A little while ago, a passenger on a jetBlue aircraft was escorted off a flight, in hand-cuffs, for refusing to delete footage she had taken of an altercation between passengers and flight crew about a disruptive toddler.
The passenger, a 56-year old grandmother, had videotaped an argument that was taking place a few rows ahead of her between two passengers regarding a crying child, which allegedly belonged to one of the arguers. You can few the 50 second video here on the left.
When asked by the flight crew to delete the footage after she showed it to them, she refused. Soon afterwards, the crew informed her that the Captain was now demanding that the footage be deleted, claiming that she was in violation of Federal Air Regulations, barring passengers from interfering with an inflight crews’ duties and responsibilities. She again refused and was met by police at the arrival gate and taken off the plane in handcuffs.
Later, jetBlue not only apologized, but also verified that she had the right to videotape whatever she wanted. In the past, federal judges have upheld individuals’ rights to film pretty much anything they desire and demands for deleting the footage could be interpreted as a violation of the passenger’s First and Fourth Amendment rights.
What struck me about this incident is that, according to most airline policies and Federal Regulations, passengers really DO NOT have the inherent right to photograph or videotape crew members and I found jetBlue’s response troubling, and certainly not supportive of its crew members. For years, I have often wondered if there are any protections for flight attendants as they do their job, against seeming opportunists or worse yet, scheming troublemakers with ill intent.
I am reminded of how one of my flying partners was brutally murdered while she was on layover in Boise, Idaho (I was not working with her on that trip). This is a rare, but stark reminder to inflight crews, who take their jobs very serious and who have had to remain diligent both on the plane (i.e. 9/11, the Richard Reid “Shoebomber”, among others) and off.
In my mind, unlike policemen or firemen, flight attendants and pilots are NOT public servants, although we are public contact workers. It seems there is a fine line which divides us among those who are employed by local, state and federal workers, and those who are employed by private entities, such as airlines. Most airlines have strict non-filming policies regarding unauthorized photography/videography on board their flights, mainly to protect their pilots and flight attendants, and violating those policies can lead to the offender being banned from flying on that carrier.
What exacerbates the issue is the era in which we live—the high-speed information era. Within seconds, something taking place in New York City can be seen in the far, remote reaches of Bangladesh or Pakistan or China. The term “viral” has been applied to YouTube videos and sound bites in the media because of its swift spreading introduction into laptops, PDAs and televisions only moments later.
The point is that many of us in the airline industry are extremely sensitive to someone filming us, video or otherwise, without permission because it is difficult to know what the intended use of that unauthorized medium will be. And taking into account our own personal safety and security is drilled into us constantly…being vigilant and staying focused on what is happening around us, whether on the plane, on our layovers or to and from work.
The jetBlue passenger was accused of wanting to post the video on YouTube, and although she told them that she didn’t know how to do it, it still ended up there. To be fair, I didn’t witness anything on that video that could place either of the two cabin crew members in jeopardy (it wasn’t even a very good quality video, as you can see) but to the crew members, with so many others watching, including the companies that we work for, it’s nerve-wracking at best to be worried about what outcome may transpire with a secret and unauthorized recording.
The bottom-line is that if a crew member asks you to cease taping or taking photos of them, ignoring or disobeying that request can (and has been) construed as “interfering with the duties of a flight attendant” and that is a violation of Federal Air Regulations. To be specific, ” Section 46504 of Title 49, United States Code (formerly section 1472(j) of Title 49 Appendix) sets forth the offense of interference with a flight crew member or flight attendant within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, which is defined in 49 U.S.C. § 46501(2). The statute applies to any "individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties."
The statute provides for up to 20 years imprisonment, and further provides for imprisonment for any term of years or life if a dangerous weapon is used. Interference with a flight crew member or attendant is a general intent crime, and does not require a specific intent either to intimidate the flight crew member or attendant or to interfere with the performance of his or her duties.
So the next time you feel the itch to whip out your camera, video recorder or phone camera, be mindful that your inflight crew will take it seriously and to be prepared for the consequences. Believe me, it won’t be pretty!