Onboard Photos: Are They Really THAT Big of a Deal?

If you haven’t already read about fellow blogger Matthew getting kicked off a United Airlines flight, I encourage you to do so.

The short version of his story is that he took a picture of his BusinessFirst seating area (the IFE monitor), a flight attendant advised he couldn’t take any pictures of the cabin and a bit later while still at the gate, he attempted to explain why he was doing so. The flight attendant allegedly didn’t want to hear an explanation and before the flight left, a Global Services representative pulled him off the flight mentioning, “the captain is not comfortable with you on this flight.”

There’s a lot more to his story and his post has created a lively discussion in the comments. But I want to focus on the policy itself. In his post, Matthew offers a picture of the onboard photo and video policy listed in the Hemispheres magazine. It reads:

The use of still and video cameras, film or digital, including any cellular or other devices that have this capability, is permitted only for recording personal events. Photography or audio or video recording of other customers without their express prior consent is strictly prohibited. Also, unauthorized photography or audio or video recording of airline personnel, aircraft equipment or procedures is always prohibited. Any photography (video or still) or voice or audio recording or transmission while on any United Airlines aircraft is strictly prohibited, except to the extent specifically permitted by United Airlines.

I certainly understand not capturing crew or other passengers without their consent, but other parts of the policy seem open to interpretation. What does United consider a “personal event?”  For me, capturing a picture of the seat I’m about to sit in qualifies. And the meals I eat in premium cabins and report about on this blog are certainly personal events.

I understand why some photos would cause alarm (exit doors, galley equipment and some flight deck pics), but I just don’t see an issue with those specifically related to a passenger’s in-flight experience.

I happen to have been stopped by two Federal Air Marshals upon deplaning a flight at JFK after a passenger alerted the crew I was taking pictures and video. They were incredibly polite and professional, and after explaining my intent, showing what I captured and providing a business card, they were satisfied and let me keep my images. I’m sorry Matthew didn’t get the same courtesy of a proper investigation.

Is United’s policy warranted? Yes, but I think proper discretion on the part of both passengers and crew members is essential.

Related posts:

My ‘Run-In’ With Two Federal Air Marshals

Thrown Off a United Airlines Flight for Taking Pictures


  1. Personally, just another reason UAL will never get any of my business. Total amateur hour on their part. I’ve never had AA or DL give me any issues with taking any pictures on flights.

  2. These old crone sky hags really need a smack down. They are lucky that we actually accept most of their crap when we fly so they can keep their jobs. Crop dust this…..

    • @aadvantagegeek: Not yet, as far as I know. A Twitter follower said they reached out to Matthew. I’m greatly looking forward to the follow-up post(s).

  3. Not defending United by any means but the guy used the word “terrorist” when talking to a flight attendant right before takeoff. You left that out either by accident (which is careless) or intentional (which is misleading).

    As for the purpose of your post – pictures on planes – provided one doesn’t take pictures of others, disturb others with constant photo flash, or take pictures of “sensitive” areas of the plane, why shouldn’t we be able to take pictures? In this day and age of Instagram, facebook, and twitter, there is a remarkably broad area of photography that contitutes “personal events.”. Flying in first or business (especially as a blogger with some 1st Amendment protections) and publishing about that experience could very well be personal.

    What worries me is that when we (society) purchase things these days, the producer of the product or provider of services can create post-contract terms and conditions that can actually prevent you from using the product or service which you purchased. Here, the guy bought a ticket to fly on a plane from point a to point b. After he boarded, and after he took the offending phtotos, he was informed of the rules of the plane. If an airline wants to have rules, make them known, up front and let informed consumers make purchases based on those rules. And someone show me where in the FAA flight regulations does it say anything about inflight photography.

  4. Mathew said he “wasn’t a terrorist”. Since when does SAYING that they AREN’T a terrorist warrant treating them like this flight attendant did. I personally applaud Mathew for acting as he did. I would have been much more similar to the other passenger that got loud with the FA. If I was Mathew, especially since I was a 1k and have more leverage, I would demand a reimbursement of other expenses incurred because of the missed flight. I think Mathew said it was ~$278. I would also strongly suggest that they add some other form of reimbursement or they would lose my business. This is absolutely ridiculous and United should be bending over backward to make this right.

  5. If this went down as described (FA questioning Matthew and apparently rudely confronting other passengers regarding taking photos) and I had witnessed it I would likely have asked for her name after the flight to make a complaint to United.

    And had I been sitting near Matthew and heard him say anything to the effect of “but I’m not a terrorist” in response to an FA question I would have thought to myself “This guy is a fu*king jerkoff.”

  6. Why would anybody who has witnessed the duct-tape infused Homeland Security panic of the last 10 years say the word “terrorist” on an airplane?

    I’m not defending UA or the ridiculous hyper-panic that exists in America since the 9/11 attacks, but you gotta deal with the situation as it is, not as you want it. I personally think it’s stupid that they’d kick you off for saying you’re “not a terrorist”, but at the same time, if you’ve been paying attention to the majority of America cowering in the corner and watching our freedoms and liberties being eroded over the last decade without a peep, you should have known this was a possible outcome. I’m sure some people will be offended by this, but I think Americans have become a frail people over the last couple of decades because of our isolation from world opinion and our extreme paranoia, and what you happened to Matthew is just a symptom of that.

    Sucks he got kicked off the plane, and I feel for him, but at the same time, uttering the “T” word on an airplane is just dumb in practice.

    • @All: My point of this post wasn’t to engage additional conjecture surrounding the actions getting Matthew kicked off the flight. I agree that using the word “terrorist” wasn’t ideal, which is why I mentioned, “there’s a lot more to his story…”. My concern is more closely related to how the policy is interpreted and enforced. I think both passengers and crew have an opportunity and responsibility to bring a little reality into the policy.

  7. There are two words you never say on a plane, and terrorist is one of them, no matter how innocent the context, you never say it.
    That said, I don’t think taking pictures of the seat or meal is bad (although a strict interpretation of the policy may forbid it), I have never had a flight attendant or other crew member ask me not to. Clearly this isn’t a systemwide thing, so I’m not sure why United as an airline is receiving the backlash.
    And for those of you who think the 1st amendment protects you, it doesn’t. Go take the most basic law class out there and you will learn that.

  8. This incident strikes me as another example of the ever-increasing decline in the application of common sense.

    Similar to other commentators, I have never been approached when taking a photograph on-board an aeroplane, and have witnessed cabin crew members taking photographs of passengers – some of these photographs surely capturing the images of other passengers in the vicinity, even structural images of the aeroplane’s interior.

    The interpretation of the policy as defined inside the Hemisphere’s magazine is, unsurprisingly, indicative of vague specifics, and thus exposed to the subjectivity of the cabin crew member… some cabin crew members being more equal than others in their ability to make rational judgement.

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