Remember When You Could “Fly the Friendly Skies of United “







Without the shocking video, it unlikely that the world would have learned or cared about the violent manhandling of a 69 year old man on a plane last month.

The outrage on social media, the mea culpa by an airline CEO, the promise to treat customers better…………NONE of it would have HAPPENED.

The passengers who shot those videos on a United Express plane in Chicago violated United’s policy on photography.  By the letter of the airline’s law, they too could have been ordered off the plane.

Under United’s policy, customers can take pictures or videos with small cameras or cellphones “provided that the purpose is capturing personal  events. ”  Filming or photographing other customers or airline employees without their consent is prohibited.  America, Delta and Southwest have similar policies.

Passengers are accustomed to using their cellphones to take photos and videos that they can upload to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  Airline rules on photography are sporadically enforced, but passengers should read them in the in-flight magazines because there can be consequences.  This month, a United ticket agent ordered a passenger’s reservation canceled as he filmed her while disputing a $300 baggage fee in the New Orleans airport.  After Navang Oza posted his video online, United apologized, saying that the video “does not reflect the positive customer experience we strive to offer”.

In April, a  Jet Blue Airways crew called airport police to meet a man who they said continued to record a selfie video during a security-sensitive time in flight, while the cockpit door was opened.  Michael Nissenshohn insists that he wasn’t recording the procedure.

“I told them there is no rule against taking a selfie on a plane,” Nissensohn says.  He says he was ordered off the plane and held up at LaGuardia airport in New York for more than an hour before being let go without charges.  JetBlue declined to comment  on the incident.  A spokesman says the airline doesn’t publish its photography policy for security reasons.

With airline customer service in decline, videotaping is the only way that passengers can make sure they are treated fairly, say Gary Leff, a travel blogger who has criticized the airlines over the issue.

Gary Leff noted that “the TSA allows more photography at the checkpoint than the airlines allow on board their planes.”

The Transportation Security Administration says that photography at checkpoints is fine if people don’t take images of monitors or interfere with screeners.  Travel bloggers say, however, that people have had run-ins with TSA officers, and you should expect  to be questioned if you snap more than a casual photo of a companion.

Lawyers who specialize in First Amendment or travel law say airlines generally cannot limit photography or recording in an airport because it is a public space.  But airlines have more power on planes because as private parties they are not bound by the First Amendment.

Joseph Larsen, a media law attorney noted that “they are within their rights to establish these rules, they are within their rights to throw you off the aircraft if you continue filming.”

However, there is no law against taking photos or video on a plane, and it is unlikely that anyone would face legal jeopardy for taking pictures of an altercation on a plane or their own peaceful selfie.

About royfmc

BS in Environmental Engineering from Northwestern University's McCormick College of Engineering MBA from DePaul University's Kellstadt's College of Business JD from DePaul University's College of Law Website:
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