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On a 13-hour flight all shades were ordered closed (entire flight—not cool), same airline on a 3-hour route, same thing.

Both flights took off in the morning, around 8 AM.

Only reason I can think of is to keep the cabin cool, lower the demand on the engine bleed, and burn less fuel?

I ruled out the minimize jet-lag reason as sleeping masks were handed out and same thing happened on the shorter flight.

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  • $\begingroup$ Its entirely possible, but there could be other reasons. Really the only way to know definitively would be to ask the pilots or flight attendants. There is no "rule" that they must be closed and if it were for a fuel savings reason I would guess that the amount of fuel saved wouldn't be much. Closing the shades on the ground helps because they don't have to try to run the A/C system off of the APU, or keep an engine going. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Aug 15 '16 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ Which airline please @ymb1, so I can avoid ever flying with them? $\endgroup$ – Daniele Procida Aug 15 '16 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ It's so you can't see the chemtrails :P Actually that link provides some good insight into why the shades are kept closed. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Aug 16 '16 at 4:52
  • $\begingroup$ They must have flown you over North Korea ;) $\endgroup$ – Firee Aug 16 '16 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Firee last time I flew over it, shade where open for whole flight. $\endgroup$ – Antzi Sep 10 '16 at 12:47
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It isn't due to "lowering the demand on the engine bleed" because the air conditioning is done as part of the standard pressurization of the cabin - the air is bled from the engine, cooled to a very low temperature and then heated to the desired temperature for the cabin, so shutting the blinds wouldn't affect that because the air is still cooled and then reheated.

It is purely for jet-lag and sleeping issues - a single blind open in a darkened cabin can disrupt even those people wearing the eye masks (those things arent perfect) and can disrupt people who have woken to go to the toilet during the cabins "sleep period" (think how horrible it is if you get up in the middle of the night and turn on a bright light - its easier to get back to sleep if you keep lighting muted throughout your activity than it is otherwise).

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    $\begingroup$ The bleed air is not cooled and re-heated. It is cooled while compressed, which still leaves it pretty hot, but so that it comes just right when expanded to cabin pressure. The point is rather that the cooling is done by exchanging the heat with free stream air, so it comes essentially free. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Aug 24 '16 at 21:12
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It's to let people sleep and to minimize jet lag. Sunlight messes with your circadian rhythm. If a passenger needs light, they can turn on their personal seat light.

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    $\begingroup$ What about the shorter flight? They already give out sleep masks. What if a passenger (me) wanted to enjoy the scenery? $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Aug 15 '16 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure that the first time a claustrophobic and highly-anxious flyer who has to be able to look out of the window in order to tolerate being on a plane at all encounters this idiotic policy - if it is indeed a policy - will put an end to it pretty quickly. It's the kind of thing Aeroflot was notorious for in its grimmest days, but surely utterly unacceptable to the vast majority of travellers. $\endgroup$ – Daniele Procida Aug 15 '16 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ Ah. So you're the one who opened the shades in the middle of my last transpacific flight, flooding the darkened cabin with sunlight and earning the everlasting enmity of rows 14-18. Cheers. $\endgroup$ – RoboKaren Aug 16 '16 at 8:11
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    $\begingroup$ @DanieleProcida Oh sure it is acceptable. From what I remember, shading the window is enforced on: JAL, ANA, Air France, Swiss Air, Air China, Aeroflot, Aero Mongolia, Turkish Airline, ... Obviously acceptable for the vast majority of travelers. $\endgroup$ – Antzi Aug 16 '16 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ @DanieleProcida I think every single long-haul flight I've ever been on required shades closed for almost the entire duration. The vast majority of passengers definitely want it that way on long-hauls, especially trans-Pac or trans-Atlantic ones where many time zones are being crossed. On those flights, different people will need to sleep at different times depending on where they've been and where they're going in order to stay on/adjust to the time zone on which they need to operate. Some passengers (on short trips) will want to maintain their normal time, while others adjust to destination. $\endgroup$ – reirab Dec 18 '18 at 20:34
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Ever try to watch the in-flight movie with the window shades open?

Most likely the shades were ordered shut to enhance the viewing quality for the majority of the passengers. Keeping the pax in their seats watching the movie reduces the workload for the cabin attendants.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, we do fine screens nowadays $\endgroup$ – Antzi Aug 17 '16 at 0:09
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The reason is not to save fuel.

There are a couple of primary reasons for requiring window shades to be closed during flight:

People Need to Sleep

Nearly all East-West long-haul flights (i.e. those crossing lots of time zones) will require window shades to be closed and will turn off cabin lighting for most of the duration of the flight (usually for the entire time between meal services.) This is because almost every passenger wants to sleep and many of them need to sleep on different schedules.

People on short business trips often want to remain on or close to their home time zone in order to reduce the effects of jet lag. People on longer trips usually want to adjust to their destination's time. As a result, these people will need to sleep at different times, so the lights are kept off - and window shades kept closed - for the vast majority of the flight in order to accommodate whatever sleep needs people may have.

An eye mask can certainly help, but some people don't like wearing them and also people need to be able to get up briefly to use the lav or grab a brief snack and then want to doze off back to sleep. This will be much easier if the cabin is kept dark.

Bright Light / Heat

Even on short flights, at certain times of day and when traveling certain directions, a lot of sunlight can enter the cabin. This can make the cabin uncomfortably hot, especially for people near the windows and/or in direct sunlight. Additionally, the light can be very bright if it's shining in directly through the windows. Even on short-to-medium length daytime flights, some passengers will want to nap, but even those who aren't napping generally don't want the sun shining directly into their eyes. Note that, while the sun from your window may not be shining directly onto your face, it very well could be shining directly into the face of other passengers on or near your row, even across the aisle, depending on time of day (and year) and flight direction.

There's actually enough UV to cause sunburns on directly exposed skin, since airliners fly above the majority of Earth's atmosphere (the majority of the gas in the atmosphere, that is, not a majority of the height of the atmosphere.) There's not nearly as much atmospheric absorption or reflection of the sun's light at 30,000-40,000 ft as there is at the surface, so direct exposure for extended periods, in addition to being annoying, can be harmful.

In-Flight Entertainment

While this reason isn't as important as the other two, a third more minor reason for closing the shades is so that people can see their IFE screens. The screens can be difficult to see if there's sunlight shining on them.

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