On commercial airlines, I've noticed that the flight attendants always ask everyone to open up their window shades before landing or takeoff.

I've always wondered why this is. Is it something to do with the mechanics of the plane? Is it some kind of passenger-comfort thing?

I can't imagine what difference this act makes, but the attendants seemed really insistent on it. :)

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    Back in the late '70s I often flew Allegheny Airlines into Boston's Logan Airport. I generally kept the window shades open so that after landing I could reassure myself that the aircraft had come to rest right-side-up before unbuckling my seat belt. – A. I. Breveleri Feb 5 '14 at 21:01
  • I've been on as many flights where they are ordered open as on flights where they're ordered closed. All depends on the airline. – jwenting Mar 27 '14 at 11:47
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    @jwenting That's interesting. I've never been on a flight where the shades were ordered closed during takeoff or landing. I've been on several where they were ordered closed while parked at the gate (because it was hot on the ramp) and during cruise (long-hauls, so people can sleep,) but I don't think I've ever been asked to close them during takeoff or landing. – reirab Aug 28 '14 at 16:13
  • I fly Southwest and I've never heard the FAs tell us to do anything with the windowshades, either open or closed. – Sean Apr 30 at 22:47

I'm not sure about other countries, but in the USA there is no FAA requirement mandating that the window shades be open for takeoff and landing.

Individual airlines vary in their procedures, with some requiring them to be open while others do not. This is set by company policy, presumably set by management because they decided that there was/was not a safety benefit in doing so.

As a pilot, I would prefer the window shades to be open all of the time so that even passengers have the chance to point out something that they think might be a problem. For example, recently a passenger on an airliner noticed a fuel leak and told a flight attendant about it before the airplane took off.

One important thing to keep in mind is that in the event of an emergency evacuation, you should always look out the window before opening an emergency exit to make sure that there isn't a fire or other hazard just outside the door. This is why a lot of emergency exits don't even have window shades on their windows.

This answer on Skeptics.SE also points out that emergency crews responding to a crash can see through the open windows to better respond and help the people on the airplane. It also mentions that the passengers eyes will also be more acclimated to the lighting outside the airplane if the window shades are open. This is also why some airlines have policies requiring the cabin lighting to match the outside light (i.e. the lights will be on bright during the day and dim/out at night).

This answer on Travel.SE also goes into more detail from a person who works in the airline safety industry.

  • According to the linked article, the fuel leak was noticed by a pilot of another plane, not a passenger. – Egor Apr 24 '14 at 23:41
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    @egor A person who is a pilot can still be a passenger on an airplane. :-) – Lnafziger Apr 24 '14 at 23:51
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    I asked the question over @skeptics.se. Nice to see the response from the perspective of an Aviation guy. Created an account just to vote this up. – Vaibhav Garg Jul 25 '14 at 5:09
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    Interesting to see you (as a pilot) validate the concept that the passengers may be able to see something that the pilot cannot see from the cockpit. I got shot down on skeptics for including that in my answer. – Jamiec Sep 5 '14 at 16:17

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