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I’ve seen a variety of posts online talking about arguments between passengers “fighting” over who controls the window shade on an airplane. See here, here, here, here and here, for examples. I think the answer is pretty clear, and so I wanted to give my thoughts on who owns the window shade on an airplane.

an airplane window with a wing

Who Controls The Window Shade On An Airplane?

I think the etiquette is very clear that the person in the window seat controls the window shade in their row. People sitting in the window seat do not need to ask permission from the other passengers in their row or the passengers seated in front of or behind them to open or close the window shade. You do not have the right to open or close the window shade in any other row. If you find yourself reaching behind your seat or in front of the seat in front of you to adjust the window shade, please stop. There are some windows that are kind of “in between” rows, but I think in most cases it’s very clear which window belongs to which row.

I do think that it’s polite to “read the room”, so to speak. If everyone else’s window shade is down and the cabin lights are dimmed, it’s probably polite to keep your window shade down (especially if it’s bright out). Though if it’s bright out, I’m not sure why the cabin lights would be dimmed (unless it’s sunrise / sunset). Also, pick a position – don’t keep raising and lowering the shade (and stop your kids from doing that if they are in the window).

On a related note, on a recent flight I was in the aisle on a smaller 2-2 regional jet and the lady next to me was trying to take “aesthetic” shots out the window. I was watching a movie on my laptop and I could see that the Super Mario Movie was very distinctly in all of her fancy iPhone shots. So… sorry about that, lady :-). (If she had asked me to pause my movie for a bit so she could take a few shots, I would have)

What I Do With My Window Shade

I used to be very clearly on #TeamWindowSeat, because I enjoy looking out the window, especially at the different landscapes and city patterns. But a harrowing experience changed my mind. Now I almost exclusively book aisle seats, so I accept that I do not have control of the window seat. If I’m on a flight where I want to sleep, then I will pack an eyeshade or make other preparations.

(SEE ALSO: Traveling #hobostyle)

If I am on the window, I would normally keep the window shade up, unless it was clearly a situation where everyone was sleeping (like if the cabin lights were dimmed and it’s night time).

Who Owns The Armrests? Seat Reclining?

While we’re talking about passenger arguments, I figured I’d give my brief thoughts on a few other airplane seat controversies. Your mileage may vary.

  • Who owns the armrests? If you’re in a seating group with at least 3 seats, then the person in the middle seat has control of both the armrests. If you’re in a smaller row, then it’s fair game. Try to find a way to “share” them where one person gets the back of the armrest and one person gets the front.
  • Is it rude to recline your seat? Everyone is in charge of their own seat reclining. It’s not rude for the person in front of you to recline. Though it is polite to at least do it slowly, especially if you see that the person is doing something on their tray table or if it’s during meal service. It is polite but not required IMO to put your seat up during meal service, and to only recline if you’re actually literally trying to sleep. Personally, I almost never recline my seat in economy, because I prefer to give the person behind me enough room.

The Bottom Line

There are periodic arguments about who owns the window shade on an airplane or who controls whether the window shade is up or down. The prevailing etiquette is that the person in the window seat owns the window shade in their row. They can open or close the window shade without asking permission of the other people in their row or the people in front of or behind them. It is also polite (but not required) to “read the room” and see what others are doing and how your actions might affect other people, in my opinion.

What do you think? Who owns the window shade? What about the armrests or seat reclining? Share your thoughts in the comments below

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