Take the 2-minute tour ×
Skeptics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for scientific skepticism. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I have experienced that during take-off and landing on commercial passenger flights, there are clear instructions to the passengers to keep their window shades open. This is done both during day and night times, presumably ruling out any kind of illumination concerns.

Is this just a convention that we happen to be adhering to, or is there a logical reason behind the same. I have searched for possible explanations with the exact question phrase and have come across this, but it does not sound logical to me:

The reason why they want all shades up is because, airlines rely on passenger's vision of the whole outer aircraft. The only people who can see the engines and what happens in the surroundings, are their passengers. Crew who are seated at their crew seats, will not be able to see a whole lot of the plane's exterior.

share|improve this question
    
I too think the explanation given is flimsy as simply adding a few cameras (of which there already are several) to the plane would give the pilots clear views. Also I remember 30 years ago, in the days when there were curtains not shutters, you were told to close the curtains. –  Rincewind42 Apr 11 '12 at 5:55
2  
In an emergency, doesn't it seem a good idea to let everyone see any obstructions, fires, approach of emergency personnel, etc... from the inside to the outside and also vice-versa? Preparedness is setting up for an emergency before it happens. –  Paul Apr 11 '12 at 6:46
    
This probably isn't the real reason, but at landing it has the added benefit of saving the flight crew time: fewer shades that they have to re-open while they reset the plane for the next flight. –  ESultanik Apr 11 '12 at 13:30
    
@ESultanik - That was the quoted reason why ryanair aledgedly removed their window blinds. Im not sure thet ryanair did indeed remove them, nor am I sure that it saved a measurable amount of time at the turnaround. –  Jamiec Apr 11 '12 at 14:25
add comment

2 Answers

In the US, there appears to be no FAA requirement for the flight crew to require window blinds to be in any particular position.

FAR 91.103 - Preflight actions makes no mention of window blinds, nor does FAR 91.105 which covers the next phase of the flight (when the flight crew are at their stations).

The next relevant secion is probably FAR 91.517 which covers the passenger briefing and notification of their requirements (ie, wearing a seat belt).

However, there seems quite a large amount of anecdotal evidence (Including this post by an ex-flight attendant) which states there are a few reasons why it might be a good idea to have window blinds open for take-off and landing - which is notoriously the most dangerous phase of all flights:

  • Crew and passengers can easily see any external damage, fire or smoke indicating a problem and perhaps bringing it to the attention of flight crew quicker.
  • In an evacuation during daylight, crew and passengers will not need to aclimatise their vision to the brighter conditions outside. Effectively having window shades open equalises the light levels between outside and inside the cabin.
  • Also, when in need of evacuation, it is clearer if one side of the airplane might be hazardous due to fire/smoke
  • In the event of a crash, rescue workers can see into the cabin allowing them to locate bodies/injured. (This one seems rather silly quite sensible!)

All of the above seem rather sensible, if a little overblown. This I suggest is why even though there appears no FAA regulation, most airlines have it as a standard operating procedure of their own.

Footnote: I have found talk that it is a requirement of the CAA, although a scan through CAP 670 - Air Traffic Services Safety Requirements I can't find it

share|improve this answer
5  
The airport fire safety workers I know have actually stated that visibility of injured or dead passengers is vital for them, in order to plan their rescue/evac procedures so I think your rather silly answer is quite likely. –  Rory Alsop Apr 11 '12 at 9:28
    
@RoryAlsop - flippant comment retracted! My initial though was that with the cabin windows quite small the extra visibility would be minor. Rescue workers would most likely be looking through the big gaping hole in the side of the fuselage. Maybe im right maybe im wrong. Only an airport rescue worker whose been in the situation would know. –  Jamiec Apr 11 '12 at 9:33
    
(admittedly I only know two - so my anecdotal comment doesn't come from a huge data pool :-) –  Rory Alsop Apr 11 '12 at 9:40
    
Great answer, although reason was unexpected. I'd wait just a little while and then accept this answer. As it stands, there are few references backing the primary premise/conjecture. –  Vaibhav Garg Apr 12 '12 at 2:25
    
Your second bullet point corresponds to turning cabin lights off so that vision is aclimatised –  Henry Apr 12 '12 at 9:54
show 1 more comment

About as definitive answer as you can probably get is "that it's a procedure required by some operators".

Here is the
Cabin Safety Compendium 0 A Companion to the Operator's Flight Safety Handbook

In its 174 pages it only mentions "window shades" once, on page 2-10 (26th page in manual) and there it says, as part of the Taxi-Out Procedures.

  • Opening window shades fully (some Operator's procedures).

This is a December 2001 publication on the 'Flight Safety Foundation' website.

A search of the site using their search facility for "window shade" and "shade" found a few relevant references and more irrelevant ones but no other ones that addressed this issue.

If this organisation that aims to be an international authority in aviation safety has nothing substantive to say on the topic, then there probably isn't a useful universal answer.


That said, I have always personally understood (quite possibly fallaciously) that the answer listed as seeming rather silly by Jamiec is in fact the main one.

In the event of a crash with multiple but not complete fatalities the ability to provide aid MAY be assisted by being able to see into the aircraft - either to see if individual passengers are able to be assisted or for general purposes.

I have flown extensively in recent years, mostly in Asia and between Asia and New Zealand, and my recollection is that the requirement to have window shades open is essentially universal.

Takeoff and landing are by statistical record, the most dangerous parts of a flight. One claimed breakdown of accident rates by flight phase. Taken from here

enter image description here


Related:

This is a second cousin of the "please return to your original seat for landing" request. This makes identification of incinerated bodies just slightly easier.

US Department of Transport takeoff and landing statistics by airport

share|improve this answer
    
+1 for the data driven approach. I am still in the hunt for a few solid references to the primary conjecture. –  Vaibhav Garg Apr 12 '12 at 2:26
    
Your "related" point reminds me of a comment that brightly coloured lifejackets help recovering bodies easier, whether in water or on land. –  Henry Apr 12 '12 at 9:52
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.