Who’s Right In This Airplane Window Shade Dispute?

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There are an increasing number of people who seem to approach flying in a hostile way, which might explain why we see so many stories of people being kicked off planes. While flying is getting better in many ways (there are more ways for people to stay entertained while traveling, it’s more affordable than ever before, etc.), the amount of personal space in the back of the plane is in many cases as limited as it has ever been.

Beyond that it’s also reflective of how divisive our society seems to be. People come on planes saying anything they want, and are shocked when they find out they don’t have “freedom of speech” on a plane.

To chime in on the most popular “issues” we seem to see when it comes to passenger etiquette:

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I guess on the most basic level, follow the golden rule and treat other people the way you want to be treated. Regardless of what the rules technically are, just apply common sense. If you do get in a situation that can escalate into a dispute, involve the crew immediately, and don’t try to take it into your own hands.

Which brings us to a question that reader Jack posted in the Ask Lucky forum:

Hi I have a question regarding the perceived right to open or close a window shade. I was on a flight today and I sat in 2F in first class. A woman who was sitting next to me was either nervous or inquisitive because she was looking across the aisle out of the windows on the left side of the plane because both window shades next to me were down. I noticed her looking at the downed shades so I lifted both shades as a courtesy to her, at which time she stated that she was going to ask me if I minded lifting the shades. It was a 10:05 AM flight so it was not like anyone around us was trying to sleep.

The gentleman in front of us in 1F immediately closed the shade that was adjacent to his seat, which we both thought was kind of rude, given the fact he could not see out of the window without turning around and most of the window was actually even or past his seat into our aisle. I did not make a big deal out of this, I didn’t say a word or open the shade again, but I was wondering, for future reference, the etiquette regarding a situation like this.

If the shade was open, both of us (2D-2F) could see directly out of the window while mister 1F, would have to turn around to look out. Who has the right to that shade? I know this might seem trivial but I was kind of perturbed he immediately shut it without asking me if I minded, when most of the window was behind his seat. I do travel quite often so this might come up in the future and I would like to know the right of way if you will.

I think this is a case where there’s not a right or wrong answer:

  • Generally speaking I think the person who has the direct view of a window has the right to decide how it’s positioned
  • At the same time, this isn’t so clear cut, as windows are often not allocated to specific seats, and often windows behind a seat can cause glare
  • This is a case where some communication might have helped; if the lady in 2D really wanted to look out the window, I would have asked the guy in 1F if it’s okay to open the window, after he closed it; I suspect he would have been fine with it, but if not, it’s probably not worth picking a fight over

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So while it seems that Mr. 1F may have been somewhat rude, I also think that communication from both sides goes a long way. If someone actually is a jerk after trying to communicate with them, it’s not worth escalating.

Jack did the right thing for looking out for the person seated next to him, though there’s no clear cut answer here as to the guy seated in front of him, in my opinion.



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