By now, hundreds of thousands of people around the world have seen (and laughed at) the hilarious video of an airplane passenger attempting to fit his bag into an overhead locker. Filmed by a fellow passenger, the man haplessly struggles with his bag until a member of cabin crew comes to his rescue – a simple flip and the bag fits easily into the available space.
It’s just one of many examples of in-flight incidents which have been caught on a passengers cell phone and then gone viral. Some haven’t been quite so funny – we’ve seen passengers assaulting one another, scary in-flight emergencies and even allegations of flight attendants being less than customer friendly.
Perhaps the most infamous of these videos is the Dr David Dao incident in which the physician was physically dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight by security agents at Chicago O’Hare last year. But did you know that the passenger who filmed this incident was technically breaking United’s rules?
Like many airlines around the world, United prohibited photography and filming onboard its aircraft unless the passenger had the express written permission of the airline. In reality, the rule was never really enforced but there was certainly the potential to put flight attendants on a collision course with passengers.
But now, that rule has been amended with a new ‘Customer Photo & Video Policy’ which was communicated to the airline’s staffers by United’s Senior Vice Presidents of Inflight and Airport Operations, John Slater and Jon Roitman last week.
Specifically, passengers will now be able to use small cameras and mobile devices to both take photos and videos so long as they are used to capture “personal events”. There is, however, one important caveat – the recording can’t create a safety or security risk and it can’t “interfere with crewmember duties.”
Clearly, this caveat is open to a lot of interpretation but the point that managers are trying to make is that a plane is a “public place” and you shouldn’t really get on a plane expecting to have much privacy. Flight attendants have been told they should expect and accept the fact that passengers might take photos or videos of them in their day to day work.
A number of international airlines have implemented similar rules in the last few years – preferring instead to train staff in how to act appropriately when a passenger wields a video camera in their face, rather than trying to outlaw something that is almost impossible to police.
That being said, there are some airlines which still have very strict rules about onboard photography and passengers would be best advised to follow the guidance of crew members. This is especially true of airlines which are based in countries with different rules on public photography than what you might be used to.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.