There is a good reason why cabin crews insist the window shades are open during takeoffs and landings

Aviation Safety Officer, Saran Udayakumar

Lifting the shades on the windows during take-off and landing might seem like a trivial ask to many plane passengers. Some travelers believe that this to prepare them for the jolty landing moment when the wheels hit the concrete below.

But experts have now revealed the reasons why it is much more important to passenger safety than you would think.

Aviation Safety Officer, Saran Udayakumar told Quora users :

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.

So the simple answer is “In case of an emergency, cabin crew need to decide which side of the aircraft is safest to disembark from. Leaving the window shade up allows them to make a quick call.”

Kåre Lohse, Airline pilot, since 2004 on various variants of the Boeing 747:

“In the rare event of some mechanical problem, fire or other hazard, it is essential that the window shades are up.”

Dave Robinson, 25+ year career as an Aeronautical Industry Professional provides a further explanation.

“If you’ve somewhat acclimatized to low light conditions before an unfortunate incident occurs, you’ll have a visual capacity which initially may exceed 1,000 times better compared to if you were suddenly plunged into the darkness and had 90 seconds to disembark from the aircraft”.

Airline pilot, Kare Lohse says: “There have been cases where passengers have noted technical problems by looking out on the wing or engines for instance. Of course, it happens very rarely”.

Passengers are also asked to fold up their tables and straighten their seats during take-off and landing in the case of an emergency to ensure a quick exit.