During a long flight, you may have wondered a number of things, like why flight attendants never seem to drink hot drinks, what the tiny hole in your window is for, or why the aircraft crew asks you to keep your window shades open during takeoff and landing.
Well, wonder no more. You might reasonably guess it's because the shutters would rattle, or just so the cabin crew can see the little people and sheep get smaller and smaller during takeoff. However, the main reason is to do with your eyes.
"It’s for your own safety," Schiphol International Airport explained in a blog post.
"If anything happens during take-off and landing – the riskiest stages of every flight – then your eyes will already be used to the dark or the light outside, and you’ll be able to react more quickly. That’s also the reason why the lights in the cabin are dimmed for take-off and landing."
Although the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn't require open windows during taxi, takeoff, and landing, it is considered best practice according to United's Association of Flight Attendants. Though they note eyesight adjustment is an important part, so too is making an emergency situation clear to first responders on the ground.
“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.”
There are other factors too, such as helping the flight crew identify problems with the plane's engines or wings in an emergency or discerning which side to evacuate the aircraft from.
“From a safety standpoint, open shades help improve situational awareness,” a spokesperson from the Flight Safety Foundation told Condé Nast Traveler. “For example, during an emergency evacuation, flight attendants or passengers need to be able to see outside to determine whether it’s safe to open and use an emergency exit. You don’t want to send someone out an over-wing exit if the engine on that side is still running or on fire.”
It can also save time in an emergency. “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,” United’s AFA says. “The moment an evacuation is necessary is not the time to waste precious seconds opening window shades.”
So there you have it, you have to keep your window shutters open so that the cabin crew can see if the engine is on fire, and so that you can see in general. Now to figure out why most planes are painted white.