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Here's Why Window Shades Have to Be Up During Takeoff and Landing

As with most things on airplanes, it's all about safety.

<p>Margot Cavin/Travel + Leisure</p>

Margot Cavin/Travel + Leisure

If you prefer to sit in a window seat on a plane, you're probably already aware of the raging debate about keeping the window shade open or closed during a flight. We'll leave that to you to negotiate with your seatmate, but we will let you know there are two times when your window shade should definitely be up: during takeoff and landing. In fact, some airlines even require them to be open during these phases of flight.

"Raising your window shade during takeoff and landing makes it easier for the flight attendants to assess any exterior hazards, like fire or debris, that might interfere with an emergency evacuation," pilot Patrick Smith of AskThePilot.com tells Travel + Leisure. "It also helps you remain oriented if there’s a sudden impact with rolling or tumbling."

But why during takeoff and landing, specifically? "Window shades should always be up for takeoff and landing because those are the times that incidents or accidents are most likely to occur," Lisa, a former American Airlines flight attendant (who has asked that we identify her by her first name only), tells T+L.

According to reports by both Airbus and Boeing, the two largest commercial aircraft manufacturers in the world, most fatal accidents occur during takeoff, approach, and landing. Per the Airbus report, "[a]pproach and landing are highly complex flight phases, which place significant demands on the crew in terms of navigation, aircraft configuration changes, communication with air traffic control, congested airspace, and degraded weather conditions." The combination of these factors could lead to an accident.

Related: Why Flight Attendants Always Sit on Their Hands During Takeoff and Landing

If a plane makes an emergency landing, and all on board must evacuate the aircraft, it's crucial to be able to see what's going on outside. "After an emergency landing, the first thing a flight attendant does is look out the window of the door where they are sitting. The door could be obstructed by debris, or there could be fire, so the flight attendant will redirect passengers to a usable exit," Sue Fogwell, a former United Airlines flight attendant, tells T+L.

And that's why it's so important that passengers in the exit row leave their window shades open. "Flight attendants rely on passengers to assist in the emergency exit rows," says Fogwell. "The passengers in the exit row need to look out the window first before opening the exit. If the wing is torn off, for example, that is no longer a viable exit."

Related: Why You Should Start Every Flight With This Pilot-approved 5-second Safety Tip

Though the act of opening a window shade may take only a second or two, time is of the essence in an emergency landing — flight attendants must be able to evacuate a plane in less than 90 seconds. Plus, in the chaos of an emergency, it's certainly possible an exit row passenger might forget to lift the window shade before opening the exit door. It's best to avoid any potential barriers to an efficient evacuation.

While window shades should always be up during takeoff and landing from a safety perspective, it's up to the airline to mandate this — and many don't. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for instance, doesn't have any rules regarding the position of window shades during critical phases of flight. But organizations like the Association of Flight Attendants do consider it a best practice, nonetheless.

"I always make sure my window shade is up for takeoff and landing, no matter where I am sitting on the plane," says Lisa. And it's easy for you to do the same if you're a window seat passenger.

Related: The Real Reason Why Airplane Windows Have Holes

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