Video: American Threatens To Send Customer To Jail For Recording

Filed Under: American, Videos

I flew JetBlue Mint a couple of days ago from New York to Los Angeles and was so impressed. While the seat and food as such were great, it’s the service that impressed me most. The gate agents provided clear and professional announcements, as I boarded I was told “enjoy your Mint experience,” and the flight attendants working in Mint were incredible.

It really put into perspective the DMV-esque experience I’ve become accustomed to at legacy airlines. While some employees at legacy airlines are great, I’ve also found some gate agents to be among the most hostile people in customer-facing roles.

Twitter user @seoulcialite has uploaded a video of his experience at Charlotte Airport last night, where he witnessed an American representative being extremely rude and condescending to passengers. He recorded that, and the American representative told him “sir if you’re recording, that’s against the law, we can take you to jail for that.”

It just absolutely blows my mind that any private business allows their employees to treat customers that way. I’ve never seen a restaurant or hotel or store or any other business where it’s considered acceptable for an employee to threaten to send a customer to jail. Yet somehow it’s something that seems to be “business as usual” in the airline industry.

Now, I think it’s worth clarifying that American’s photography policy is that recording personnel is strictly prohibited:

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.

However, there’s a difference between a private company’s policies, and something that is illegal and could get you sent to jail. For example, you’re absolutely otherwise allowed to film at airports, and can even photograph and videotape TSA checkpoints.

If the American representative was concerned about being videotaped, he should have said that — “Please don’t videotape me, it’s a violation of American’s policies.” However, he doesn’t have the right to claim that something is illegal and can get a customer sent to jail.

Not surprisingly, when the guy talks to Charlotte Airport police, they confirm he wasn’t doing anything illegal, and certainly wasn’t going to jail:

Seriously American, you need to train your employees on the difference between a policy and a law. While you’re at it, perhaps retrain this guy about how to treat the customers who pay his salary.

  1. Why would American Airlines support freedom of speech if all it means is that the people will say bad things about them? 😉

  2. Wow! That’s one of the nicest American Airlines employees that I’ve seen in a while. Definitely far above AA’s average!

  3. I wouldn’t think American’s policy makes any difference in the terminal. I suppose they could try to keep you from flying if you’re ticketed on that flight. But by and large, it’s up to the airport authority and the local police. What if the recorder isn’t even flying American? “Sorry, sir, you can’t record us because our policy prohibits it.” Absurd.

  4. @ Larry — Exactly. If you violate their policy they can in theory remove you from the flight, but if you’re not an American customer, they can’t do anything to you.

  5. Airline employees need to get off their high-horse. The airport police should not be enforcing airline policies, they should only be involved if the situation warrants their presence. Recording in an airport isn’t one of them.

  6. His (David Yi) hyperbole doesn’t help his case much. Just stick to the facts and let the recording speak for itself.

  7. That’s what happens when you give too much power to gate agents, check-in personnel and FA’s. They feel they can make your life miserable with a snap of their fingers. And they will do that.

  8. …and they wonder why the foreign carriers always come out on top in the airline rankings hehe thanks for posting Ben.

  9. This is SO TYPICAL of American Airlines lately, their customer service is in the toilet, and DFW is the worst airport transit experience, especially flying with AA. Their social media is a non-stop tirade of angry customers.

  10. “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.”

    Who said that? Is that a law approved by the Congress or any other authority? I can simply say that record me is against the law. What law? AA can make their policies inside their buildings or airplanes but they do not won the airport so it is not their premises and if the employee is being a jerk there is no law that forbids anyone to record that.

  11. Can’t stand it! I officially called it quits on American a month ago after a similar experience. Rudeness is off the charts.

  12. Can any one tell me what is the actual policy on making videos at the airport gate or in the plane, or is it a gray zone where it not only depends on airline to airline but also each flight crew to another flight crew on the same airline

  13. Also, American Airlines, any airline, or any private business including airline employee can’t “send you to jail.” Only applicable law enforcement, after reviewing the facts and circumstances, can make a determination if an arrest or detainment and or a trip to jail is warranted based on applicable law. Violating AA’s photography policy would be a civil and not a criminal matter between AA and its photo happy customer.

    I liked the earlier comments about:
    1. How would AA handle its video policy if a customer of another airline or a visitor in the airport was doing the recording? It would seem they have less leverage against a noncustomer; and
    2. I liked the comment about how its no wonder foreign airlines are ahead, since by and large, the big legacy US airlines tolerate this kind of activity from a small percentage of their bad apple employees. Also I don’t think the corporate DNA coming from the top at the legacy carriers is one of service, its probably soemthing more like increasing short term shareholder value at any cost and treating the customer more and more like a single transaction rather than a long term mutually beneficial and respectful relationship.

    Even though Lucky is as famous as any frequent flyer, with this blog and the Rolling Stone article, AA has still managed to bungle responses when he writes to customer relations. They haven’t apparently had the smarts to flag his correspondence in their CRM system to make damn sure it is going to get a cohesive reply since it may very well be broadcast out to however many blog readers he has. So just think about the response someone without the fame of Lucky might get, or I should say not get? I wonder if AA has flagged Gary or he also gets the bungled responses reserved for the general public?

  14. Let the airline employees do their jobs. Raising your voice to tell an old woman what time to pick up her baggage isn’t persecution. Then you have this millennial LA douche bag interfering with operations by recording a video. Mind your own business kid.

  15. AA rep should be fired And Police should use some common sense and let the guy get another flight

  16. It has become the single worst part of traveling, airport personnel. They control so much of your experience and with what feels like an iron fist half of the time. You seemingly can’t do anything about it. They’re essentially allowed to dismiss you as “difficult” at any point they become annoyed.

  17. I mean we don’t see what happens after he is told he could be taken to jail, the video ends.

    He must have argued with the AA rep. Easy way out is to just say, oh sorry, I did not know and will delete it and walk away, then post it later if you must.

  18. Why can this guy be removed from the airport? How can AA use the police (not private security) to enforce their policy to such an extent? What is CLT’s response to this?

  19. I reviewed all of his tweets, and I still have a lot of questions, namely:
    1. Did they ask or tell him he had to leave the CLT airport? In other words, did they tell him, if you don’t leave, we’re arresting you and throwing you in jail for the night? He alludes in his tweets to being removed from CLT by “security.”
    2. Is the security that removed him actually the applicable CLT police, or just some private security guard that “asked” him to leave?
    3. From his Twitter accounts, he’s a “verified” user with Mashable. Thus he might be able to get more play on this than the average Joe, but maybe AA is going to try to buy him off?
    4. I’ve only seen this story on Lucky’s blog which caters to travel hackers/enthusiasts, so I just wonder, if this kind of thing happens every day across the country and really is not reported or underreported? I mean, imagine if they put this at 07:00 on the Today Show? 🙂

  20. @Justin H
    He’s from NY, not LA (preconceive notions much?).

    But I gotta agree, the agent wasn’t “berating” in the video. The poster, as well-intentioned as he may have been, must not travel much… if that’s what he considers abusive treatment.

  21. It’s been said before, but in my experience it’s always the former US Airways employees (in PHX & CLT) that are the most apathetic, unfriendly, and even rude, which seems to be the case here as well.

  22. @Justin H

    The kid was definitely an alarmist “I was afraid for her life” OMG…these millennials need to harden up or we are all doomed.

    I also didn’t find anything wrong with the agents tone or the message he was conveying to the customers in general.

  23. For what it’s worth, I do find it funny when gate agents say something is illegal when it’s not.

    On a recent inter island flight on Hawaiian we flew LIH to KOA with a layover at OGG. While in Maui, we realized there was an earlier flight to Kona that we could jump on. We went up to the gate agent to ask if there was any chance that we could go standby on the earlier flight. Her response was, “it is illegal for your checked luggage to travel on a plane that you aren’t on so since you checked bags, you’ll have to wait until your scheduled flight.”

    I laughed a little and laughed even more when we arrived at KOA and found out one of our pieces of luggage hadn’t made it on the plane at OGG… It came on a later flight… Without us…

  24. Service out of PMUS hubs has been consistently terrible. CLT, PHL, Etc. it’s a joke. Not saying there aren’t PMAA employees who are the same but what I’ve experienced out of the US hubs is almost always like this.

  25. Remember also that story out of PHL where a blind guy was tossed off a legacy US commuter flight because a flight attendant had a melt down about his seeing eye dog and all pax walked off the flight and they had to cancel. That story got a lot of mainstream media coverage, probably because of the dog. Nobody really cares if an average person gets tossed, but I guess if you bring in a child or a dog it goes viral!

    I could totally see something like this at PHL! My personal experience is CLT is a little better, but then again I don’t fly there much.

  26. this agent doesn’t seem terrible in my experience. Agents at JFK are consistently confrontational and difficult. I feel like I’m back in Army Basic Training when transiting there.

  27. The country is full of people who are insane. I’ve witnessed low IQ employees pulling stuff out of their behind thinking that you’re dumber than they are and won’t notice. I call them on it. This AA nut job is a perfect example of the low state of American society. In his mind, he’s not only a gate agent, but a prosecutor, lawyer, police officer, doctor, psychologist, judge, and imbecile. Yet the American public continues to unabashedly support these ‘workers’ and companies with their dollars. Stop flying for a week and you’d see some quick changes in attitude. Unfortunately the brainwashed masses love their chains, handcuffs too much. Clint Eastwood is right when he said yesterday it’s ‘a generation of ‘p..sys’.

  28. @Erica: There are no worse airline personnel than the ones working at Hawaiian. They think they live in another planet. The most rude and impolite people I ever had to deal with. Only if I could swim from one island to another. 🙂

  29. This reminds me of the last time I flew Delta through ATL. Which is why I stopped doing that.

    That said, this is a big deal? It strikes me as pretty obnoxious that he’d whip out the camera, clearly thinking he was going to capture a ‘gotcha’ moment. Yes, the gate agent is full of it and full of himself. I’m utterly shocked … not. Its a day ending in Y at a major airport.

    But I concur with some of those above, this feels like a Generation Whine problem, millennial passive aggressiveness. Try videotaping me without MY permission. Move on Seoulcialite (oooh how terribly clever) , dealing with the likes of you all day eventually turns regular gate agents into this guy. The bruises on your delicate psyche will heal quickly.

  30. was trying to depart PHL on 6/30 and witnessed nothing short of a systemic meltdown in the all-AA-gate Terminal B. weather had resulted in a handful of cancelled flights, but gate agents were refusing to handle accomodations/rebooking and sending everyone to the phone or to the 2-agent customer service desk. i couldn’t understand for my life WHY ON EARTH they seem to have developed a policy that gate agents can’t assist pax with this stuff. has anyone else come across this and know what the explanation is for the policy? or is it just PHL employees acting extra-neglectful? the line at the cust service desk had to be 100-persons long throughout the evening. i was shocked and would truly appreciate some insight, if anyone has some.

  31. “Bearrrrrrr says:
    August 4, 2016 at 3:17 pm
    was trying to depart PHL on 6/30 and witnessed nothing short of a systemic meltdown in the all-AA-gate Terminal B. weather had resulted in a handful of cancelled flights, but gate agents were refusing to handle accomodations/rebooking and sending everyone to the phone or to the 2-agent customer service desk.”

    And your point? 30 years of flying and I don’t recall the gate agents at major airports EVER doing this stuff. Only at a small regional airport, where there aren’t any other employees. Presumably, because you never know when the gate will become needed and active – or the airline doesnt want to pay overtime

  32. At first I took this whole thing very seriously, and was outraged. This guy’s experience with the agent matches my experience flying AA this summer. The whole AA system… Planes, people… seems to be under a lot of stress, which I’m assuming is a combination of cost-cutting, maybe some continuing integration issues, and the high demands of summer travel. Employees seem more stressed and unhappy then usual, kind of reminds me of United 5-7 years ago.

    But then I watched the second video. The videographer was “afraid for the life” of the woman the agent was speaking to? Hmm…yes the agent was clearly out of line, but #hyperbole. Not sure if he’s a 100% reliable source beyond the actual first video content 🙂

    BTW, looks from his Twitter page like local TV news in Charlotte reached out to him. Curious to see how this story develops 🙂

  33. ———-
    RakSiam says:
    August 4, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    maybe AA has it’s own jail

    Maybe? Have you seen their planes?

  34. steve, thanks for the reply. at my gate,our own agents refused to assist pax when an “unknown” delay was announced, and refused again when the flight was cancelled an hour later. as for first instance, i can’t understand why they wouldn’t assist pax who wished to, say, go on standby for another flight. it was still “our” gate at that point – what else did the agents have to take care of? when it was ultimately cancelled, i suppose i understand why they wouldn’t help by your logic (gate was about to used for another flight). but as for the refusal to assist during the initial delay…is it that AA doesn’t give these agents the tools they need to do standby/rebookings (doubtful)? are they told not to assist for some reason? are they refusing on an individual basis? my curiosity has been killing me all week about this.

  35. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t CLT owned by the city / county? If so, does the AIRPORT policy have anything against recording/photos? At least from the video, the douche didn’t engage the employee — the employee engaged him first.

    Of course, we have no idea what transpired once the camera was off, and I think the times therein may very well be what got him booted from that flight.

  36. Regarding the gate agents not helping to rebook passengers on another flight, the primary reason is because gate agents are not trained to use the reservation system. At most carriers the airport passenger system is completely different from the reservation system. To train a gate agent to on how to use a complicated reservation system on the off chance they may have to use it one day is frankly cost prohibitive. Even if the agent were trained they would likely forget how to use the system effectively simply because they do not use it every day. This is the same reason why airport ticket counters have separate positions for check-in/baggage and for ticketing; different systems are used for each function.

  37. Such things can only happen in the US and in nazi Germany. The excuse of security, the overall frightened people and a potential lack of patriotism result into gods in uniforms and chicken people. Imagine if a Muslim was filming. All the passengers would have applauded to the brave American. America is facing huge problems. It was the land of the free, it might become a land which needs to be freed. You might think this is way exaggerated, perhaps you are right but perhaps I’m right saying that it is in tiny things were you can see the averages.

  38. This is not just a problem with AA (or other airlines), this is a problem with all large companies – a lot of their policies rely on intimidating customers into making decisions that are detrimental to themselves and beneficial to the company. They do this by implying that there are some sort of legally binding “rules” or “regulations” that empower the company over the customer.. Even their employees buy into this sense of “power” over customers and sling the “rules” around as if we will all go to jail if we don’t abide by their rules. This is especially bad among travel companies – rules? There aren’t any real laws governing how employees interact with their customers – it’s an idea that is out of control in the bug travel companies… How many times have you been quoted “the rules” when talking to ticket agents, flight attendants, etc… People should feel more empowered to stand up to these companies, question their policies, and throw the “rules” back in their faces. I look forward to the day that massive class action lawsuits are won against the airlines for exorbitant ticket exchange fees. Their “rules” can’t mean that they have a license to steal from their customers…my advice in dealing with all these companies — Stand up, speak up, take photos of their employees… You are perfectly legally justified in doing so. Stay within the actual law, of course, but study up on consumer law and empower yourself with knowledge and force them to treat you like a customer and not some sort of indentured servant. You have nothing to fear with the airlines other than fear itself.

  39. Clearly this agent is trying to scare/intimidate the photographer into stopping the video recording. He has no basis to do so, other than making a polite personal request to stop shooting. Polite doesn’t seem to be his thing though.

    I work in TV news…we frequently shoot in airports and routinely photograph airline employees performing their duties. Do uneducated people question us about what we are doing, yes, but we know our rights, politely explain what we are doing, and continue along.

    There is no law about photography in airports, so the line about going to jail is total BS. Also, an airport is a public building, so the news media and public have a right to record and photograph in the publicly accessible spaces of the building. Also, this clown has no right to ask anyone to delete anything from their phone or camera card.

    The story may change when on board a plane, where some airlines have policies about recording in-flight, which is a slightly different/greyer situation than shooting in a public building on the ground. Regardless, if something is going on, shoot first and ask questions later.

  40. He should file a DOT complaint he was denied boarding if he was flying on American and they owe him fare and penalty. Im also surprised AA could have him removed from the airport although once they voided his ticket he was in secure area without a ticket – he should address that issue with airport itself.

  41. “East Coast”, followed the link you provided regarding the blind man and his dog escorted from a flight due to an FA’s opinion!
    Has anyone ever heard anything in regards to the company investigation??
    Hard to believe that many passengers would be found wrong! No doubt the company got an earful over that one!
    “We are right and the rest of the world is simply wrong” doesn’t bode well!
    No doubt FA had never had a dog!
    Big difference between that story and this one!

  42. “Donna says:
    August 4, 2016 at 2:56 pm
    this agent doesn’t seem terrible in my experience. Agents at JFK are consistently confrontational and difficult. I feel like I’m back in Army Basic Training when transiting there”

    I was at JFK once when AA cancelled a flight to Santo Domingo and the pax rioted and forced the gate crew to retreat into the jetway and lock the door behind them.

  43. American’s policy can be whatever the hell they want it to be… ON THEIR PLANE. On the ground in a public building? These power trippers need to be taken out of customer facing jobs. Period.

  44. Here is how it works at PDX. I know because I had an in-depth conversation with the appropriate people who run the airport.

    As far as the Port of Portland an airline can set rules for recording for the areas these lease from the Port. Outside those areas the Port’s rules apply and the Port has no rules against taking photos or video.

    The areas leased to AA are the gates themselves. So as long as someone was outside the gate area AA would have no authority. The Port would not provide a map of the terminals showing the demarkation line between between leased areas and those not leased by the Port but gave a rough indication where the line is. However none of this says that AA has the right to enforce a no photo/video rule in the leased areas. The Port only says they can’t enforce such a rule outside. It would be up to a court to decide if AA could restrict such an activity. As far as I know there have been no test cases. And in any event this would be a civil matter. AA might refuse to carry a passenger because they where taking pictures, the passenger would sue for damages, AA would claim they were within their right to prohibit photos and the passenger would claim they were not perhaps because the gate was a public space or whatever.

    For the agent to legitimately claim a right to have the passenger arrested he would have to be able to assert that some law was being violated. It’s obviously not a crime to simply break a company’s rule. If the representative had asked the passenger to cease taking video or leave the gate area (assuming the airport operates the same as PDX) and the passenger refused then I suppose they could threaten to have them arrested for trespass.

    Frankly I think that AA is on thin legal ground but the airport needs to be involved too. That they aren’t speaks very poorly of them. These are public spaces and the airports should insist that the airlines treat them as such.

  45. This same sort of thing happened to me in Charlotte when I started recording a video of an AA gate agent being openly hostile to me (for no reason) and then threatened me with not getting on the plane and then said I was being “detained” until a supervisor was called. I was eventually let on the flight, but was humiliated in front of the entire group of people waiting for the flight.

    Of course, when I contacted AA multiple times, I just got a canned response which I was unable to reply to. When I called (several times), they told me to write in. Also (and this shouldn’t matter, I’m Platinum and was flying paid first).

  46. Fwiw:
    1 Mr GA can only be faulted so much. He plainly is tone deaf, and yes lives in a world of gate agent primacy. That’s probably how he was reared by an earlier generation of very important GAs. That combined with a written policy in the AA Manual sorta explains confusion between lAAw and law.

    2. He gets credit for wearing a tie and communicating with passengers. Other GAs say nothing and fear eye contact.

    3. I may have the constitutional law wrong …. But aren’t airports public places for those Amendments? Publicly run, financed ….. airlines arepublic accommodations. I realize that Mr. gate agent isn’t a “state Akhtar” but the cops on the golf cart really can’t be stepping on speech

    4. The guy who took the video is an idiot. He did not reasonably believe the GA was going to harm anyone. I’m sorry he is underemployed and/or in such need of attention. He certainly wasn’t a dancing any legitimate social justice agenda by being such a DB

    Thanks for sharing

  47. All you have to do is google “American Airlines Sucks”, and you will have enough reading and videos to watch for a few days. I was finished with AA a few years ago traveling back and forth from US to Europe. Messed up flights, rudeness, unannounced gate changes, canceled flights, etc…

    A good friend of mine is a pilot for AA out of SFO, I don’t ever remember him being happy about his job.

  48. American is a COMMON CARRIER, using public airspace between two public airports.

    Since when they get to pre-empt the First Amendment? No, they cannot suspend the First Amendment even on their planes, just like Verizon, AT&T or wherever (also a common carrier) cannot prohibit you to transmit certain type of photos on their network.

    What on earth is the DOT / Congress doing? They should immediately force AA to withdraw that anti-constitutional no-photos policy. Unbelievable.

  49. While the Charlotte airport is owned by the City of Charlotte, upwards of 90% of flights are on American. So, I would not be surprised if and when the airport submits to their every demand.

  50. The one assumption that we don’t make about the behavior of this individual is whether he did exactly as he was trained to do? We have this idea of customer service that includes that the company feels privileged to have customer and that people want to do business with it. However, with all the changes that AA has made in their company, I think we have to start thinking about whether AA is “at war”
    with its customers?

  51. Unfortunately such outlandish claims by airline employees engaged in illegal, unlawful, unethical, or atrocious behaviour is not that uncommon (not just limited to AA), because of course they don’t want a record of it – so these people say or do anything to cease or prevent it.

    I just can’t get over the irony of a guy in an airport, of all places, saying nobody can record him, when airports are full of security cameras recording everyone all the time. Don’t want to be recorded, don’t be such a public arsehole.

  52. Be sure to know your local laws when recording someone. Recording audio of a person without their knowledge is illegal in my state, and someone here was recently arrested for doing so.

  53. United Station Manager Oneida (she proved a fake name) :8: pulled this in Houston.

    Best advise – record and call 911 when threatened. FBI and local PD responded to the complaint and the evidence with a much different reply than the fake Exec customer service at United. When they were provided video and audio they began investigations into both United and the employee as United was clearly attempting to coverup a legal violation.

    Should we arrest and threaten bad customer service agents – no. Should we make a few examples so the power trips go away – DEFINITELY

    United is an awful airline, this video looks nice compared to the experience of being a million miler 1k.

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