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When Seconds Count - A Clear View Matters for Safety

Date: March 8, 2022

Last Friday, March 4, Inflight announced a change to a cabin safety policy related to their desired position of cabin window shades for taxi, takeoff, and landing.  As you may recall, in early 2020 an announcement was added requesting passengers open their window shade for takeoff and again for landing. This was a welcome and commendable enhancement to cabin safety and the adoption of a cabin safety best practice for which AFA had been advocating. 

Flight Attendants are trained to evacuate the airplane in those circumstances where every second counts (90 seconds, to be exact). One of the reasons seatbacks need to be up, tray tables, and carry-on baggage need to be stowed is to facilitate the rapid movement of passengers to exits, without unnecessary delay or obstruction. 

While FAA regulations do not require it, open window shades during taxi, takeoff, and landing have been recognized as a cabin safety industry best practice. On the subject of open window shades, a 2015 editorial for the Flight Safety Foundation added, “An excellent reason for this is to aid the situational awareness of passengers and cabin crew should a serious incident or accident occur during these critical phases of flight.”  This best practice has been around for years within the industry, just not until the last several at United.  When every second counts, open window shades allow Flight Attendants and passengers to immediately see outside, assess conditions, and identify hazards.

Our training has prepared us to assess and constantly reassess for changing conditions during an emergency. If an evacuation is necessary, we need to quickly determine which exits are safe, which side of the aircraft is safe, and when the safety risk is too great, we utilize our training to determine an alternate course of action. When everyone can see outside, we can best evaluate all conditions quickly including seeing the engines, wings, and any potential obstruction prior to initiating an evacuation. The moment an evacuation is necessary is not the time to waste precious seconds opening window shades.

Another point to consider is eyesight adjustment to lighting conditions. For taxi, takeoff, and landing, cabin lighting is to be set to match outside conditions to ensure everyone’s eyesight is adjusted to the exterior conditions. For the same reasons, window shades should be open as well.  Consider a time when you have left a darkened movie theater in the afternoon. Did your eyes immediately adjust to the bright daylight once you have made it outside?

From the perspective of the exterior of the aircraft, First Responders on the ground need to see what might be happening on the inside of the aircraft. Smoke or a fire inside the cabin may not be visible to emergency services from the outside with the shades closed.  Their ability to determine the best location to enter an aircraft is just another reason shades should be open.

The policy United adopted in 2020 was simply a request to passengers. It was the right thing to do for safety and any passengers who met our request by opening their window shade did something to add a little more to the level of safety onboard.

If it raises the level of safety, it is difficult not to ask, what is the harm? For some reason, it is okay to request passengers close their window shade after arrival under hot/sunny conditions for cabin comfort, however, when it comes to safety, it is no longer SOP to request all of our passengers seated near the window seat to open their window shade during critical phases of flight. This seems backward and, candidly, contradicts what’s right for safety.

While the company may be interested in telling us what other airlines are or are not doing, that really does not matter.  Doing the right thing for safety now that matters! 

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