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Jerry H. Trachtman
Jerry H. Trachtman
Attorney • (321) 723-8281

Airline Window Shade Wars

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When you travel by airline, do you enjoy looking out the window? Most people enjoy the view from up high but some passengers, for whatever reason, prefer looking at the back of a closed window shade. And they always request a window seat, presumably under the belief that he who has the window seat owns and controls the window shade. But who really has the legal right to control the window shade? What window shade rights do aisle seat and center seat passengers have, if any?

Any analysis of window shade rights must begin with an examination of English common law. The horse-drawn coaches utilized by noblemen had interior draperies, and it was understood that the draperies would be closed on the right side and open on the left side before noon when traveling north, reversed traveling south, but closed on the left and open on the right after noon when traveling north and reversed traveling south. Got it? East and west travel posed a problem, which was resolved by the coachman officiating a duel with pistols until only one passenger remained standing, who could then position the window coverings any way he pleased.

At one time the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) considered enacting regulations adopting the well-reasoned common law rules, but the airline pilot unions objected and voiced the belief of the pilots that window shade position should only be determined by the captain. The result of this is that, without Federal preemption in this hotly contested area of the law, it is left to the individual states to regulate airline window shade position. Most, but not all, states have adopted laws based on the English common law rules. A single passenger in a row controls the window shade, but 2 or more passengers in a row must arm wrestle to decide window shade position. However, you must know what state you are flying over to be sure you are complying with the appropriate law, and the law may change more than once on a long cross country flight.