A professional photographer was physically detained by a pilot and a flight attendant working on behalf of American Airlines and forced to hand over his phone, so they could look scour his photo album to make sure he hadn’t taken any pictures with the flight attendant in shot.
Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren from Seattle has been a freelance photographer since 2008 and has shot photos for some of the world’s biggest brands including Delta Air Lines, USA Today and Singapore Airlines.
But Jeremy says he somehow fell foul of airline rules during a recent American Airlines regional flight operated by PSA Airlines under the American Eagle brand when a pilot physically stopped him from walking up the jetbridge.
By this point, Jeremy had already deplaned and was set to get on with his day when the pilot and flight attendant ordered him back onboard the jet and took his phone from his hand.
Citing obscure airline policies that allegedly prevent passengers from taking photos of staff without their consent, the flight attendant made it clear that Jeremy would be blocked from leaving until he opened up his photo album to prove he hadn’t been taking photos of the flight attendant.
“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,” Jeremy wrote on Twitter on Friday.
“I had stepped into the jetbridge and the FA (flight attendant) had what I think was the pilot or FO (First Officer) 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,” Jeremy said in a later tweet.
“They kept citing policies around not taking photos of staff without consent, which I didn’t do. I understand not wanting to be in them, that’s fine. But surely you could ask vs detain?”
But here’s the thing. There is no such policy preventing passengers from taking photos of flight attendants and other airline staff… at least not at American Airlines who have been apparently been in touch with Jeremy to apologize for the incident.
Ross Feinstein, who previously worked in the communications department at the Dallas Fort Worth-based airline, replied to Jeremy saying: “I can’t tell you how many times when I was at AA we communicated to crews (and to the regional carriers too), regarding the fact that passengers are allowed to film. We even updated content in American Way magazine (when it still existed!).”
I can't tell you how many times when I was at AA we communicated to crews (and to the regional carriers too), regarding the fact that passengers are allowed to film. We even updated content in American Way magazine (when it still existed!).— Ross Feinstein (@RossFeinstein) October 31, 2022
American Airlines has opened an internal investigation into the incident, while other Twitter users are suggesting Jeremy should pursue a legal claim against the airline for unlawful detention.
Broadly speaking, in the United States, there is no law that prevents passengers from taking photos and videos in the aircraft cabin, and most airlines don’t prohibit general photography.
There is, however, some confusion, and as recently as 2018, a spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) was quoted as saying that photography was forbidden for the “safety of passengers and crew as well as security of the cabin”.
The AFA represents flight attendants at United Airlines, where the internal policy is that general photography is permitted, but other passengers and crew can’t be photographed without their express consent.
Even so, it would be difficult to justify physically detaining someone accused of breaking this rule.
In other countries, however, the law is very different and taking a photo of someone else without their permission can be considered a criminal invasion of privacy. Obvious examples of countries where this might apply include the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
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.