Is this rude? Leaving the reading light on.

sky and lakeLast week I flew to California for a couple of nights. My return flight was at 6:30 am, super early, especially after the long client dinner the night before. I was pretty tired when I got on the plane, and looked forward to a catnap on the way to Phoenix. Evidently everyone around me felt the same way, as all of the overhead lights were off for several rows.

I had just drifted off when I felt the woman next to me moving around a bit. It didn’t really bother me, since close proximity to others is part and parcel of being in an airplane, and knew she would be still soon. But then she turned on her reading light. I cracked one eye and sure enough, she had a book out. Darn! I thought. Oh well, she gets to read if she wants too. The light was pretty bright and I wasn’t able to get back to sleep, so after ten minutes or so I cracked one eye open again. This time, the book was facedown on her tray table and her eyes were closed.

I’ll be honest. I haven’t been taking as many early morning flights lately, preferring instead to come in the night before. So I haven’t had a reason to think about reading lights and how disruptive they can be to those trying to sleep. But man, I could not go back to sleep on that flight with that light shining in my eyes. Normally this is where I would say that I whipped out my eye mask and everything was fine, but of course I had switched purses and didn’t have it.

So. I wanted to find out what you guys think. Is it rude to leave your reading light on if you’re not using it? Obviously if it’s super bright outside it’s less important to turn off. And of course, if you want to read or need to work by all means use your light!! But if the plane is pretty dark and you’re not using it, is it inconsiderate to leave the light on?

Readers, what do you think? Do you try to turn off your light when you’re done with it? Or should it not matter?


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  1. Of course it’s not rude – it’s her light, her space, to do what she wants with it. If you want to sleep, bring eye shades.

  2. In this case your seat mate probably fell asleep while reading. It’s easy to do if you get up at 3:30 am to make a 6:30 flight. I’m not sure you can call it rude when it wasn’t thoughtless or intentional. It was also well inside the normal behaviors for a plane ride for that time of day.
    The big problem is that you didn’t have your sleeping mask. I usually carry a travel comfort kit that contains everything for a flight. It’s pre packed in my carry on so I don’t forget it.
    BTW, the 6:30 am flights are normal for any California person flying to the east coast. It’s pure luxury to take an 8 am flight.

  3. Agree. I’d reach over and turn it off. Even if they were drifting off and woke up when I turned off their light, I’d apologize for turning off their light – but they’d get the unsaid message that it’s disturbing me. Either way, I win.

  4. Since I know how easy it is to fall asleep while reading, I don’t think I could call it rude. I would consider it more rude to turn off someone else’s light even if they’ve fallen asleep, bc I also know how easy it is to continually wake and read.

    Still, I feel your pain. I rarely turn on my overhead light bc all of my devices are self-lit. I think, in this case, it is simply an incentive to make sure you always have an eye mask. I am such a difficult sleeper that I am insanely paranoid about needing one, so I carry two of them. They are so lightweight and take up so little space, why not?

    But I always carry the same purse and two carry on bags, so I understand it is not as easy for you. Switching bags of any kind would be a disaster for me.

    And you can’t discount the twins factor. I started losing brainpower as soon as I became a parent. But I think parents of multiples should get extra leeway in everything. There is a part of your brain that is just no longer available for anything else, and you never have the same amount of energy or concentration.

    Maybe you can just tuck an eyemask into every travel purse you use? After all, you never know when it might be possible to grab a few winks.

  5. This is a tough call. I wouldn’t call it “rude” (mainly because I’ve done it too!). If they need it when they wake up, they will just turn it back on.

    I have the same question for the window shade being open. I had the aisle seat on a 7:30am flight and was looking out the bright sunny window. I could tell my seat mate was annoyed because it was causing a glare on his ipad, then when he tried to fall asleep he was tossing and turning and gesturing towards the open window shade. Does the person in the window seat get to decide if it stays open?

  6. I don’t think it is rude AT ALL. I am unable to sleep on a flight. I am an ex flight attendant (Stewardess when I did it). Every change in the rotation of the engine, squeak in a seat or tray table, and I am WIDE awake. I often travel for business, and I need to check papers, files, etc. If you want to sleep on the flight, I’ll be as quiet as I can. I also tell my seat mate that I am happy to get up so they can go to the lav, as often as they need or want to. Your night flight might be the beginning of my day.

  7. I find it more annoying when seatmates leave earphones off their ears and I can hear the sizzling sounds emanating from the earphones.

  8. I’ve had the opposite rude experience. On a late night flight to Hawaii, I had an 18 month lap baby (my husband had her twin sister in his lap across the aisle). Is being experience road warriors ourselves, we had plenty to occupy ourselves, as she was just not sleepy. Books, puzzles, you name it. But, unbelievably the man next to me in the middle seat rudely insisted I turn off my light because it interfered with his enjoyment of the movie playing on overhead monitor couple rows ahead of us. He repeatedly turned off my light and yelled at me. Try entertaining a bright eyed and bushy tailed toddler in the dark! It’s been almost 20 years, and I am still fuming about it…

  9. I think it’s EXTREMELY rude, especially on a red eye. Recently I traveled on business from California to NYC on a 1am flight- the person next to me CLEARLY saw myself (and everyone else on the plane) trying to get some sleep. Still, she kept that light on. It’s obnoxious.

  10. I don’t think it’s rude of her – she most likely did not mean to fall asleep with it on. However, I think you would have been quite within your rights to turn off the light. If she woke up, she would turn it back on again. No biggie. But – like reclining – a person is perfectly entitled to use it if they need to.

    More critical though is your need for preparedness by having the eyeshade you obviously desperately needed. Perhaps your annoyance at not having one has transferred the blame to your seatmate? What you need is a small bag of essentials that you can quickly swap from one bag to the next. That way everything you need is in the bag you are using.

    Also, I have used a sock and a scarf for an eyemask in desperate situations. Any piece of fabric will help, at least.

    As an aside, I had an argument with an FA on a recent flight as they wanted me to close the window shade so people could sleep. It was NIGHT. There was absolutely no chance I would sleep until dawn (it was a 12 hour flight LAX-MEL and would be night almost the entire time as landing was scheduled for 0640 on a winter’s day, when I knew sunrise was not even until 0715 or more), and I informed her that I would not, but would definitely close it before dawn arrived, if it did. Stupid woman. If you are an FA on a global airline, you should at least be able to interpret the dark parts of your flight map and know that dawn is not coming any time soon.

  11. I think most flights had out eye pads for people if they need them. It would be polite to turn the light away from other passengers but they paid for that seat. Also some people can’t sleep well with lights off. It can happen both ways.

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