The Great Airplane Window Shade Debate

Images by Tang Ming Tung/ Getty

On a recent flight to Chicago, I boarded my plane and slowly inched toward my assigned seat. Because I have a bladder the size of a raisin, I always select an aisle seat. This way I can avoid doing yogi gymnastics over sleeping passengers when I have to use the bathroom. It’s my personal courtesy to humanity because no one likes that passenger who gets up 15 times during a flight. You’re welcome.

I also enjoy the aisle seat because, frankly, I like to be able to see the flight attendants’ faces so that I can be assured we aren’t plummeting to our death in a giant tin can with wings.

Now, I love the window seat, too, but the need to pee freely usually wins over the ability to see that the horizon is smooth and that the plane hasn’t taken a sudden dive. And while I love taking pictures of cities lit up at night and the majestic beauty of our country from 35,000 feet up, my bladder just can’t afford that luxury.

So the aisle seat it is, and I’m okay with that.

But on my recent trip, I realized there’s a hierarchy when it comes to airplane seating and passengers in each seat — the window, middle, and aisle all seem to have certain rights and privileges. As I observed the other passengers on my flight, I noticed that there seem to be unwritten rules that come with each seat. Who knew?!

For example, the person in the aisle controls who gets up and who doesn’t. If the aisle seat passenger is asleep, the middle and window passengers can get trapped. Gotta pee? Suck it up, buttercup. I actually watched one woman sigh and roll her eyes for 45 minutes — 45 minutes! — before she finally decided to do a pommel horse move over the guy sleeping in the aisle seat in her row.

The person in the middle seat controls the arm rests. Period. That’s their prize for drawing the short stick when it comes to the airplane seating chart. Because let’s face it: No one picks the middle seat. And those who get stuck riding the hump seat on a redeye from Los Angeles to New York deserve to be a little territorial over their elbow space.

But perhaps the biggest turf war in airplane rows is the ownership of the window shade.

On most of my flights in the last year, I’ve observed the window seat passengers in my row squeeze themselves into their seats, adjust their carry-on luggage, and promptly pull the window shade closed. Wait a minute. What is happening here?

I find this baffling and a bit maddening, if I’m being honest.

Why in the name of Hello Kitty and all that is holy would you choose a window seat and then close it for the entirety of the flight?

What is the point of having the window if you close it off to the rest of us in the row?

And what’s more, what’s the protocol here? Can the passengers in the middle and aisle seat stage a mutiny and demand the window shade be put up in the name of sunshine and horizon viewing?

Naturally, I took to Facebook to ask the people of the internet who exactly owns the window seat.

People had feelings about this issue, you guys. Big feelings.

If you thought people’s discussion over returning carts in grocery store parking lots was one for the ages, just try asking your friends who owns the window shade. You will be shocked at how passionate people are about who owns the right to take selfies while hurtling over the Rockies.

After a wholly unscientific polling of my Facebook audience, the consensus was clear: The window seat passenger owns the window shade. Hands down. Here are just a few of hundreds of comments:

People discussed many reasons for selecting the window seat: a wall to lean against for sleeping, not having to be disturbed by Little McPeesAlots (like me), and not having to “people” on a long haul overseas.

Basically, if you want to see the friendly skies, or not see them as the case may be, you have to buy the window seat.

However, during the discussion, another contingent of people emerged. Middle and aisle seat people who appreciate a little sunshine and visual assurance that the plane is, in fact, still maintaining altitude. Our concerns over not being able to control the window shade fell on deaf ears though.

We surrender, but window seat people: don’t forget that we like to be able to see the scenery, too. Just keep us in mind the next time you are snuggling in for a long nap on a Trans-Atlantic flight.

If you are nice and keep the window open, I won’t roll my eyes when you step on my feet on your way to the bathroom. And I’ll share my airplane peanuts with you too.