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Airlines have rules about photos, videos

Associated Press logo Associated Press 25/05/2017 David Koenig

Without the shocking video, it's unlikely that the world would have learned or cared about the violent manhandling of a 69-year-old man on a plane in April.

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 smartphones "provided that the purpose is capturing personal events". Filming or photographing other customers or airline employees without their consent is prohibited. American, Delta and Southwest have similar policies.

Passengers are accustomed to using their smartphones 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 cancelled as he filmed her while disputing a $US300 ($A400 b)aggage fee in the New Orleans airport. After Navang Oza posted his video online, United apologised, saying that the video "does not reflect the positive customer experience we strive to offer".

In April, a JetBlue 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 Nissensohn insists that he wasn't recording the procedure.

"I told them there is no rule against talking 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, says Gary Leff, a travel blogger who has criticised the airlines over the issue.

There is no law against taking photos or video on an airplane, and it is unlikely that anyone would face legal jeopardy for taking pictures of an altercation on a plane or their own peaceful dispute with an airline employee, says Joseph Larsen, a lawyer specialising in media law in Houston.

"If you see something going on that is a matter of legitimate public interest," he says, go ahead and capture it even if you don't have express permission to film another passenger. The man who was roughed up by airport officers on the United Express plane, David Dao, "has already got his settlement with United," Larsen says. "He is probably pretty happy that was documented."

Even if the law is on the side of the passenger with a camera, there are practical considerations.

"Unless it's a legitimate safety issue like annoying other people, I don't see a problem with taking photos on a plane. But that's a call of the captain, and in the first instance the captain is right," says Thomas Dickerson, a retired New York state judge and author of Travel Law.

Passengers can challenge the captain's judgment in court, and might win, Dickerson says, "but the problem for consumers is, do you really want to get thrown off the plane?"

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