American Airlines Updates Airport Photography Policy

Filed Under: American

For better or worse, you more or less give up any rights you have when you enter an airport. In addition to airport policies, many airlines also have policies on photography and video recording.

For example, up until now American’s policy on photography and video recording has been as follows:

Use of still and video cameras, film or digital, is permitted only for recording personal events. Photography or video recording of airline personnel, equipment, or procedures is strictly prohibited.

This leaves a huge grey area. What constitutes photography or video recording of “airline equipment?” Isn’t a seat or an entertainment screen considered “airline equipment?”


Fortunately a vast majority of flight attendants take a rational approach towards enforcing this, though there are certainly exceptions. I’ve collectively taken tens of thousands of pictures on airplanes, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been questioned.

Interestingly it looks like American is tightening up their airport photography policy as well. Via JonNYC at

Photography: AA’s ban on photography will now extend to filming employees at/in “any airline area” including ticket counters, gates, cargo, baggage, (and of course on-board) effective Dec 3rd


This is especially interesting. I can see the argument for prohibiting certain types of photography on airplanes (okay, not really, but let’s pretend I do), but is there any plausible “safety” explanation for not allowing photography of ticket counters, gates, etc.? There’s not even a rule against filming the TSA at work, and they’re the masters of security theater. 😉

It seems like American is simply trying to avoid those videos that go viral every so often where a passenger is filming an airport employee when things go wrong.

I’m not a lawyer, so I’m curious how this works in practice. American’s rule doesn’t constitute a law. So in theory if you violate their rules they could remove you from their flights, but how about if you’re photographing American employees at gates but aren’t flying with American? It seems there’s nothing they could do, right?

Not that it really matters or that there are any big picture implications here, but the fact that someone made the effort to change this rule does strike me as interesting.

What do you make of American’s new airport photography policy, and to lawyers, how does this “hold up,” exactly?

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s to avoid bad PR when one of their employees screws up.

    Doesn’t UA already do this? They’re so unfriendly I would imagine they must.

  2. It’s getting just like at the military areas – no photos or videos 🙂 did ou know that you’re not allowed to photograph Eifel Tower at night too?

    On the bright side, now you’ll have to take your dad for your every trip, so you could take ‘personal’ photos with him as a model 😉

  3. Interesting thing to me is the fact that they encourage violation of this policy when the PR is positive. I know many who have tweeted photos of new planes and equipment and AA’s official twitter feed has replied (positively) and even retweets.

    It seems if they ever tried to enforce this policy in a punitive fashion, any decent lawyer could destroy them in court.

  4. As a retired Army officer and public citizen I totally get them not wanting ticket counter and gate areas filmed from a security standpoint……..I don’t want you taking pictures of the counters and gates so the bad guys can study to do their evil deeds…………as for the plane photos of the seats that’s a bit of a stretch but why would you just not use their can photos and save yourself the trouble? If you are in it it become more interesting but then in that case you are complying with their policy…… should be happy they allow “for personal events” and not specifically mention “and no commercial use” which would put you out of compliance………..

  5. Airports are built with public money, are on public property, and are public places. I hope AA’s policy is already illegal and if not it’s made so.

    Airlines are common carriers that fulfill a public service. That’s why they save BILLIONS of dollars from paying the fuel tax you and I pay and they are exempt from paying. They can’t restrict our liberties — they’re not a private jet service.

    This is total BS. I hope the ACLU wakes up.

  6. Any reference to security is completely bogus. It’s about PR and reducing their liability. The same reason cops don’t like to wear cameras.

  7. Justsaying, how is a picture of a ticket counter a security threat? And how are the evil deeds going to use those photos to threaten us? Your argument doesn’t make a lot of sense and ticket counters are not different from a department store, supermarkets, or train stations in terms of security risk. I hate it when people use security as an excuse without evaluating the actual risk.

    And I believe, legally, one can take a photo of those as long as s/he doesn’t disturb the job of the counter staff.

  8. I agree with the above poster- I can understand in an aircraft but airlines do not own airports and do not have the right to prohibit to film in what is public space.

    I agree- this is more about PR.

  9. the real issue is when you buy a ticket, you enter into a contract with the airline. It sounds to me like these are new terms you agree to when you purchase a ticket from the airline. So yes, they can do something about it if you take a photo, because you’ve now breached the terms of your contract. Can they have you arrested? No, breaching a contract isn’t illegal. They can, however, refuse to allow you to fly.

  10. @ Casey — Do keep in mind that the contract of carriage hasn’t actually been updated to reflect this, as far as I can tell.

  11. As an airline Employee we do understand too that you want to sometime film your vacations or flying momments! But, How would you feel if We show Up to your workplace and start filming You without Your permission just for our entertainment? Do not You think it is rude?

  12. @ Chromiony — I think it depends on the circumstances, and it can certainly be “rude,” but that doesn’t mean a policy has to be made out of it. For example, American doesn’t have a policy saying that you have to say “please” when you ask for something, even though you actually should.

    I think the bigger issue here is that if something goes seriously wrong with an employee you’re not allowed to take a picture or record the situation. There are some circumstances where that could be useful.

  13. @Chromiony Great point………but often the Facebook generation doesn’t get the concept that they are invading your space so it is partly a generational “thang” that absolutely comes across to weathered veterans as rude………..every time I see one of these cell phone cameras come out and raise my arms so they won’t beat me…………some people just don’t get personal space and probably never will……….

  14. In that retired military guy and the airline employee you have two examples of what is going wrong with this country and I am not one to use hyperbole. First Mr ex-military, taking pictures or any recording of gates, ticket counters or airline procedures in passenger terminals is not a security threat and if you believe somehow that it is helping your so called bad guys, they are service points not security operations. At best, TSA security procedures would be the only sensitive procedures in the terminal, and there are no restrictions for recording those. Since when did we become a nation of paranoid schizophrenics and be so willing to compromise liberty in the name of security? I would expect those who volunteer their lives for such principles to be the ones to demand a high burden of proof or justification when any such rights are infringed or impinged. American should spell out its justification for this limitation and let the light of day pass judgment.

    As to the airline employee’s argument whether I would like it if someone where to be taping me while at work, simply put you work in providing a service that is in the public interest and enjoys special public benefits. Your service enjoys much public support from the airports, air traffic control, security, and ownership protections, you cannot compare with other industries. You do your work in public facilities and enjoy protected business opportunities, in return you must accept different expectations of privacy while doing your work. In most cases people are not sitting there pointing a camera at you, most times when cameras come out it is because there is conflict or some bad behavior occurring whether employee or customer. That last point is why I don’t give airlines and their employees a lot of sympathy and am suspicious of their policies because they are coming out of a desire to avoid embarrassment or hiding bad behavior, not some safety, security, or common courtesy consideration.

    Plain and simple this is a customer unfriendly move and just increases the likelihood of conflict and tension between airlines, airline employees, and their customers, and I don’t see why any airline or employee thinks this is a good thing. You already do you work in the public eye and should be on your best behavior so you have no reason of being scared of the random video or picture, only when you are behaving badly. There is no safety or security reason, that is just utter nonsense.

  15. How unnecessarily antagonistic for customers. Sure sucks the joy and discovery out of flying for first-time or infrequent travellers.

  16. This policy is surely not for security purposes. It amazes me how companies are allowed to get away with this in a public area. If the only penalty AA can levy is a breach of the contract of carriage, what if your not flying AA? Seems to me if you are on another carrier you are then free to take photos/videos of any others in the same area. There might be an embarrassing moment if a person filming an AA employee incident was flying another carrier adjacent to their check-in counter. Especially when threatened with the new AA policy. Sorry I am not flying with AA today!

  17. The 1st amendment gives you permission to film anything listed in this article as an airport is public property. Even the TSA cant stop you from carrying a huge camera thats recording through the security area (as long as you dont overtly try and record the computer screens)

    The problem is how will it effect your chances of flying when they throw a tantrum and threaten you with blacklist on American, not sure if you can do anything about that legally, most likely would take someone brave enough to sue them and combine the blacklist as arbitrary punishment to curb free speech.

  18. This reminds me of AA and US’s social media stuff — on Twitter, Facebook, etc., they often ask for photos from customers of airplanes and stuff, and then they repost the “winner.” Seems like those promotions violate their own policy.

  19. I was lucky enough (well, luck and two coupons from my frequent flier program) to be upgraded to Business Class on American Airlines flight 1006 on July 14th.

    Sitting in the last row of Business Class, I took my cell phone and took a picture of the cabin to show a friend of mine that I had indeed reached Nirvana.

    Suddenly, from the left and behind me comes this shrieking (and I do mean SHRIEKING) voice from a flight attendant, “SIR, YOU CAN NOT TAKE ANY PICTURES HERE.”

    Now I have been on literally thousands of airplanes since 1984 and I have seen people take pictures all the time. Pictures of the cabin, pictures of their friends, so I was a little confused why I could not take a picture of the cabin, particularly when there were no people’s faces in it, just the backs of their heads.


    I was not using the normal camera function. I was taking the picture from inside of a chat function, and I did not know where the chat function stored the picture. I was fumbling with this “camera” to delete the picture and she was just standing there saying she was going to take my phone when I still had a few more chats to do before taking off.

    I finally convinced her that I had deleted the offending picture and she went away.

    A few minutes later I was told that the captain of the airplane wanted to see me.

    So BY NAME they called me up to the cockpit and the captain (with a somewhat bemused look on his face) read the rule from his iPAD filled with small print and rules that (and I am quoting from memory) “no unauthorized photographs or videos may be taken of the aircraft, aircraft procedures or crew.” The rule was actually much longer, but I did not have an iPad handy to read it. The captain explained that after 9/11 they were much more worried about security and having people take pictures of the aircraft and especially the crew.

    Except that I had not taken any pictures of the crew. There were no crew in my picture, just the backs of the heads of the passengers taken from seat 6F of Business (American Airlines calls it “First Class”, but it is really Business) Class.

    I go back to my seat, puzzled that with this type of restriction why there were no signs in the cabin showing a camera with a circle around it and a line through it as there is in Customs and Immigration. If taking a picture of the cabin is so dangerous, then perhaps they should take away pencils and papers from people so they can not make sketches.

    As the flight went on I picked up the American Airlines Magazine and looked through it. Sure enough, in the back where it talks about what electronic devices you can have on and off during the flight it says that “no unauthorized pictures or videos….”

    Someone should tell that to the other 20-30 people on the plane that probably took a picture that day.

    I know that you can not profile terrorists by their looks, but I am close to 65 and look more like Papai Noel than a terrorist. A simple statement to me of “Sir, please do not take any pictures in the cabin.” would have been enough.

  20. My friend videoed me receiving terrible treatment at the customer service counter inside the Charlotte airport from a U.S. Airlines employee today. When she realized she was being videotaped, the employee said she was calling the police and followed us to the airport exit repeatedly yelling that she would cancel the flight reservations for our group of 4 if we didn’t delete the video. I’m unsure what will happen tomorrow but I’ll definitely never buy a U.S. airways ticket again!

  21. At LAX, SW airlines TRIED to have me arrested for recording poor customer service. Lady and manager told me it was California law and I was going to be charged with a felony and go to jail.. Unless I delete it. LAPD came and said no crime committed however the airline security guy was told I was recording a private conversation…. I was over 5′ away, lol.

    To back up a sec, when I was directed to stop filming I did, she grabbed my boarding pass and voided it, saying delete the video I’ll reinstate your pass. I told her I would delete it after I could talk to a manager to explain why I was filming in the first place. She then informed me management will be coming with the police to take me away. I then asked if I could make an announcement, she allowed me to so I explained to the crowed why the police were coming to arrest me and that management would rather have a customer arrested than hear a valid complaint about their companies performance along with video proof.

  22. I took video at the counter of an American Airlines flight to document the time on the screen. I had arrived exactly 10 minutes prior to my flight after having run full speed from their other flight which had been delayed. They had already given my flight away and closed the doors well before I got there, which was at the cutoff. I video recorded the screen with the time of departure, the standby passengers on the screen, one of which had gotten my seat and my boarding pass to prove the situation at hand. When I asked to see a manager, the guy rudely told me that I would be required to delete the video from my phone or my reservation would be cancelled. He said that the policy was to protect the privacy of the employees. I walked away. I made sure that there were no employees in the video and plan to use it in any way I see fit.

    It is a documentation of the fact that they closed the gate prior to the appropriate time. It is proof of poor performance and incompetence that has lead to a very difficult and entirely avoidable situation. I very much hope that someone at AA will opt to take this documentation and do the right thing by admonishing the employees involved, adjusting the procedures to insure paid, ticketed passengers get priority, and compensating me for my precious lost time sleeping on the airport floor when I should be living my life and spending time with my loved ones during the holiday.

    I don’t know all of their reasons for this policy.. but I can assure you, in this situation, they were very upset to be busted closing up shop early so that they could go home. There was no reason they needed to close the door prior to 10 minutes early and they clearly did – stranding a passenger who has evidence of THEM defaulting on their agreement to transport me in accordance with their own conditions of carriage.


    Around 3:20pm on December 29th, I was illegally coerced by an AA gate manager (B37, DFW) into deleting legal photos from my phone. She threatened if I didn’t delete the legal photos of her immediately, she would maliciously alter my reservation so I would be further delayed.

    I took a photo of the AA gate manager because she cussed at me, and wouldn’t provide me with either her full name or employee identification number for my complaint letter to AA corporate. I am planning on writing a letter over her behavior, other rude AA staff, and multiple systemic AA failures that led to me missing a delayed flight with an extremely tight connection.

    The AA gate manager cussed at me when I claimed AA staff were idiots over my entire ordeal at the airport. Instead of spending a very short time with family during the holidays, for reason of AA’s incompetent staff and unreliable operations, I would now have to waste 6 hours in Dallas to catch the next flight to my destination. Given the situation, I was not happy. Though I spoke out of line with AA staff, I’m sure their AA employee policy has some rules about respectful conduct toward passengers, even if those passengers are disgruntled and somewhat rude.

    It’s important to remember that there’s a difference between AA policy and federal law. The AA gate manager threatening to keep me in Dallas (net effect of her maliciously altering my reservation) is actually illegal, and some lawyers might argue that this is unlawful detainment, kidnapping, and so on, in addition to coercion. What I did (taking a photo of uncooperative, rude AA staff) is legal, though perhaps against AA policy. Taking a personal photo, not for commercial use, in a private building with public access, of a person not engaged in a private activity, seems well within my constitutional rights.

    If the airport administration asks me to stop taking photos, that’s one thing. If AA staff politely and intelligently explain their policies on photography (should be publically-accessible, right?), and how a violation of their policies could impact my reservation, well, that’s another. I’ll stop taking photos under either scenario. But AA staff forcing me to destroy personal property (e.g. the photos) else detainment in Dallas is completely unacceptable, unlawful, and injurious on its own, with or without an actual change to my reservation. Under these circumstances, what customer wouldn’t seek legal remedy?

    I’m a AA Frequent Flyer (Gold Membership), who nearly flies every weekend for either business or pleasure, often with AA. So coercion, threats, and cussing is how AA staff treats loyal customers like me? Seriously? AA’s legal department might want to speak with AA public relations and AA human resources in a hurry, because without AA implementing change, this customer disservice will happen again and it’s only bound to cause negative legal, financial, and reputational impacts to AA. I certainly won’t take this sitting down.

  24. We are all quickly becoming prisoners in our own land. The gov’t and all these companies say they concerned about security, but the doors to enter this country remain wide open and they have no idea who is coming in. So their solution is to put the hammer down on all the rest of us. I understand people don’t want their faces captured and spread all around the internet, I think we all understand that. But this is what they’ve done to this country to make us all completely paranoid of each other. And they’re always saying ‘security security security’ but the real things needed to make us more secure, they refuse to implement. Natural born citizens, lifelong residents of this country, are now the enemy. When I was young flying used to be a joy. if you were going to travel somewhere and fly you can hardly wait to get to the airport. Now days I hate flying so much, unless it’s over a thousand miles, I will usually try to figure out a way to drive rather than fly. It takes an extra day each way but I’ve gotten so I hate airports and the security that much. As for the airline employees and such, they work under tremendous pressure these days. Not only are they under pressure from management for performance like never before, but they’re also under pressure from a disgruntled public like never before. It grieves me to see what this country has become.

  25. I will gladly take my chances against another bombing (the chances of which are probably less than being struck by lightning), than suffer the daily grind of paranoia in the name of so-called “security”. Let’s just all admit to ourselves that the easy to shoot video smartphone is here to stay, and let’s all agree that anyone can video tape anyone so long as it’s in public. And if the stuff goes viral, the stuff goes viral. Even viral eventually loses interest and dies.

  26. A few years ago I flew on UA from LAS to SFO to connect to a flight to HKG. We boarded and pushed back on time and began to taxi. After a few minutes we stopped and the Captain informed us that we would be sitting here on the taxi-way for about 30 minutes because ATC had asked him to wait for the fog to clear in SFO.

    OK interesting I thought and wondered why we would board, pushback and taxi only to hold?

    Anyway, the flight crew opened the cockpit door and invited visits. Being a bit of an airplane geek I immediately responded and walked into the cockpit. I asked if I could take a photo and was told “sure no problem.”

    On the return flight at the gate while waiting for boarding to be completed, I was upstairs in the bubble of the B747 and the crew invited me in to the cockpit. They even allowed me to sit in the F/O’s seat and they took a photo of me which made my day.

    I had, at the time, a USG Top Secret security clearance but I am sure the crew was unaware. This happened well after 9/11 and I still have the photos however, I wonder if in the same circumstances today, if I would be allowed to take those same photos?

  27. Its easy be a blogger but come and do my job on the airplane and see how rude and disrespecting people are like lately and then let me hear how you feel.would love to see your blog then.sometimes its best not to write what you dont actually live and experience unless your in it.

  28. Mari enjoy your flying with less customers and no respect from your customers………we have nothing but open disdain for you……….perhaps you should control what you can control……your own positive attempt at customer service………….remember customer service? It has such a nostalgic ring to it……….

  29. Have you ever watched the news or TV and have seen faces blotted out? Like EVERY time you turn on the TV? When photographing or filming another person, you are required to get their permission before posting it anywhere (I believe legally). Are airline employees not people? American Air has had trouble on their official Facebook/Twitter pages of passengers taking pictures of employees doing whatever just trying to get rewards from the pictures. This is very unfair to employees as a picture never tells the full story. To also reverse the scenario, if you were sitting asleep in a flyers club and drool started to drip, would you like to have your photo taken and posted all over public media without your knowledge? Permission must always be obtained when photographing others, even in a public space.

  30. I was booked on an overbooked flight out of Miami International recently. The flight was filled and they marked me as late (I wasn’t) but I was not able to take a pic of the board which would have shown the time I was there because of this policy. It was American Airlines which as we know had lost 2 flights on 9/11. This airline is using their policy not just for safer flight but also so they don’t have to compensate passengers bumped. Be aware.

  31. They can do what they want with their customers related to their business, if you disagree you can fly another airlines. AA is a 100% private company. Tax breaks etc. don’t matter.

  32. Reading through these remarks, I think a lot of people don’t take into consideration that airport terminals have been favorite targets for terrorists since the 1970s… filming and photographing prospective locations are some of the ways terror groups case their targets. These restrictions could have a lot to do with that.

  33. …well, the bottom line is if you don’t like their rules, use another airline. I don’t think they’re going to lose any sleep over it.

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