Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Smile (when you're on the Birdie!)

by The Savvy Passenger (writer), Lehi, UT, October 17, 2011

Credit: DCO Images
Be careful about unauthorized use of cameras on a flight...
watch the video

In this age of instant information, does video taping events on airplanes cross the line?

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.[1]

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).[2] 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.[3]

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!

[1] The People of the State of Illinois v. Chris Drew:

[2] New York Times, Collections: City Life, Archives, “Victim in Idaho River Appears to Be Missing Flight Attendant, Police Say,” Tina Kelley, October 10, 2000:

[3] U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Resource Manual,

About the Writer

The Savvy Passenger is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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4 comments on Smile (when you're on the Birdie!)

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By TonyBerkman on October 17, 2011 at 05:35 pm

Interesting article. I believe that when we are on a flight you should follow the "rules of the establishment." If you were to go to a fancy restaurant or certain private places or events they specifically prohibit the use of videos or cameras. They have every right to do so. The challenge as you mention is that technology is pervasive and it is becoming smaller so that prohibiting videos will at some point become impossible to enforce.

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By Angie Alaniz on October 18, 2011 at 12:08 am

I find it "ridiculous" for them to have escorted the person who was video taping the dispute to be taken off the plane with handcuffs. The incident of what was happening with the child wasn't even that big of a deal. Not like she did have a dangerous weapon on her. She video tape a dispute.

If that same person would have video taped a shooting or a murder or even something to where it caused physical harm to anyone, then I bet she probably would have been praised for thinking fast by catching it on tape, even if there is a law that says you do NOT have the right to tape whatever you want.

And if jetBlue not only apologized, but also told her that she had the right to video tape, then I wonder if she is now suing? Or would she even have a case.

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By The Savvy Passenger on October 18, 2011 at 12:58 am

Ms. Angie...

Seeing as how I have always been a strong advocate of the freedoms we, as Americans, do enjoy via our Constitution, I completely understand your feelings on the matter.

I truly believe that we have a responsibility to press our interests in matters such as this, but since I am not a lawyer, I have no idea whether this woman has a case against the airline or not. Having said that, being an active crew member myself, there is a very thin line when it comes to air travel in this day and age. It may be one of the very few exceptions in this regard because of the magnitude of circumstances that would surely arise were we to allow behavior to turn more chaotic.

In that vain, passengers really must understand that while onboard any aircraft, the PIC (Pilot in Command) has the final say in all matters relating to any activity on his vessel (airplane) and the laws revolving around issues in this regard have been upheld by the courts since airplane travel began. Federal Air Regulations revolve around the Captain's authority, and all passengers are subject to them as part of the contract they enter into with the airlines when they purchase a ticket for travel.

I believe that jetBlue's apology was ill-advised and as I stated in the article, showed a lack of support for their own crew members, in favor of trying to "save face" in the media. Such actions only stand to make my job more difficult since it places an unfair expectation in the minds of other passengers that they can do whatever they please, whenever they wish...thus leading to that chaos I spoke of earlier.

Again, I believe that you have a valid point that this person didn't have a weapon, and perhaps the administration of her removal from the plane was overdone, but again, she disobeyed a direct order from the Captain, and in the airline world, that is a cardinal sin...

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By Janey B on October 20, 2011 at 08:46 am

I think taking the lady off in handcuffs may have been extreme, but I also agree with Tony B that she shouldn't have been taping the scene.

This is not akin to taping a violent event or a crime. It was just nosy. And the SavvyPassenger has a point: an aircraft is like a ship, the captain is in charge, and it is not a democracy.

Besides, people behaving badly is old news.

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