well, cabin crew have only 90 seconds to evacuate all passengers in case of emergencies. The process of evacuation itself should not take more than 90 seconds regardless of the size of the aircraft or the number of passengers. So to make the evacuation possible in 90 seconds cabin crew and other airlines staff will prepare every flight in advance to make this possible. One example is the emergency exits, only healthy adults are allowed to occupy these seats, they are also required to read the safety card for emergency exits to make them prepared in case of emergencies to help the cabin crew. They are called ABPs (Able-Bodied-Persons). This is just one example.

Anyway window shades opening is a small part of a long preparation process. Passengers are asked to open window shades before take offs and landings because these are considered to be critical times in aviation. Many things can go wrong during these times (most accidents do happen during take offs or landings), so people are asked to open window shades along with other things (seats in upright position, people seated and buckled etc.) to make everything prepared as if the plane were in emergency. In case something goes wrong (God forbid) things will be ready in advance so cabin crew can easily evacuate people in the short period of 90 seconds.

Specific reasons behind the window shade opening include:

  • Passengers are curious, hence they are perfect extra eyes to see if something goes wrong out there. Usually passengers report stuff right away.
  • In case of sudden emergencies, every second counts. Therefore if shades are open crew can easily see outside conditions to help them in planning the evacuation (which doors to use for evacuation etc.).
  • In case of emergency (which is more likely during take offs and landings) people should be prepared just in case. So during daytime, opening window shades and putting cabin lights to full makes the eyes used to sunlight so if something goes wrong and passengers need to be evacuated there will not be sudden change in light contrast which might lead to temporary blurred vision. Same thing at night flights, window shades are open and cabin lights are dimmed.
  • It helps ground emergency personnel outside to see the inside of the cabin.

These rules might be different from one airline to another, but in general almost all airlines require their crews to make sure of the window shades during take offs and landings. They also add it in the preparation announcements prior to take offs and landings.

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As a friend of a cabin crew, I can back up this 90 seconds requirement for evacuation and seats occupied by ABPs. It's part of their initial training and they've a final test where they MUST evacuate a plane full of smoke in less than 90 seconds or FAIL their qualification. No need to hurry but everything must be executed smoothly. ABPs will help by not blocking, showing others what to do and after they're out of plane will help for "reception" of elder or disabled passengers, children and (the worst) scaried adults. Window shades: yes you must see engines, wings, tarmac or sea outside –  FelipeAls Sep 3 '13 at 1:03
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Example of what is a 90 second evacuation test, part of qualification of the Airbus A380. That was part of the initial problem conceiving a 858 passengers plane. As any other plane, it must be able to evacuate its passengers in less than 90 seconds or else Airbus just lost billions of Euro! Watch the video and think about all the things you won't have the time to do if it happens... –  FelipeAls Sep 3 '13 at 1:14
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@FelipeAls the number of doors, emergency doors, escape slides, slide rafts, equipment and crew are all calculated carefully to match the number of passengers to achieve the maximum safety possible including the 90 second evacuation rule. –  MeNoTalk Sep 3 '13 at 1:15
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IIRC, one of the things is that you must be able to evacuate to one side if the other is on fire. Having the windows open helps in figuring out which side is on fire. –  MSalters Sep 3 '13 at 7:57
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While this is an excellent answer, the bullet points are the most important part of the answer, as they actually answer the question. They should be much closer to the top of the article. The remainder of the article is good, but not as important as the bullet points. –  corsiKa Oct 11 '13 at 20:34

The majority of airline evacuations happen as a result of events during takeoff and landing. The reason to open the windows is to see outside. For example, you do not want to open the emergency exit door over the wing if the wing is on fire. Combine the two and one concludes that it is a good idea to open the windows during takeoff and landing.

My source is a flight attendant that I asked this question of a while back.

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