Better Service Because Of Taking Pictures In First Class?

Filed Under: Travel

One question I frequently receive is what the best etiquette is when it comes to taking pictures on airplanes. I wrote a post with some tips last March — how I take pictures at airports and on airplanes.

It’s something I have a lot of experience with, having flown millions of miles and photographed every detail of hundreds of flights.

Back in the day I’d feel really self-conscious taking pictures in premium cabins. I was concerned what the crew and other passengers would think of me, as I think is natural, especially if you’re on an award ticket and believe everyone else is on a full fare ticket (which is rarely the case, but that’s neither here nor there).

In general my approach is simple – I do what I can to get some empty cabin pictures before the cabin fills up too much, so I try to be among the first aboard.

The second I board I let the flight attendants know that I’ll be taking a few quick pictures, if that’s okay. I find that’s useful because in international first class they often try to start the service right away, and are happy to stay out of your way for a few minutes while taking pictures if they know that’s what you’re trying to do.


Then again, I think I’m pretty discreet about it – I just use a small point and shoot camera, don’t use flash, and have gotten good at photographing every aspect of a cabin in less than a minute.

I’ve sometimes been asked whether taking pictures and seeming like a “newb” will lead to worse service. I think the opposite can actually be true — I think taking pictures on airplanes can lead to better service… or at least that’s what I’ve ascertained after talking to a purser friend.

Amateur hobbyist or auditor?

I recently had a conversation that I thought was pretty funny, and might put some of you at ease that are nervous about taking pictures. I have a friend that’s a Lufthansa purser, and recently he told me he had someone from Skytrax aboard “auditing” his flight. He said he was really nervous but made sure the crew took great care of him.

I couldn’t help but ask what made him think the guy was from Skytrax. He explained that the passenger was taking pictures of everything. I followed up with “and anything else…?” “Well no, he was clearly trying to hide it and said he just liked to have pictures for his collection, but that was obviously just a cover-up.”

I’d be willing to bet almost anything the guy wasn’t from Skytrax, but it was quite interesting to hear that thought from a purser.

When you’re happy the crew is happy

Admittedly this doesn’t apply across the board — there are some flight attendants that are just unhappy people, as is the case in any career. But on the whole I think in almost any line of work, when a customer is genuinely excited about an experience, so are the people providing the service.

Once in a while a crew member asks me if it’s my first time in business or first class. Sometimes I’ll just smile and nod, which I find often translates into even better service. Keep in mind that they’re interacting with disinterested business travelers most of the time, so when someone appreciates the small touches it makes them happy.

For example, on Cathay Pacific they’ll often give you a small “welcome aboard” card with your meal which is signed by the crew, and I always make a point of thanking them for that and pointing out how sweet it is. They’re almost always genuinely surprised I’d mention it, and say “thanks, no one else notices that.”


Bottom line

My point is simply that there’s nothing to worry about if you’re taking pictures in premium cabins. And it may actually lead to better service. The perspective from my purser friend was a new one for me.

Have you ever had a reaction from a crew when taking pictures on a plane?

  1. Yeah, unless you end up being handcuffed and taken off the flight and stuff. Forget the name of that blogger.

  2. I grew up very comfortably around people who would use that as an excuse to look down on someone taking a picture in a premium cabin. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to have many experiences in them. To this day I can barely sleep on the outbound flight (especially if it’s in a cool premium product). I personally don’t take pictures, but I make no effort to hide my excitement. I say do what you want. If you worked hard to build up your miles to take that dream trip, you deserve to remember it. Ask fellow passengers to take pictures, FA’s…anyone. It’ll be fun to look back, and I’m guessing you won’t even remember the side eye from the grouch two rows behind you. Enjoy…

  3. When I flew from Frankfurt to Mumbai in F on a Lufthansa 747 I took a couple of photos of the seat and bed. The man across from me asked if I was a blogger. I said no, but that the only reason I was flying up front was reading blogs like this one and a few others. He laughed and said he owed his seat to the same blogs. Small world.

  4. Hi Ben,

    I take pictures all the time in my premium cabin flights. Actually, when the crew sees me taking pictures, they often ask if I would like to get my picture taken along with my companion. This actually starts a conversation with the crew about our travels, etc. So, they get to know you a little bit especially on a long haul flight. As a result, this translates to better service.

    Probably the best example of this was last May when my partner and I were flying TG F from CDG to BKK on their A380. We got to know one of the crew. It started when I was taking pictures. I felt that he paid more attention to us than the other F passengers although the other F passengers were not neglected. Anyway, he basically kept our glasses filled with wine. When we were about to deplane, he took me aside to give me a bottle of wine (the one we’ve been drinking throughout the flight – unopened). Needless to say, it was very nice of him to do that. Come to think of it, this was the second time a crew gave me a bottle of wine. The first time was a few years back on USAirways Envoy (yes, an American carrier) flight.

    On a side note, he was on our flight again for the inbound BKK to CDG, but he was working J. However, he did make a point to say hi to us when we boarded.

  5. Two came to mind:

    – LH F on A380 – After we docked, I hang around to take some more photos of the cabin; the FA asked if I am a journalist. I also made a mental note in future to avoid seat 1K as the jumpseat looks right into me so I didn’t want to operate small electric devices right in front of the FA eyes so no takeoff nor landing shots from that trip. 🙁

    – CX F – I was the only passenger and the FA offered to adjust the cabin lighting so I could get better shots!

  6. I’ll admit I was very nervous at first but after reading your tips on the blog, I’ve taken photos on all the premium flights I take. Just like you, I normally ask permission in the beginning of the flight (upon boarding and when the purser introduces him/herself to me.)

  7. Unless I’m taking pictures of food and other things that are not the aircraft, I almost always ask if it’s ok to take some photographs. Being a photographer for a hobby it’s just good practice in general. I’ve gotten busted by police in a few train stations around the world and almost had my cameras confiscated in London! (paranoid police there!) So yeah, just ask. If there is a language barrier just hold up the camera in a gesture way of asking – that works as well with taking pictures of military and police figures (outside of aviation).

    I find that being nice and thankful for service is appreciated by FAs so I will continue doing that. I would imagine that more likely than not, the FAs will appreciate their days going a bit easier this way and it would be reciprocated to you.

  8. UA 896 SIN-HKG in C – when trying to photo my meal the flight attendant informed it was against UA rules to shoot any of UA’s equipment, including meals served – I was shocked; My fellow passenger, an American whom I had not even talked to before, mentioned that in Asia everyone does it aboard, no harm done and apologised for UA, because they were “Americans”…

    Aboard other companies even flight attendants have offered to take photos of myself.

    SQ – when trying to shoot a nice meal received, the flight attendant noticed and swiftly decided to enhance what was already nicely presented in my opinion 🙂

  9. On my Korean flight in business class, the flight attendants noticed me taking pics and just smiled before walking onwards, as if glad I was enthusiastic.

    On my Cathay flight in first class, the flight attendants didn’t bother me at all, most were just hurridly trying to get everything ready since we were running behind schedule. There was another young man sitting across from me taking pictures because a family member bought him a ticket in F.

    And both times were me taking pictures with a giant dSLR- never thought I’d use the lights in the suite and the blinds to modify the lighting effects. Problem is that even with Cathay’s first class suite, I still wanted something more wide-angle than my kit lens for my pictures. Using a point-and-shoot would be better since it’s easier to store and more discrete, but going back to one feels like I’m regressing XD

  10. SQ cabin crew I’ve found are the most indulgent when it comes to taking photos. Like PB said they will often offer to take a photo of you onboard. I’ve always chalked it down to their (generally) great service.

  11. Good to know. I think we’re all thrilled to be in premium cabins but feel self conscious taking pics.

    I wonder if the same applies to you as a blogger for hotels? It seems like several times hotels have realised you’re a high-profile blogger (especially when you critique them on the first night of a stay) and “make it up” to you.

  12. This is very true. I also make sure I am one of the 1st to board in order to get a decent photo of the cabin. I’m also conscious that when there are other passengers around, some do not appreciate accidentally being included in the photo. But I agree that whenever a flight crew sees me taking photos they instantly warm up and immediately offer if I would like them to take a photo of me in the plane. Interesting topic for a post!

  13. I don’t know that I fully buy the “He’s taking pics so he’s a blogger with millions of readers” argument. Everyone takes pictures of everything these days – for all of our social media outlets, and we’re all not bloggers. And we can all praise or scold on a bunch of review sites.

    Brands should respect us – all of us – whether we paid money or points, are professionals or not – because at the end of the day, each of those experiences is a valid touchpoint with the brand, product, and services offered.

  14. Years ago when I was Ben’s age I used to work for a major airline in marketing. One of my responsibilities was competitive intelligence. So I would fly other airlines, taking along a tape measure, camera, and notepad. When the flight attendants saw me doing this, they would often ask what I was doing and I would tell them. I found that they would then often help me measure, take photos, show me meal entrees and tray setups, etc. I think they stepped up service as well. They were proud to know that their airline was being evaluated as a benchmark for others. I usually did a 24 hour rest and then turned around to do the same thing on the return which meant I typically had the same crew outbound-inbound as well. Fun times!

  15. I asked to take a picture of a Stewardess in Singapore Airlines First Class Suite. She said, “Oh you want a picture with all of us women.” Then she gathered up all the First Class Stewardesses and had the First Class Steward take a picture of me surrounded by all the Stewardesses. Amazing.

  16. At the gate, waiting to board an LH 744 two weeks ago, I went to the desk to see if I could change my seat. When they saw I was in First Class they invited me to pre-board, and escorted me onto the plane. The crew were startled when they saw me as the aircraft wasn’t yet ready, but they invited me upstairs. When I started taking pictures of the empty F cabin, they gushed with pride about how much they loved it more than the newer cabins. “Zis, for me, ist ze truuuue ‘first class’,” the FA said as she placed roses in the vases at each seat. “Better zan ze A-sree-eighty!” I took photos for literally ten minutes before any other passenger boarded. Throughout the flight, I definitely felt the FAs were more attentive to me. They enjoyed sharing my excitement about being there. Doesn’t hurt.

  17. Ben, does CX F still left s welcome card? I’ve seen it for a while. My last flight was two ago on CX888. Both segments the crew didn’t put welcome aboard card on my tray.

  18. Ben, is this policy new? When was it implemented (and why)? I recall flying business class on United 3 years ago to Hawaii with our newborn and took pictures of him sitting next to us in an empty seat. No issues from the crew. Flying Global First next month for the first time from Tokyo-SFO, with our now 3 year old son…a seasoned international traveler but his first time in a premium cabin on UAL (domestic) metal. Naturally, I’d love to take a shot of him in the seat, watching a movie, eating etc. Two ways to approach it: take the pictures and hope/wait for someone to say something to which I apologize and comply or go out of my way to ask for permission ahead of time to see if it’s OK? I prefer to do the later in the name of open communication but not sure if they (UAL FAs) are now on a mission to uphold this policy.

  19. Apart from the whole weird UA incident, I think the main rule is to be nice and ask permission if you want to include crew in the photos. It’s not just about passengers being Skytrax auditor or famous bloggers — hopefully by now airlines realize that many travelers, especially in aspirational premium cabins, will share photos on social media or by word-of-mouth and they’ll want to make a good impression.

  20. I traveled to Bangkok a few years back on thai, all the passenger ladies were fascinated by the FA’s attires and took a bunch of pics with all of them (the colors of each one “uniforms” were all different) if was really fun to watch, felt as if they were movie stars!!
    right now i’m on “vacations” at home and keeping down my “fernweh”with your amazing blog!!! it’s like a dream!! keep it up and thank you!! it’s so much fun “binge reading” it!!!!

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