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Before landing and taking off, I notice the lights inside commercial aircraft are greatly reduced. I don't buy the explanation of power saving in case full thrust is needed as nowaday lights don't need a lot of energy and the crew says we can use the smaller reading lamp to continue reading. I suppose this is something to do with security but I don't understand what.

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or a better view for the pax sitting in the window seats –  ratchet freak Sep 5 '14 at 7:37
In my experience (US airlines), for night flights, the cabin lights are off during the flight, and turned on for takeoff/landing. –  fooot Sep 5 '14 at 16:12
So they can see through the rear-view mirror, of course. –  fluffy Sep 6 '14 at 6:31

3 Answers 3

up vote 42 down vote accepted

This is for safety reasons.

Take-Off and Landing are the two most critical phases of flight and thus, every additional step to ensure survivability, be it even just adjusting the light, is taken.

The interior lights or cabin lights are adjusted to match the exterior environment, so that in case of an emergency, especially if the interior lights fail, your eyes are already accustomed to the light setting and you do not require additional valuable seconds for adjustment to a possibly darker or brighter environment. The lights are usually adjusted at dusk, night or dawn to match the exterior environment.1

If the cabing lights do not fail during an emergency, the dimmed light also makes it easier to identify the "EXIT" signs which illuminate and make the guidance lighting on the floor easier to follow. The bright emergency lighting is more prominent to identify when the cabin light is dimmed, saving valuable seconds as the aircraft is evacuated.

This also ties in with having to raise the blinds on the windows. The blinds need to be raised during take-off and landing irrespective of the outside light situation, however, with a darker cabin, any outside light source, especially from fires or other hazards is easier to identify by the crew, making the decision process of whether one side could be inappropriate to use for evacuation faster, e.g. fire on port side --> no evacation on that side.

The blinds are therefore raised to allow a better view for cabin crew of the outside area and external aircraft parts, such as engines, wings, etc. See also this related question: Why open up the window shades before takeoff and landing?

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Note that in addition to SentryRaven's informative answer, some airports, such as Kabul, require turning off all lights (and landing at a steeper angle) for security reasons. See this answer from Travel.SE for a first-person account of landing in Kabul. –  dotancohen Sep 5 '14 at 10:16
Noticing the floor lighting is important, but having your eyes already adjusted to the outside is more important. If you just follow everyone else, you should find the exit just fine. Once you're outside, people will be spreading out and having your eyes already adjusted to that environment can save lives. –  corsiKa Sep 5 '14 at 22:38
Do you have a source for all this? The explanations I read before (including on travel.SE) are slightly different. –  Relaxed Sep 7 '14 at 8:47
What in my answer is different from the reply on Travel.SE @Relaxed? –  SentryRaven Sep 7 '14 at 10:29
@SentryRaven Thanks for the research! –  Relaxed Sep 8 '14 at 8:30

My flight instructor told me that also, when taxiing at night (that is, before taking off or after landing), lights should be kept at a minimum as a courtesy to other pilots. A bright line of full lit cabin windows could distract or mask other dimmer lights like the taxiways blue ones.

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This is generally more of a concern with bright external lights (like strobes), but it's an interesting point... –  voretaq7 Sep 7 '14 at 19:20

You better start believing in the explanation of power saving.

I couldn't find the reference, but there was an accident over 5 years ago in which a plane was taking off with many non-essential loads at or near maximum: air conditioning, galleys heating food, cabin lights.

One generator failed, and the system supposed to shed non-essential loads also failed. The remaining generator wasn't designed to stand so much load, so it failed too. Loss of power to essential loads.

Since then, airliners take off almost simulating an electrical emergency. Reading lamps are a reasonable compromise because very few people actualy use them.

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This argument would be much more compelling if you could include some links or directions to the source material. –  Skip Miller Sep 5 '14 at 17:30
I suggest that this is nonsense because the interior lights are only dimmed at night, not during the day (when they are still at full power!). –  Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 5 '14 at 17:32
I would also disagree with this answer, on the grounds that it is not the cockpit crew who controls cabin lighting (on all planes) –  CGCampbell Sep 5 '14 at 20:55
No airplane takes off "almost simulating an electrical emergency". You also lump air-conditioning in as an electrical load, wheras it is actually a pneumatic load and while that will be a bigger impact on performance than the generators, it is dwarfed by anti ice activation, which is run during takeoff into icing. –  casey Sep 5 '14 at 22:03

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