Surprising: United Airlines Eases Onboard Photography Policy

Filed Under: United

I’m shocked to see this update, though since documenting flights is part of what I do for a living, I’m very happy to see this change.

Over the years we’ve seen quite a few high profile incidents that were recorded on planes. With so many people carrying smartphones nowadays, just about everyone can report on events, either using pictures or videos.

Many passengers record bad things that they witness when traveling. In some cases I think it’s done with the proper intent of capturing something truly awful (like Dr. Dao being dragged off a plane), though at other times it’s used to provoke airline employees. We’ve seen so many videos of people trying to provoke airline employees by shoving a camera in their face (and all too often the airline employees take the bait).

United’s updated photography policy is very lenient

Much to my surprise, United Airlines has updated their photography policy to make it one of the most lenient in the industry.

United’s previous photography policy was as follows:

“The use of small cameras or mobile devices for photography and video is permitted on board, provided that the purpose is capturing personal events. Photographing or recording other customers or airline personnel without their express consent is prohibited.”

Their new policy is as follows:

“The use of small cameras or mobile devices for photography and video is permitted on board, provided that the purpose is capturing personal events. Any photographing or recording of other customers or airline personnel that creates a safety or security risk or that interferes with crew members’ duties is prohibited.”

As you can see, both before and after it was acceptable to take pictures and video onboard for the purposes of capturing personal events. What has changed is that it used to be that you couldn’t capture pictures or video of other passengers or employees without their express consent, while with the new policy, you can do so unless you create a safety or security risk, or interfere with crew members.

United’s memo to employees further explains this policy:

“Every day, we connect our customers to the moments that matter most. Capturing those moments – from the concourse to the cabin – is a meaningful part of the journey for many of our customers. Those moments are also opportunities for us to delivery truly caring travel experiences that keep our customers safe.

We live in a world where the vast majority of our customers carry smartphones which they frequently use to capture aspects of their travel experience. Always ensure your behavior is in line with our core4 principles. Should a customer begin taking photos or videos and capture you doing your job, you should feel proud of the job you are doing.

Allow customers to photograph or record you unless they are creating a safety or security risk or preventing you from doing your job. If you believe a customer is violating this policy, then please follow your standard operating procedures and escalate to your supervisor.”

Telling employees that if you’re being videotaped or recorded you should feel proud of what you’re doing is a pretty bold statement. Of course it will still be up to employees to determine when they feel a safety or security risk is being created, and I can see some employees using that to protect themselves from this new policy.

My take on United’s updated photography policy

There are different perspectives as to whether or not you have a right to privacy at the airport or on a plane. I’m obviously not a lawyer, though it’s my understanding that in many US states you don’t have a right to privacy if you’re in public at an airport. So then the issue of whether or not you can take pictures of someone at an airport comes down to the contract you have with your airline.

Let’s say you see a gate agent treating someone horribly. If you’re actually flying that airline and photographing their employees violates the policy, then you could be in trouble. Meanwhile if you weren’t flying that airline, they couldn’t do anything. So that doesn’t make all that much sense.

Even taking my own interests out of the equation, in an idealistic world I think the new policy makes a lot of sense:

  • If you witness something horrible, you should be able to photograph or videotape it, so that it can be properly documented
  • After 9/11 we’ve seen such a high level of paranoia, where taking a picture on a plane often had people suspected of having bad intentions, which is ridiculous; it’s nice to see that policy eased
  • Realistically, even if you’re capturing a personal picture, it’s possible that someone else may appear in it in the distance

Of course there’s also the other side to this, which is that people often aren’t reasonable. It doesn’t matter what the social setting is, but people use videotaping as a way to provoke others. Arguably this could fall under the safety or security risk exception, but it is a concern I have. Many people refuse to act reasonably.

Furthermore, where does this draw the line in terms of taking pictures of other passengers? Is it now okay for people to photograph or video another passenger for any reason they want?

So on balance I’m very happy to see this change at United, if for no other reason than that it hopefully peels back some of the post-9/11 paranoia that we’ve seen too much of in the airline industry. However, I’d be very surprised if there isn’t big pushback from employees on this.

What do you make of United’s updated photography policy?

(Tip of the hat to The Points Guy)

  1. Did you see “this is america”?

    Apparently upskirt photos are also ok if you are a racist white Republican.

    Eff Republicans. They all need to be in prison.

  2. The new policy is good except if someone is abusing it and constantly taking photos of their seat mate or other passengers. So far, I never had that happen to me but I am hideous looking.

  3. Nice to see the photo paranoia relenting a bit nearly 17 years after 9/11. It was crazy there for a while.

  4. Is the plane a private workplace or a public place? United could treat it as a private workspace but I think they recognize that the public will videotape and they may have legal challenges preventing that.

  5. Dr. Dao should have just walked off the plane. People got fired for doing their job because of him. It acted like a entitled brat screaming like a little child. If any of the “shocked” fellow passengers should have offered to take a later flight and this would have never happened. Now people are refusing to get off planes/have their luggage checked ect. As for photographing me my consent would be nice. I am also tired of the whole Camera in someone’s face and the content is edited when it is posted.

  6. I actually find Debit’s posts reliably ridiculous/funny, but the sad part is there are people out there like @Antella that actually live in la la land and think like that. Whatever happened to education in this country?

  7. Lucky, it’s time to ban @Debit from this website. Enough with the negativity and lack of respect. This community is not a place for comments like his. Tiffany, please do something.

  8. This blog is one of the few places where you can post racist things and get away with it…

    Guess @Debit doesn’t like whites…or is it just republican ones? As a black republican, I guess I’m safe…or is my skin color a problem too?

  9. The revised policy is an improvement. However, the policy, in current or previous form, will have almost no effect on passenger behavior since only a handful of the one billion or so passengers who fly US airlines each year will even be aware that there is such a policy. Even those who know that airlines have such a policy won’t do much, if anything, differently because of it. As far as I know, these policies aren’t published where passengers would know the policy exists much less what it requires.

    What actually needs to be addressed and communicated to employees is a policy on calling the police. For example a couple of months ago when a FA called the cops on a large Black woman at the request of a white passenger who claimed to have been the victim of a battery or something. The FA apparently didn’t witness any behavior that she believed required police intervention but was just going off the white lady’s request.

    I don’t see how any business has a duty to call the police and make a report on behalf of someone who is perfectly able to call the cops, report the allegedly criminal acts, and assume the responsibility for doing so. Some have this irrational and racist predisposition to call the cops over the most trivial matters when it involves other races. There have been several examples in the news recently including the person who called the cops because a 12-year-old Black kid and his younger relatives, who were cutting grass for a summer job, cut a small strip of grass that was part of the white neighbors yard. Do those people think calling the police is a way to assert their superiority and keep Blacks in place? One can only speculate. But airlines should not become a party to ridiculous stuff like that. If any passenger wants the police, the airline should have a policy to remind them the number is 911.

  10. Tiffany this is a witch hunt. I have never posted anything these people are accusing me of posting. Thankfully your favorite poster has done nothing wrong. There is a deep state on these boards that are biased against me.

    Witch hunt!

  11. I have a somewhat different view.

    Does UAL have a customer service issue?

    1. I think the new wording is more realistic. Planes are not private workplaces.

    2. I see this as UALs way of saying to all involved, employees and passengers, you may be recorded, so act accordingly.

    Maybe it will improve service. Can’t hurt.

  12. @ Dan

    “Dr. Dao should have just walked off the plane. … It acted like a entitled brat screaming like a little child.”

    “It”? Really? Maybe I should assume that English is not your first language, but it reads as if you are deliberately dehumanising another person: to do so in this way is pretty repellent.

    Whatever Dr Dao should or should not have done, I’m surprised that you have decided to ignore United’s grovelling apology and their acceptance that they were completely in the wrong. Does that mean you think United’s senior management consists of craven liars?

    As it happens, I might not disagree with you about that. But anyone who thinks in the Dao case that the level of violence directed at a distressed human was proportionate has an utterly screwed-up values system.

  13. @debit is our resident troll. If you don’t like it, don’t feed the troll…
    Maybe he’ll fly south for the winter. Go look at NYT or SFGATE comments. Makes him look like a civilized debater.

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