Tray Table Up! Airplane Safety Rules Explained

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By Jason Heidemann for the Orbitz Travel Blog

The window shades are open, our trays are in an upright position and the cabin lights have been dimmed for takeoff. We dutifully abide by our cabin crew's every instruction, but we've always been curious as to why why some of these protocols exist. From FAA baggage regulations as to why exactly adults should put their oxygen mask on first before assisting a child to drunkenness while flying, our undercover flight attendant answers some of our most burning airline questions.

1. Why do the shades need to be up for takeoff and landing? "From what I understand, this varies by airline and is based on the operational manual of the airline and what is approved by the FAA. It's a great idea to keep the window shades open during takeoff and landing as those are the most critical times of flight and it's a good idea to be able to see outside so that you can see if there is smoke or fire right outside of the aircraft, and if an evacuation needs to be activated in the event of an emergency."

2. Why do seats and tray tables need to be in an upright position during takeoff and landing?
[Those] are the times of the flight in which most incidents take place. It's all about the potential for injury and egress in the event of an emergency evacuation. If there is an aborted takeoff or some sort of event on landing, the abdomen of the passenger could slam into the tray table potentially causing internal injuries."

3. Why do airlines dim the cabin lights for takeoff and landing?
"The cabin conditions for each airline are different; however, many have the cabin lighting similar to the outside conditions so that if there is an emergency, the eyes of the crew and passengers are not "in shock" when either going from a dark cabin to bring daylight or a bright cabin to dark outside.

4. Why is it better for an adult to put their oxygen mask on first before placing it on a child?
"Adults should put their oxygen mask on prior to placing one on their child or anyone else needing assistance because at a cruising altitude of 35,000-40,000 feet, you only have about 15 seconds to a minute of useful consciousness, [which is] the amount of time you have in which you are able to perform proper actions."