Are Flight Attendants jacking with my sanity?
January 13, 2006 12:18 AM   Subscribe

Lately, when flying red-eye flights, I've noticed that the flight attendants, as part of their safety spiel, sometimes ask that the window shades be left up during takeoff and landing. Why? Also,

I’m almost certain that I remember back in the 80’s, the flight attendants would sometimes ask everyone to put the window-shades down during takeoff and landing on red-eye flights. Does anyone else have such memories from flying during the 80’s, or is this particular memory better left discussed only with my therapist, along with the alien abduction memories? Am I crazy, or are the flight attendants plotting to make me crazy? Does the safety of the flight depend on actions I decide to take or not take with my window-shade?
posted by Zendogg to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's so you can see outside to orient yourself in case of an accident.
posted by nathan_teske at 12:48 AM on January 13, 2006

I can't verify how it was in the 80's, but I assume keeping the shades down would just be a courtesy to anyone trying to sleep.
posted by luftmensch at 1:03 AM on January 13, 2006

I was flying around a bit over the holidays, and each flight (at various times of day) included "please leave window shades up during takeoff and landing" in the safety instructions given by the flight attendants. While I don't know the exact cause, I'd bet nathan_teske is correct, or as close to correct as you'll get from someone who doesn't work in the industry.
posted by ubernostrum at 1:43 AM on January 13, 2006

Do I really have to keep my window shade open for takeoff? Some of us would prefer not to watch the world whiz by at 150 mph.

If the shades are open, passengers can keep track of which way is up during an emergency. Windows are also a source of light if the cabin goes dark. The crew dims the lights during takeoff so, if the plane loses power, your eyes won't have a hard time adjusting to the dark.

--A Reporter Asks Pilot Stupid Questions
posted by Orb at 2:20 AM on January 13, 2006

This is because statistically all airplane accidents happen during take-off, or landing. The shades are up in the windows so that if an emergency should occur, we can assess the situation outside to get you out of the aircraft safely.
posted by thesiameseffect at 3:33 AM on January 13, 2006

All flights I've ever been on have asked for the blinds to be up, as the others say its so you can orientate yourself in case of an emergency
posted by MrC at 4:45 AM on January 13, 2006

A previous AskMe question, Why do you have to put your seatback up and store your tray table when taking off and landing on commercial airlines? has a similar answer: so you can more easily GTFO in an accident.
posted by zsazsa at 5:41 AM on January 13, 2006

If the shades are open, passengers can keep track of which way is up during an emergency.

Doesn't the presence of gravity kind of give us that information? Obviously during flight, centripetal force overrides gravity to some degree but then again during flight why would it be important for a passenger to know which way is up if he/she is in an emergency situation? If the plane is upside down I can definitely figure out there is a problem without having a window shade open. Also looking out a window while in a cloud bank tells you nothing.
posted by JJ86 at 6:02 AM on January 13, 2006

Most plane crashes involve disorienting movement, head injuries, and/or the uprooting of seats and other markers of orientation. You want as much light coming in the plane as possible so you can see where you're going.

Also, you want to avoid the exits with the flames around them.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:12 AM on January 13, 2006

Great link, Orb. Interesting reading.
posted by MeetMegan at 6:19 AM on January 13, 2006

Also, you want to avoid the exits with the flames around them. - Lyn Never

Which would have their own light (and black smoke), naturally.
posted by raedyn at 6:22 AM on January 13, 2006

I read somewhere that a crew deadheading an airliner are sending some protest message when they land/take off with all the window shades down, but I forget the details.
posted by Rash at 8:47 AM on January 13, 2006

It's also handy if the flight attendants need to see if a wing is on fire.
posted by agregoli at 9:03 AM on January 13, 2006

Shades up = easier for rescue crews to assess who's still in there post crash. Gravity is not intuitive after a trauma like a plane crash, so leaving it up for your outside reference applies as well.

Shades down = when flying into hotter climes they'll ask you to put them down because it'll keep the cabin cooler longer as well as letting it cool off faster when they turn the a/c back on after being parked.

On redeye flights they can be pretty harsh about making sure the other passengers aren't being annoyed by your personal insomnia, shades down being one way and also making sure you leave your lights off.
posted by Elvis at 10:01 AM on January 13, 2006

Typically post crash, where there are any injuries or fatalities, the plane is in several pieces making the window shade scenario a moot point. Honestly I could imagine almost no scenarios where it would even be a factor. I mean even if the wheels were sheared off the bottom of a plane when on the ground, the level of the windows is too high to be able to see into unless you were on a ladder. I would hope that rescue personnel are not wasting their time trying to peek in windows instead of getting into an airplane as quickly as possible to help survivors
posted by JJ86 at 1:05 PM on January 13, 2006

Could it have something to do with making the plane itself as visible as possible to other ground and near-ground traffic during the vulnerable takeoff & landing phases?

Sure the plane is festooned with headlights and beacons, but an airport is a huge sea of point light sources. The cabin windows are like a row of additional running lights along each side of the plane, which I'd think would help the shape of an aircraft stand out a tad better in that environment.
posted by Tubes at 1:35 PM on January 13, 2006

JJ86: I think you'll find that in the vast, unbelievably overwhelming majority of takeoff- and landing-related incidents, the plane remains much more intact than your linked photo would indicate. Typically, only a catastophic impact of the plane with the ground or a large man-made structure results in the plane fragmenting or otherwise beign broken apart.

And the idea here is that you, inside the plane, can see out to assess external conditions before attempting to exit the plane. For example, if an engine is on fire, it wouldn't be a good idea to use the emergency exit over that engine's wing.
posted by ubernostrum at 5:33 AM on January 17, 2006

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