How Do I Go About Taking Pictures On Planes?

Filed Under: Advice

Yesterday reader FNT Delta Diamond left the following comment on my review of Air China’s 747-8 first class:

Lucky: Could you do a post explaining what, if anything, crew says when you take all these pictures? I know a couple airlines have stopped passengers from taking pictures but even crew on airlines that don’t care must find it odd to see someone taking so many pictures. I wonder if they ever think you’re a mystery passenger flying to inspect standards or perhaps a spy from a rival airline.

If you’re not interested in the “behind the scenes” of trip reports then by all means skip this. However, it’s probably an interesting topic to address for those who are curious, and also for those who like to take pictures on planes, but are concerned about what the crew will say.

I almost never have issues taking pictures on planes. The only challenging part of the picture taking process for me is trying to be the first person on the plane. If I weren’t reviewing a flight I’d be the last person on the plane, though there are obviously huge benefits to being the first onboard and getting empty cabin pictures. I’ve outlined how I do this in a previous post. Some other blogs contact airline PR departments before the flight to ask for pre-boarding, though to me that ruins the objectivity of a review, since the crew will no doubt know what you’re doing.

So, given that I take hundreds of pictures on flights that I review, what do I say to the crews, and what do they say to me? To start, I use one of three strategies when it comes to justifying my picture taking:

I’m an aviation geek

This is my go to strategy. When I board a plane I’ll give the crew a big smile, say “this is a beautiful cabin, is okay if I take some pictures?” They almost always say “sure, go ahead.” I create the impression that I’m just a huge aviation geek and love planes (both of which are true).

Now, this strategy gets a bit awkward when you’re flying an airlines like Pakistan, Ukraine, Meridiana, etc., which objectively doesn’t have nice cabins. However, for all they know I’ve never flown a premium cabin before, so it doesn’t raise many eyebrows.


Often later in the flight crews will come by my seat and mention how I’m taking so many pictures, and I just explain to them that I love trying new airlines, and that documenting the experience is a hobby of mine. Usually they appreciate the passion, since it’s not often others get excited about the experience.

It’s my first time in business class

It’s rare that I volunteer this as the reason, but often as I board and start snapping pictures, crews look at me and say “oh, is it your first time in business class?” Given that I want to volunteer as little information as possible, I usually just say “yep.” Similar to the above, I find that they love the enthusiasm, and it leads to great service.

I’ve only once ever proactively offered this as a reason, though, and that was in Lufthansa business class.

I just come clean about what I’m doing

This is extremely rare. Ironically enough, one of the few times I’ve done this was on my recent Spirit Airlines flight. Spirit has BuzzBallz ready-to-drink cocktails, which seemed so fabulously trashy. So I was determined to taste test them, and to also order wine, which I was expecting to be served in a can (unfortunately it wasn’t).

Spirit isn’t exactly a full service airline, and I knew they’d do a single service. I figured saying “I’d like all three BuzzBallz cocktails and wine” without an explanation wouldn’t go over well, given how rowdy the Spirit crowd is to begin with.

So instead I said “I’m writing a story about Spirit Airlines, and have heard so much about by the BuzzBallz cocktails. I promise I won’t drink them all, but is it okay if I buy all three and a bottle of wine, and just test them all out?” The crew was amused, and sold them to me without issue.

However, as it turns out, I guess that explanation wasn’t necessary. The guy next to me said “that sounds good, I’ll have exactly the same,” and they sold that to him without issue. Later he ordered two more BuzzBallz cocktails. He could barely walk off the plane…

Bottom line

Airline crews probably think I’m crazy and have no life. Both of those are very true. 😉

However, I find that I minimize issues relating to photography by being proactive. While I don’t fully volunteer what I’m doing, I always board with a smile, make eye contact and ask the crew’s permission to take pictures. Because I just come across as enthusiastic, usually the questions I get are purely out of curiosity. I’d say about half the time crews don’t say anything to me, while the other half of the time they ask questions out of curiosity.

  1. Just remind people to never have any crew in their pictures. Not only do they not like it, it’s considered a security concern.

  2. I guess it also helps that you’re a white man with a certain look… One wonders if flight attendant attitudes would shift if, say, a person with non-native English accent who happens to be a “brown person” with a beard were taking photos.

    This is not a comment on you, but on the unfortunate situation in the world, today, FYI.

  3. I think the best part of this article is the guy sitting next to you on the plane.

    “mmm that sounds good, I Will the same”

    That made me laugh out loud, what a great seat mate.

  4. It’s not like it could be your first time in LH J. I mean I’ve only seen you in F on that airline…

  5. Years ago I did competitive benchmarking as part of my job with Delta. I would travel with a camera (non digital in those days), a tape measure, and notepad. I would give similar reasons as to why I was photographing and measuring seat pitch and things – “I’m just really into planes.” Once in a while, I would come clean and say that I was working for Delta and wanted to see how airline X measured up. In those cases, I often found the flight attendants would actually take pride that they were being used as a benchmark, would help me measure seat pitch, show me other dishes that I hadn’t ordered, etc.

  6. I have often wondered about Crew/Airlines recognizing you and/or your name on the manifest as “that blogger”. I mean come on! I started reading this blog after an article appeared on you in the newspaper. My concern, therefore, is how “authentic” are ALL your experiences? Do you get special attention/service (at least sometimes) because the airline pre-advises their crew of your presence on a specific flight? I remember how you evoked a reaction from China Eastern (?) after that flight where you smelled cigarette smoke from the cockpit and wrote about it…. Just sayin’

  7. Lucky, You do a fantastic job on these stories and reviews, and we appreciate all the work you go to for us. I have noticed something that would be useful, if it is possible for you to do. In this story, for instance, you have photos of three first class or business class cabins, but you don’t identify them. I understand that you are just using them as general photos to make the page look better, but it would be great if you could identify the cabins shown. There are so many different cabins now, it is always interesting to know exactly which ones we are looking at.

  8. I always get a few funny looks with my DSLR, but as long as I keep it pointed out the window I don’t have any issues. I would rather take the pics of the planes outside anyway 😉

  9. FWIW @Windswd. I have met many pilots and FA’s and most have no interest in talking about work. Given my limited polling I doubt many seek out blogs to read about what they do. Couple that with the thousands of employees, thousands of flights, the randomness of it all and I doubt he has a problem with being recognized all that often. Readers yes, but airline staff, not so much.

  10. Good info. I plan to take a ton of pics on my first class Alaska Airlines flight later this month!

  11. I asked a flight attendant once while flying Biz at BritishAirways GRU-LHR to take a pic of me (i was wearing an england flag shirt and was so excited) she quickly did it but didnt seem to enjoy it so much…oops 😉 I also may have forced a british accent and asked for the “bathroom”instead of the toilet or loo. guess i blew my cover there …

  12. Ben, you should try this for the entertainment purpose. After taking a lot of pictures in flight, I tell the crew just for the entertainment. But if the crew did a terrible job as on your Tunis Air short hop from Tunis to London. I tell them at the end of the flight that “I was reviewing this flight and all the services”. You should see the shocked look on their faces. That’s priceless. I feel like since you would say it on the way out, it wouldn’t be an issue. Especially if it’s an airline you won’t fly anytime soon again.

  13. Don’t totally dis wine in cans yet. I’ve gotten into them this summer, and some are very good. I’ve wondered why they don’t serve them on planes to save weight. Underwood (Union) Bubbles is a fine sparkling wine, and I really like their Pinot Gris. Don’t know what they taste like at altitude, of course. But give it a shot if you see it somewhere.

  14. I would be interested in knowing how many of Ben’s experiences are authentic. Judging from some of his negative experiences I’d say most are probably authentic. However, I think there have been certain experiences where he posted for days or weeks what airline and what flight he would be flying. I think it was like an Indian airline, where he had the chief captain and chief stewardess. I’m guessing they saw his post ahead of time. Wasn’t there that infamous China flight with the smoking where on the connecting flight they clearly went out of their way to treat him better? I think most of the Starwood hotel experiences aren’t authentic because his SPG ambassador makes sure he receives better treatment than any of us would receive.

  15. >>>>I think the best part of this article is the guy sitting next to you on the plane.

    >>>>“mmm that sounds good, I Will the same”

    >>>>That made me laugh out loud, what a great seat mate.

    ..must…resist….inserting ‘Dumb & Dumber’ joke…here…*gnashing teeth*

  16. Ugh, Gwayrav …. please don’t say things like that. I am dark-skinned and have a beard and have reviewed DOZENS of airlines across MULTIPLE cabin classes for over a decade and am a well-known, featured aviation writer. I’ve done it for airlines in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the U.S. and Latin America.

    This is NOT a race/skin color thing at all. When you take photos, you are friendly, discreet, SMILE OFTEN, say “please, thank you and excuse me,” and if you are questioned at all, you are upfront, honest, and sincere. If someone asks you to stop, you stop. It has NEVER happened to me to this date.

    I really wish people would discontinue this race card commentary. It is toxic rhetoric.

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