Here's the Real Reason Why Hotel Room Windows Don't Open

Bet you never considered... suction.

After a long day of travel (that may or may not have involved sharing recirculated air with hundreds of fellow humans at 35,000 thousand feet), you finally make it to your hotel room, unwrap those slippers, and head for the window to let a little fresh air in... until you realize the thing won’t open more than a few inches.

But why not?

If you assumed it’s all for safety’s sake, well, you’re partly right. There are thousands of jurisdictions in America alone and the rules vary from place to place, but most building codes today require new hotels to restrict windows to opening just four inches or less, says Chad Callaghan, security consultant for the American Hotel & Lodging Association and principal at Premises Liability Experts. “That’s a width that will not allow a person to fall or jump out of the window,” he says. “The room is more secure from the outside, and more safe from the inside.” Also, back when hotels started phasing out smoking (cough cough), guests would sometimes open the windows to avoid smoke detectors and fines, and even toss lit cigarettes out the window, a hazard itself.

Interestingly, Callaghan says that making sure the windows stay shut can also help prevent hand injuries by controlling suction that could cause your hotel room’s big heavy entry door to slam shut and catch fingers. (Think of how your bedroom door suddenly slams closed when you have a window open.) “In hotels with an atrium, that’s especially a problem,’ he says.

But shouldn’t you be able to open the window in case of fire? Not necessarily. While some fire marshals require that windows on lower floors open for just that reason, during a hotel fire (which, thankfully, are rather rare), most guests find their way out through escape routes via fire exits and stairwells, since getting safely out through a window is nearly impossible from a higher floor. “Most firetruck ladders won’t reach more than 10 floors anyway,” says Callaghan. “There’s really no reason to require that windows open at that point.”

You might find that windows in older hotels still open, and of course there are rooms (often at properties in resort areas) that boast balconies and sliding glass doors that fully open, but the trend, says Callaghan, is toward inoperable windows — in the name of both the environment and the bottom line.

“The primary reason is energy conservation. There’s such a big push and there’s such a premium on being a green hotel and part of that is obviously the HVAC system,” he says. “It’s a good business practice all the way around and it just makes more sense.”

So, chances are if you need some bona fide fresh air during your next hotel stay, you’re going to have trade those slippers for sneakers and actually go for a walk.

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