aerospatial light shows

When flying with a Fokker F50 from Trondheim to Tromsoe I noticed once again that the
cabin lights were switched off during
take-off and landing.

Is this because the energy otherwise used for the cabin lights is need elsewhere (unlikely, but if - what is it needed for)? Or do people leaving near the airport complain over not beeing able to sleep because of all that light from the plane’s cabin (unlikely, sound is probably a bigger problem)?

Not being able to think of something that makes more sense I feel compelled to ask this question here: What is The Straight Dope ™ on cabin lights?

Nam et ipsa scientia potestas est.

Well, I just sent a quick note off to flight ops but the best idea around here (and we aren’t in operations) is that it is to encourage passengers to remain seated during those times. The theory is that if the lights are up passengers may be tempted to get up and move around but if the lights are low they are more likely to stay in their seats.

Hmm… Another excuse to go talk to the flight attendants at lunch! :slight_smile:

“Drink your coffee! Remember, there are people sleeping in China.”

Dennis Matheson —
Hike, Dive, Ski, Climb —

OK, I talked to a few flight attendants. A few said they turned down the lights because it’s standard procedure (without really thinking as to why they where doing it).

There didn’t seem to be anyone I talked to who knew for certain but the general consensus was that the lights are lowered so passengers can see out while the plane is landing. Apparently people like to look out at the city/airport/surrounding area while on takeoff or final approach. Since it is difficult to see out the windows at night when the interior is brightly lit the cabin lights are lowered for the benefit of those passengers who want to watch the plane land.

“Drink your coffee! Remember, there are people sleeping in China.”

Dennis Matheson —
Hike, Dive, Ski, Climb —

How about: the practice started when planes were smaller and the passenger area was often separated from the cockpit by just a curtain. Turning off/down the cabin lights meant that if the curtain (or door) to the flight deck was opened inadvertantly during takeoff, the pilots would not find themselves looking at their reflections in the windshield (instead of the runway) as the cockpit was flooded with light.

This is purely a WAG.


Turning off the cabin lights increases the visibility when looking out. This increases the possiblility of identifying an unsafe, and or, safest exit in an emergency.

Stephen’s Website
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Wild speculation, but if the plane crashes, no cabin lights means one less source of potential sparks/ignition for spilled fuel.
There, now doesn’t that make you feel happier about flying?

I would favor the reply TANSTAAFL gave about keeping the idio----um, er, excuse me, “passengers” seated.
Most of the hopper flights I have taken aside from scaring the wadding out of me, have irritated the hell out of me because of the behaviour of the other passengers (total disregard for anyone else). They have a habit of trampling all over everyone before the aircraft has even stopped moving. I am quite patient to sit quietly until the stampede has departed.


“Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before.”~~*G.K.Chesterton *

The lights are “turned off” for the benefit of the people who wish to look out the window.

Is that your humble opinion or The Straight Dope?

Nam et ipsa scientia potestas est.

Frankly, if a fully loaded F50 is anything like the Cessna 150s and 175s that I used to fly, or any number of commuter planes that I now occasionally have to fly in, I will be quite happy that they minimize any power load during take-off and landing - just in case that little extra is needed! I always imagine that these planes are struggling just to get into the air. Perhaps turning off all unneeded power consumption is a left-over from the old days when planes have much less thrust to weight ratios. These are not f14 Tomcats on a catapult you know.

Well, she was not exactly struggling. But they need quite a lot of runway to get their nose up. Different thing with the Dash 8 Series 103 I’ve been flying a lot with. The thing goes off faster than a small jet. But when I recall correctly they had the lights switched off for start and landing, too.

Nam et ipsa scientia potestas est.


First thanks for all the replies. Unfortunately I am not much more enlightened than I was before asking the question. That is besides me now having two or three more theories to choose from:

  • light may disturb pilots
  • passengers are more likely to stay seated
  • passengers have a nicer view of the landing site
  • the emergency exits are easier to identify
  • minimize power load of the plane
  • less sparks in case of an unfortunate landing/failed takeoff
    and of course: it’s standard procedure

I personally favor “keeping the idiots seated”, but just because that’s what I’m always told when trying to reach the toilet half a minute after takeoff (yeah, should pee before boarding).

Cece, what’s The Straight Dope™?

Nam et ipsa scientia potestas est.

FWIW, the two stewardesses I’ve asked agreed on the “lights may disturb pilots in an emergency” theory.

It can take several minutes for a persons eyes to fully adjust to different light levels, especially extremes. During night landings it would be a good idea to turn off the lights in the cabin to get people used to the outside darkness in case they have to leave the plane in an emergency.

At least, that makes sense to me. Do they turn off the lights during daytime landings as well?

Where the hell is E1Skeptic when you need him?