Blogger thrown off United Airlines flight ... for taking a picture

A travel blogger was unceremoniously thrown off a trans-Atlantic United Airlines flight in February for the heinous offense of (wait for it...) taking a picture!

Matthew Klint, who writes for the blog, had just boarded a newly reconfigured United Airlines 767-300 at Newark (EWR), bound for Istanbul (IST). When he used his iPhone to snap a picture of the display screen in the seat back in front of him, a flight attendant (F/A) rushed over and demanded he stop.

He did so, but it didn't end there.

Read Matthew's story here.

The most serious issue in a situation like this is the almost unlimited authority given to flight crews in the name of safety. It seems that flight crews can justify almost any action simply by claiming some activity or some one is "endangering the safety of the flight." There is no review body to decide whether their actions were reasonable in view of the circumstances, and no repercussions if their actions were not.

Clearly, most reasonable people would consider an intoxicated or disruptive passenger, someone carrying a brick or fake hand grenade (both of which I personally saw passengers try to take through security), etc., a potential threat to the safety of a flight.

That was not the case here.

Neither the blogger, who was cooperative and complied with the flight crew's direction, nor the photo he took could in any way be construed as endangering the safety of the flight. Kicking him off showed poor discretion and an abuse of authority on the part of both the F/A and the captain who made the ultimate decision.

It is also important to understand: There is no FAA regulation that prohibits photography on commercial aircraft, which FAA spokesperson Allen Kenitzer confirmed. 

Making matters worse, the F/A herself apparently didn't understand her own airline's policy. While United's policy allows photos "for recording of personal events," the F/A's actions seemed to indicate she thought there was a prohibition on taking pictures at all. If the airline's policy wasn't clear to her, how could it be clear to its passengers?

Further, the airline's policy is difficult to locate before boarding the aircraft. While United's policy is printed in Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine, two searches of its web site using the words "photograph" and "photography" yielded eight results, none of which related to in-flight photography.

Policies need to be made clear and, ideally, consistent across all airlines. Trouble is, the airlines aren't going to do this voluntarily. The flying public and our elected officials need to apply pressure.

We can vote with our travel dollars and fly other airlines if one airline treats us badly. But we also need to contact our senators and congress members and demand that they re-regulate this increasingly hostile, increasingly rogue industry to restore some sense of sanity and civility.

I compare and contrast the photo policies of major U.S. airlines in a separate post available here

Matthew reports at least partial "resolution" of the issue with United here.

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