Taking Pictures Of Planes In The UAE Could Land You In Jail

Filed Under: Media, Travel

A while back there was quite a bit of media attention surrounding the British plane spotters who were sentenced to two months in jail after photographing planes at Fujairah Airport. Via The National:

The British planespotters were arrested on February 22 when Fujairah police found them near the airport taking notes about the planes. The men pleaded not guilty to taking photographs of planes at Fujairah airport but Judge Falah Al Hajeri said last week that the court had 72 pictures of an airport that were presented as evidence.

The men were sentenced to two months’ imprisonment, but since they had already spent two months in jail awaiting trial, their sentences had been served.

The UAE is quite a modern country, so I think to some degree many of us assume we’re safe there within “reason.” However, hearing of the people who spent two months in jail over plane spotting is pretty jarring.

Etihad 777 at Abu Dhabi Airport

Following these men being released from jail, officials are warning against taking any photos at/around airports, claiming permission is required for any photography or videography. Failure to comply can result in a jail sentence of one to three months, or fines of up to Dh5,000:

“Any request to film or photograph aircraft from within or around the airports has to follow a strict approval process before an individual or group is granted access,” said a spokesman from Dubai Airports.

“Dubai International and Al Maktoum International at DWC are secure environments with restricted access to ensure the safety and security of our passengers, employees and stakeholders.”

Abu Dhabi International Airport also specifies on its website that permission is required for photography and videography. It grants site visits to certain areas of the airport after the required documentation and reasons for filming are submitted.

Taking photos in restricted areas such as embassies, palaces, airports or security facilities can result in jail sentences lasting between one and three months, or fines up to Dh5,000.

This sure does present an interesting conundrum. I’ve seen tons of people take photos in UAE airports (in the age of social media, it seems more people do than not), and aside from at security and immigration, I’ve never even seen a “no photography” sign at the airports in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. I’ve also taken plenty of pictures in plain sight of officials, and have never once been asked to stop.

But I also don’t want to end up in a UAE jail.

What do you make of this story and these official statements? Will they prevent you from taking any pictures at airports in the UAE? What about in the Emirates first class lounge? Or in an Emirates A380 first class suite while still on the ground in Dubai?

Emirates A380 Lounge Dubai Airport

  1. Modernity is an illusion in the UAE. You should be equally wary as a gay man as a plane spotter.

  2. The UAE is a modern economy with business law adopted from the English but the rest of their legal system has far more in common with Saudi Arabia than the UK/US model.

    I am guessing they wouldnt do anything for people taking pictures in the terminal since it would not be good PR for Emirates if some of its customers randomally got thrown in jail for three months, while transitting in Dubai, for taking a picture of an A-380. These people were outside the airport. Should not make a difference but it is clear it does.

  3. I think it’s not just the airport either. I think famous photographer Trey Ratcliff was just in Dubai and detailed some of his run-ins with security and cops when he was out about taking pictures.

    Personally I have no interest in visiting any of those Gulf countries. Too many messed up situations like the one you describe here. That poor American couple who were in jail in Qatar for like a year for no good reason. Their whole society seems really weird to me.

  4. Just type emirates or emiratescabincrew under instagram’s hashtags.. You will see boatloads of EK crew take pics of planes or stuffs like that in DXB.. Hopefully, they can update law with better clarification…

  5. 2 clarifications here:

    A: Fujairah airport is not a commercial airport (not right now and not at the time they were there) and is strictly being used for military purposes. The aircraft they were spotting was an extremely rare military aircraft and just in case you don’t know, the military is very secretive in the middle east and doesn’t want anyone knowing anything about it.

    B: By taking pictures, they clearly mean spotting for a purpose that’s against the country (or one which they suspect is for that matter.) The average selfie/”crewfie” is definitely no problem

  6. I figured there was something more to this than just being thrown in jail for taking a selfie. Being arrested for taking photos of “rare military aircraft” at a restricted military base gives this story a whole different slant.

    Still it’s best to remember when you are in a dictatorship to be on your best behavior. You have no rights there, only the privileges they chose to give you.

  7. How about Venezuela? I wanted to get a AAL 757, but had to do it with tablet. Photography with a camera would be viewed with suspicion. Nb, this was from the Admirals Club and of an un-repainted 757 in January!

  8. @Abdel Rahim Abdallah

    On Fujairah International Airport wikipedia page it says that Rotana Jet have been flying passengers to AUH since 2012, and there is also a cargo ops. Plus being used for aircraft recycling?

    Agree with you about taking pictures of mil aircraft can get you in big dodo a number of places in the world.

  9. @Robert Hanson

    The UAE/Dubai in particular is NOT a dictatorship. I am not ashamed to call my country (Egypt) a dictatorship, simply because it’s not my fault that the army had a coup here. In fact, the UAE is our regional “democracy idol”. The guy ruling Dubai is a really cool guy and without going into details, he is very democratic in his workplace and only hires people under 40. Read more about him.

    @No Name

    This information is outdated. The route didn’t last a year. Check Rotana Jet’s website and Al Fujairah Airport arrivals on flightstats/flightradar24/etc…
    Cargo ops are on charter basis and are therefore rather rare. This is basically a military airport that gets the occasional cargo aircraft and is also a place for aircraft scrapping. Still, it’s filled with military aircraft and training on a daily basis.

  10. (Only hits people under 40? Doesn’t sound very democratic…)

    Maybe there is a process to get a press permit to take photos?

  11. Without disclosing too much information here, they made the naive mistake of taking pictures of aircraft operations in Fujairah that *ahem*, don’t actually exist and then trying to argue about it. They are guilty of being naive rather than of espionage. Remember that the UAE is presently involved in two very active military operations – against IS in Syria/Iraq and against the Houthis in Yemen. All airports are on high alert – especially the dual use military/civilian fields in Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah where some of the intentionally lower profile traffic comes in and out.

    You can arrange photography permits at UAE airports quite easily – I’ve done them many times for clients and for myself. Just talk to the airport PRO, pay the fee and voila – all is kosher/halal.

  12. “The UAE is quite a modern country”


    I had to stop reading after that.

    smoke and mirrors

  13. From Wikipedia:
    “Established in December 1971, the country is a federation of seven emirates. Each emirate is governed by an absolute monarch who jointly form the Federal Supreme Council. One of the monarchs is selected as the President of the United Arab Emirates.”

    I guess we could split hairs and say it’s not a dictatorship, it’s a monarchy. Not a distinction that matters to me.

    As for Egypt, I, and as far as I can tell a majority of the citizens of Egypt, heaved a huge sigh of relief when the Military kicked out the Islamofacists that were progressively imposing an Islamic Theocracy. They didn’t campaign on that agenda, and had no mandate to do that, as the massive protests that lead to their overthrow demonstrated. As with most Fascist governments, which as I use the word includes not only Nazi Germany, but also Cuba and Hamas, their approach to “democracy” was ‘one election, one time, then never again’.

  14. @Robert Hanson – “I guess we could split hairs and say it’s not a dictatorship, it’s a monarchy. Not a distinction that matters to me.”

    So the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Norway are dictatorships?

  15. i am wondering what about taking pictures of the plane they have come off from and the one they are going to their next destination on.is that allowed?i love photographing planes as such but this dumb rule on the way to and from europe is enough to make me switch to an asian carrier(i am from australia)

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *