The Extra Mile

Why must the window blinds be open when a plane lands?

Travel editor Paul Ash answers your burning questions

12 November 2017 - 00:00 By paul ash

Q. Why do I have to pack my laptop away and take off my headphones before take off and landing? It's just annoying. And why do we have to raise our window blinds before landing? - Leana HendricksA. Many years ago, I was lucky enough to get a ride in a privately owned, ex-military fighter jet. It's not every day one gets to fly in such a machine - unless you have wads of cash and can buy your own - so I was desperate to take my hefty Nikon film camera along. The pilot, however, made me leave the camera on the ground and would not budge on the matter.
"If for any reason we have to eject, the camera will instantly become a high-speed, rocket-propelled and possibly lethal missile," he said.Despite the obvious absence of ejection seats in passenger airliners, the same principle holds true for loose items in a modern aircraft cabin. In the event of, say, a hard landing, the last thing you want is for your laptop to become airborne and smack you - or your fellow passengers - on the head.Airline pilot Patrick Smith, author of Ask the Pilot, a classic behind-the-scenes guide to air travel, writes that passengers have to remove their headphones so they can hear announcements and instructions in the event of an emergency.Of course, the rule is not evenly applied. As Smith notes: "In this spirit, maybe the Federal Aviation Administration should demand earplug removal and the waking up of all sleeping passengers. For now they've drawn the line at CDs."
(Smith's answer is taken from the 2004 first edition of his book, before CD Walkmans and personal music players were eclipsed by smartphones, but the advice still holds true.)I have also often wondered about the instruction to raise the window shades and it is worth quoting Smith in full."You are asked to raise your shade so you can see through the window. Not for the view but to help you remain orientated if there's an accident. It allows you to keep track of which way is up and lets you see any exterior hazards - fires, debris - to avoid during an evacuation.Nervous flyers - as well as anyone else interested in the mysteries of modern commercial passenger aviation - should read Smith's updated Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel.Along with the answers to almost every question you might have about how planes fly (it's simple physics), where pets travel (in a pressurised, climate-controlled hold) and how cockpit crew get along with each other, there are also accounts of the early days of commercial aviation, stories of much-loved airliners and airlines - and a fair amount of robust opinion on the idiocy of confiscating passengers' shampoo and toothpaste.
• You can buy 'Ask the Pilot' by Patrick Smith from Amazon. See askthepilot.com.

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