There is an appropriate time and place for everything, including capturing snapshots for lasting memories.
As smartphones evolve to become smarter, their built-in cameras ever more powerful, and the range of photo editing apps even more creative, it seems that conventional consumer cameras are becoming obsolete. Given the ease of whipping out a smartphone, capturing a moment and sharing it via social media, it’s not surprising that the smartphone, in all its incarnations, is everywhere. In fact, its presence is so ubiquitous that, at times, users have been surprised to learn that in certain locations and situations, it may not be acceptable to be snap-happy.
A guest recently wrote to me inquiring whether there are rules that prohibit capturing pictures or videos in flight. A member of the cabin crew had approached him on one flight and requested that he erase the pictures he had just taken with his iPhone. He could not understand the rationale for its prohibition and asked whether this activity might have any bearing on the safety of the plane.
I understand how precious pictures can be, especially when capturing unforgettable moments during one’s travel. As far as I know, there are no international laws prohibiting the taking of photos inside the cabin. However, individual carriers have the right to implement and enforce their own rules, as do airport authorities. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
TO DELETE OR NOT TO DELETE
A musician was recently waiting in an airport terminal for his flight when he decided to take a picture of an aircraft with his smartphone. A gate agent noticed him taking pictures and demanded to know why he was snapping pictures of the said aircraft and accused him of being a security threat. He politely showed her the pictures and offered to delete them if he had been in breach of any airport security protocol. He explained that he had been unaware of any prohibition against taking pictures of planes.
On the ground, most airports and military installations prohibit pictures to be taken within their compounds. The explanation most often cited for this restriction is ‘security reasons’. To me, this does not make much sense in the day and age of the Internet, as on sites such as Airliners.net, one can actually view close-up images of the cockpits, cabin and aircraft of almost every airline on Earth!
As such, it appears that attempts to restrict photography are based on misguided fears about the unfounded dangers that they may pose.
Often, the decision on whether a guest is permitted to take pictures is made by the airport authority. Most airlines do not publish prohibitions against taking photos of their aircraft, while some, like Qantas, openly permit the use of cameras at any time, as outlined in their cabin safety cards. This can be quite confusing for travellers.
As a rule of thumb, always use common sense. In many airports where guests have to walk on the tarmac to move between the aircraft and the main terminal building, airport authorities usually request that photographs not be taken. This is due to safety concerns, as there is traffic on the tarmac, and a guest walking around trying to snap pictures of his or her family with the aircraft in the background (while a great photo op for sure!) may obstruct traffic or be at risk of stepping into the path of an airport vehicle. Now, imagine the potential danger if more than one family decides on orchestrating this family snap!
PROTECTION & DISCRETION
Image: Travel 3Sixty
Often times, the prohibition on photography in aircraft cabins is in place to protect flight and cabin crew, as well as guests. I remember hearing of an incident where a passenger faced a negative reaction when he started filming an incident on board.
In this instance, a member of the cabin crew had been reluctant to board a family with a sick child, as there were concerns over the child’s fitness to travel. The family explained that the child in question was suffering from cancer but had been medically certified fit to fly. However, as another member of the cabin crew also felt that boarding the child would expose the airline and crew to risks if anything untoward were to happen during the flight, the family was asked to return to the terminal building.
This incident, which occurred only a few days after another cancer patient was expelled from a flight (not AirAsia) under similar circumstances, prompted the passenger to record the conversation on his smartphone, as he felt that it was wrong for the airline to deny passage to such a sick child. As the guest refused to delete the video recording, he was escorted off the flight and rebooked on the following flight. The reason for this? Well, the crew no longer felt safe being recorded by this passenger.
Now, I am not going to debate the decision made by this airline with regards to the passage of the sick child, as every airline has its own carriage policies, but what I can comment on is the outcome. After this incident was highlighted in the media, the airline reviewed their policy and admitted that since they did not have a clear photography policy, their employees did not have the legal right to demand that the guest delete the recording. However, in explaining the unfortunate incident, the airline did make reference to protecting the privacy of other passengers and the safe and secure operations of the airline.
As the speed and ease by which we capture and relay information evolves, it is imperative that laws governing these modes of information and communication catch up too, offering clearer guidelines that allow for certain freedoms but also, protection and privacy. I imagine it can be pretty intrusive to be photographed or recorded in the course of conducting ones’ everyday duties. Imagine if someone did that to you in the office if they disagreed with the way you handled a particular matter? As with all matters, discretion is always advised.
So, can an airline actually stop you from taking photos? The answer is ‘yes’. While photography cannot be prohibited in public places, the prevention of photography on private property is legitimate. And so, that decision rests with the owner of the property, which would be whichever airline you choose to fly.
ARE CAMERAS SAFE?
A conventional camera is classified as a non-intentional transmitter of radio signals, meaning that it would not interfere with airplane operations. Its usage is not as critical as a smartphone that intentionally transmits radio signals when used as a communications tool.
Most airlines allow cameras to be used on board to record a personal event, but when it comes to taking snapshots of the crew or other passengers without permission, this is off limits. So, it appears that one can actually take pictures without annoying other passengers, any time when electronic devices are permitted – which means that you can only do so before the doors are shut or above 10,000 feet. If a member of the cabin crew requests that you put your smartphone away, it’s advisable to do so, as they usually have the backing of air regulations.
The best policy to avoid any controversy concerning grey areas such as taking photos on an aircraft is to comply to regulations. This means stopping when requested and sadly, deleting videos or pictures too. By all means, take pictures of the amazing food you’ve been served on the flight and go crazy with selfies of your airplane-static-frizzed-afro hairdo. But, if you have a niggling feeling that what you are doing is infringing on the privacy of another person or if you would feel uncomfortable being recorded yourself, then, it’s best to put your smartphone away. Have a pleasant flight!
If you like what you read, more stories are found in my book LIFE IN THE SKIES (Preview here) and you can purchase a copy here. To check for any latest updates or postings, you can follow my Twitter at @CaptKHLim or Facebook here