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American Airlines Flight Attendant Physically Detains Aviation Photographer Until He Showed Images

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An aviation photographer flying on American Airlines asks: Honest question: can a crew member physically prevent me from getting off of the airplane until I showed them the contents of my phone? © Provided by Johnny Jet An aviation photographer flying on American Airlines asks: Honest question: can a crew member physically prevent me from getting off of the airplane until I showed them the contents of my phone?

My buddy Jeremy, who I met years ago, I believe on an Air New Zealand delivery flight for their new 777-300, is a popular and talented aviation photographer. He recently tweeted something concerning, a risk which all travelers should know about.

“Honest question: can a crew member physically prevent me from getting off of the airplane until I showed them the contents of my phone (they wanted to see the last 3 photos) to verify that I did not take a photo that contained them in it.”

© Provided by Johnny Jet

The incident happened on October 28 on an American Airlines flight (AA 5510) operated by PSA between Charlotte and Asheville. Jeremy was tweeting back and forth with other avgeeks and included some disturbing details.

Jeremy writes: “I was off the plane and the FA had the captain prevent me from going further down the jetbridge and then brought me *back* onto the plane and took the phone out of my hands.”

“I had stepped into the jetbridge and the FA had what I think was the pilot or FO block me from going further. Then they brought me back on the plane and the FA demanded I open my phone and show them the last several photos and then took the phone out of my hands to inspect them.”

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Jeremy is a smart man who understands airline policies. He went on to tweet: “I get that they may have a policy about not photographing staff without their permission. I get that and support that. Does suspecting a passenger violated that enable them to functionally detain someone and search a personal device?”

I’ve sent Jeremy a message asking for more information about what happened but he’s definitely not the first nor the last passenger to whom this has happened, which is the point of this article. 

As Zach Honig, a very popular aviation blogger, who used to work for The Points Guy, wrote: “This is incredibly upsetting to hear. I can’t believe they thought for a moment that it’s acceptable to force you back onto the plane and demand to see your phone. Sorry this happened to you 😔”

Zach has firsthand experience with this as he wrote a post in 2015 titled: “When Photography Gets You in Trouble at 35,000 Feet.”

Zach was on another American Airlines flight, a widebody to London with his girlfriend. “The purser was accusing her of taking pictures on the plane, which, apparently is forbidden. Except that it’s not — well, not exactly. The thing is, Sarah didn’t even have a camera — I was the one taking pictures. The purser went so far as to say “this could be trouble for the both of you,” which carried some pretty serious implications, especially given the current state of commercial air travel.”

READ: The 3 Worst Airlines to Fly According to DOT Dashboard

Zach contacted American Airlines PR and they confirmed the policy to him with this statement: “American allows photography and video recording for personal use. For many customers, taking photos and sharing them on social networks has become part of their travel experience. When photographs and video are used for professional purposes, we do our best to notify flight crews so they are aware and prepared to offer some additional latitude with journalists and bloggers.”

Another AvGeek, Charles Ryan Teo, replied to Jeremy's thread stating: “I had crew insisting on me deleting the photos but that was during the flight. I was on Transasia. No issue with other crew on this flight, only with this particular one. I was just taking photos of the cabin and nothing else.”

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@dubshn1028 from Ireland chimed in with: “It happens a lot of some European airlines where a warning is given not to photo crew or pax but they can photograph the outside of the plane I know some of the bloggers get away with it."

Personally, I have also had a similar experience in 2006 while flying Newark to Porto, Portugal on TAP. I was on a government/airline-funded press trip and was shocked that within a minute of boarding the aircraft, I was scolded. I wrote on my blog: “I got off to a bad start with the flight attendant, because when I first sat down I took a picture. He came over and said, "no pictures allowed on the plane." I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. Have you ever heard of such a stupid thing? I reverted to sneaking pictures (not using a flash) so I could share my experiences with you.”

I can understand about not wanting me to take photos of the flight attendants and other passengers, which I almost never do without asking for their permission but not being able to take photos of the seat, the food and myself is ridiculous.

I did take a big chance, continuing to take pictures, which I wouldn’t do today. It was dumb, especially on a foreign airline as I could have ended up in jail. My advice includes a few basic and simple things:

1. Don’t take photos of the crew or other passengers without their permission.

2. If asked not to take photos, stop.

3. If asked to delete your photos, it’s best to comply or risk being banned from the airline, losing your status/miles or worse, being arrested (depending on the country).

Have you ever been yelled at or physically detained because you took photos on a plane? If yes, please share the details (airline, year, what happened) in the comments section.


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