What Airlines Aren’t Telling You About Their Photography Policy–Until It’s Too Late

May 9, 2015

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

What Airlines Aren’t Telling You About Their Photography Policy–Until It’s Too Late

May 9, 2015

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

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As photographer’s rights continue to make their way to the headlines, the Washington Post chimed in on the subject with a public service announcement of sorts informing photographers of the restrictions in which many commercial airlines are beginning to enforce. While it may not come as a surprise to many of you that airline employees have the right to tell photographers to turn off their cameras, the lack of an actual policy may be slightly more unexpected.

When American Airlines passenger, Arash Shirazi, was confronted by a gate agent at the Reagan National terminal in Washington D.C. and sharply told he needed to stop taking photos of the aircraft, which he intended to share with his friends via social media.

Shirazi told the Washington Post the agent “demanded to know why I was taking a picture of airport equipment. I showed her the picture and offered to delete it, but she became even more combative, accusing me of being a security threat. She made it a point to tell me that she was going to document this security breach in my travel record.”

The agent remained to be abrupt with Shirazi, even after he apologized and let her know that, as a frequent flier, he was unaware of any policy which prevented him from taking photos while waiting to board an aircraft.

According to Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, the carrier has updated their internal policy regarding customers taking photos citing, “The policy is in place to protect employees and customers.” According to the internal policy any airline worker including gate agents, baggage handlers, and onboard personnel to prevent individuals from taking photos. The problem is, the policy is not printed anywhere in which customers are able to see or read it, which seems to be a glaring omission.

Man Kicked Off Albuquerque Flight

A similar incident happened in Albuquerque when Steven Leslie began filming the onboard crew of JetBlue plane when he noticed them insisting another passenger, a young boy with cancer, to exit the aircraft after the crew became worried by the appearance of the child’s health–despite the boy’s parents having already medically cleared the boy to fly.

The family and the boy left the plane, then the crew turned their attention to Leslie, demanding he delete the video. After he refused, Leslie, too, was removed from the plane.

JetBlue eventually apologized for the incident, but defended themselves by saying one of their crew members did not “feel safe” being photographed, adding the crew member asking Leslie to delete the video fell into “gray area”. Unfortunately, Leslie had no real way of knowing the airlines policy regarding what he may and may not photograph, as JetBlue also has no official policy posted anywhere which can be accessed by the public.

JetBlue spokesman, Morgan Johnston told the Washington Post, “Our crew members use their professional judgment in evaluating the appropriate use of photography or videography onboard, especially when it involves the privacy of other customers and the safe and secure operations of the airline.”

Are Airlines Allowed To Do That?

As it turns out, yes, airlines do have the right to demand you not take photographs, so long as you are not on public property. According to attorney Daniel Greenberg, “You can’t prohibit photography in public. But the prohibition of photography on private property is legitimate. That decision is up to the property owner. If you don’t want to follow the carrier’s rules, don’t get on the carrier’s plane.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave you many options. Essentially, you just need to be careful of what you’re shooting. For starters, avoid photographing other people, such as airline employees. Because airlines are desperately trying to avoid becoming the subject of a viral video and all the bad publicity that comes with it, and their focus on security (however, misguided it may be), photographing at airports and on airplanes is becoming an increasingly touchy subject. Something to keep in mind on your future travels if you want to avoid any conflict.

[ via RedditWashington Post | Lead Image by konstantin.tilikin ]

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Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

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25 responses to “What Airlines Aren’t Telling You About Their Photography Policy–Until It’s Too Late”

  1. Rick Avatar

    In other words if you are caught videoing an airline employee misbehaving, send it off to the cloud immediately so you can “begrudgingly” remove it from your phone when told to do so.

  2. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    This has nothing to do with security and everything to do with avoiding embarrassing videos like this; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOP9fwnE4yY

  3. Stephen Feldstein Avatar
    Stephen Feldstein

    this is why i dont fly. they have no known policies. you cant see them, read them and they dont really know them. they have more power than the police and i dont care to be treated like a child while paying for it….no flying for me!

    1. HyperJ Avatar

      So… You never need to travel far, huh?

      I fail to see what is so upsetting about this. Private property is private property. And as much we would like all policies to be available up front, they are not. Do you insist on a getting a list of a friends photography no-no’s when you visit their house?

      Here’s an idea… Ask first? Or failing that, don’t get pissy when they ask you to stop or delete the image?

    2. doge Avatar

      Have fun at home.

  4. Arthur_P_Dent Avatar

    They may have the right to tell you not to take a picture, but they have absolutely no right to make you delete it. I would fight them on that.

    1. bob cooley Avatar
      bob cooley

      They cannot make you delete a video, photo, etc. without a court order. However, they can throw you off a flight for just about any reason. Best policy on private property is to always ask before shooting.

      1. Arthur_P_Dent Avatar

        Forgiveness is usually easier to obtain than permission. ;-)

        1. bob cooley Avatar
          bob cooley

          Perhaps, but notsomuch when facing trespassing charges, which is what can happen when recording on private property. You always have to ask yourself, is the juice worth the squeeze?

          1. Hagbard Celine Avatar
            Hagbard Celine

            They can’t charge you with trespassing because you are recording something. If you have a ticket you are obviously not trespassing. If they ask you to leave because you are recording and you refuse to leave THEN they can charge you for trespassing. Recording video or taking a photo is not an act of trespass.

          2. bob cooley Avatar
            bob cooley

            I was talking about private property in general. If you record after you have been told to stop (on private property like a plane), then you can be charged with trespass. It’s not likely, but it is within their legal rights.

          3. Hagbard Celine Avatar
            Hagbard Celine

            No. They can’t charge you with trespassing no matter how many times they ask you to stop RECORDING or PHOTOGRAPHING. Trespassing is being ON private property without permission. Photographing is not trespassing. They have to ask you to leave the premises before you can be charged with trespassing.

            You can record whatever you want, whenever you want. Just because they ask you stop doesn’t make it illegal. There isn’t a law against it. It’s just a company policy. And if you don’t want to follow that policy you don’t have to. But they are within their rights to ask you to leave if you don’t follow their policy. And you can continue to record the whole time as long as you are leaving in a timely manner. And once you are back on public property you can stand there and continue to take photos OF the private property.

            Taking a photo or a video while against private policy is not an act of trespass. It’s just annoying for the people that have to enforce company policy.

          4. Tyrant Fluffy Pants Avatar
            Tyrant Fluffy Pants

            It’s that attitude is why people distrust and hate photographers. Just because you have a right to do something doesn’t mean you should. If you guys keep making this an issue. Laws will be passed.

  • Mark Turner Avatar
    Mark Turner

    I thought most American pilots were pissed anyway, how’s taking a photograph making it more unsafe?

  • Dan Moit Avatar
    Dan Moit

    Be discreet.

  • Kevin Blackburn Avatar
    Kevin Blackburn

    Good new is many Airports are Municipally owned not private property but in fact public property but good common sense and staying on the side of caution and safety is always the best bet.

    1. MikeDF Avatar

      But the airplane is privately owned.

      1. Kevin Blackburn Avatar
        Kevin Blackburn

        Yes the Aircraft is private and I see the concern and issue from the airline I guess I am thinking from more of street/editorial photographer POV as to shooting stuff in the terminal thought the major issue was the aircraft was in his shot

        Funny thing is AA a few years ago was happy to have me post an image of an aircraft at sunrise as I spoke to how wonderful I was treated and taken care of when traveling from the east coast to west for the passing of my niece seems like most companies they like the good and try to control the bad press like all companies have for decades all in all it makes sense

    2. bob cooley Avatar
      bob cooley

      Unfortunately, even Municipal airports are considered semi-public.

      From the Digital Media Law Project:

      “An airport terminal is a nonpublic forum. See International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee,
      505 U.S. 672 (1992). The Supreme Court has noted that airports are
      “among those publicly owned facilities that could be closed to all
      except those who have legitimate business there.” United States v. Grace, 461 U.S. 171, 178 (1983).”

      1. Kevin Blackburn Avatar
        Kevin Blackburn

        Good to know and you seem to have had to deal with this before. Me I just shoot and play nice and dumb has worked for more than 25 years and more than 16 as a working pro been lucky enough to never have been asked to delete images or back in the day turn over my film. I actually shot in all the airports on my way to and home from Scotts -Dale during Super Bowl this year while out there for a client project and was never hassled once by Airports Staff/ Airline Staff TSA or anyone I will certainly count myself luck. I would in all honesty have to turn any issues over to my attorney if I ever tun into any. Certainly do not want to start a debate but Krishnas a bit different than photographers but thats just my view,
        Thanks again for the legal info

        Best K

        1. bob cooley Avatar
          bob cooley

          lol – yeah, I’d never compare us to the Krishnas :)

          The reality is that very few people ever get hassled unless they are causing a disturbance. slowing up the lines, etc. If it isn’t costing them money, they really don’t care, except in those instances where they feel their reputations may be harmed (filming an argument w/ a TSA staffer, etc.)

          It technically counts as “Semi-public” meaning you can record/photograph there until they ask you to stop, then it if in effect private property. But anything you shoot before they asked you to stop is not in violation of anything.

          They can ASK you to delete something, but you are under no obligation to do so without a court order.

          If you were to shoot after they asked you to stop, they still couldn’t make you erase it, but you could be charged with trespass at that point, and if found guilty, you’d have to turn over the footage/images.

          99% of the time its a non-issue. :)

          1. Kevin Blackburn Avatar
            Kevin Blackburn

            LOL thanks again for the info I am going to try the run hide and act like a lunatic approach if it ever happens to me then plea insanity to the Judge hahahaha

          2. Hagbard Celine Avatar
            Hagbard Celine

            Once again, they can’t charge you with trespassing unless you are asked to leave first. They can ask you to stop photographing and if you continue they can’t charge you with trespassing. Asking you to leave the area is much different than asking you to stop taking pictures.

  • rhaphazard Avatar

    Security is just an excuse. How many of these airlines have actually prevented some sort of threat with their “security measures”? If they had, they’d be plastering it all over the news.

  • ba78O{} Avatar

    Irrational, fear based society.