Is Photography Prohibited on an Airplane?

Wing

I received an interesting email yesterday from a business traveler who wanted to remain anonymous regarding a recent run in that he had with Air France Airlines and taking photographs aboard one of their flights. According to the traveler he was doing what a lot of us do and taking a photograph of the wing outside the airplane on take off. He said the way that the wings were closing reminded him of an eagle type gargoyle like on the Empire State Building and he was trying to capture that abstract photo when he was confronted by an Air France flight attendant.

According to the passenger, the flight attendant informed him that he was not allowed to take photographs once inside the plane. When he asked to see a written policy regarding the “no photos” rule the flight attendant left to retrieve one but never returned.

Now this case is not the first time that a flight attendant has admonished a passenger for in flight photography. There are numerous other cases online in internet forums and other places where passengers have been told by flight attendants that they cannot take photographs. In one of the most egregious cases a Jet Blue passenger was actually escorted off a plane in handcuffs after refusing to delete a video that she recorded of an on board altercation. Interestingly enough, Jet Blue actually had a photo contest of photos taken from their flights while appearing to prohibit photography in the case of the altercation.

Finding specific written policy information about individual airline policies is not very easy. Most airlines don’t list their in flight photo policies on their websites. I was able to reach a PR representative from Air France to ask about Air France’s specific policy given the complaint above, but have not been provided a definitive answer on this yet. The Air France PR rep asked for more information about the incident and offered to speak to the individual to clear up any misunderstandings but has yet to confirm that any such policy regarding photography on Air France flights either exists or does not exist. I’ll update this post if I hear back with a more definitive answer from Air France.

A representative from American Airlines pointed me to their policy online where it would appear that the type of photography our Air France passenger was engaged in of a wing while in flight would in fact be a prohibited act. You can find American Airlines’ policy here which reads: “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. “

I put in additional calls with both Southwest Airlines and Unite Airlines asking for information on their policies, but calls were not returned.

My own experience has been that I’ve never had a problem shooting from literally dozens of flights over the years. I even had a Southwest Airlines flight attendant offer to stand up from her seat on one flight so that I could get a good shot from her window of Mt. St. Helen. Still, it is troubling to hear of flight attendants admonishing passengers for on board photography. I also think that it’s unfortunate that more airlines aren’t more forthcoming with regards to what their actual photo policies are as some really great photography has been taken over the years from commercial air flights.

Update: Andy Beal points us to a pdf of Southwest Airlines’ permitted devices which lists both a digital camera and video camera as being permitted devices above 10,000 feet. I suppose this would be one more reason to fly Southwest over either Air France or American Airlines.

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22 Comments

  1. Andy Beal says:

    It must be allowed on Southwest as they have a camera listed as an approved device (above 10,000′): http://www.spiritmag.com/flightservices/flight-services.pdf

  2. I have not taken a flight in a long time. In May I will be headed to Jackson Hole WY and I hope that no one confronts me about taking photos. These are pretty inane policies and I hope they are not enforced.

  3. David Geller says:

    I often enjoy shooting wings and engines from my window seat, whether it’s with my iPhone or a more serious camera. I’ve never been asked to refrain from said photography, but I’m been careful when doing so during take-offs and landings, knowing full-well that modern cameras are robust electronic devices (not that I prescribe to the RF interference dogma).

    So, I hope the instances of flight crews asking people to refrain from taking pictures on-board remains low and largely “under the radar.”

    Some of my shots can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/whatcounts/sets/72157605667501256/

  4. Lucas Cobb says:

    I’ve taken several shots from airplanes in my travels both on South West and American Airlines and have never been told I could not. I have even taken pictures of other passengers on the plane and snapped shots of the captain and co-pilot as I entered a flight. All the controls and everything were there and the engineers smiled right back at my camera as I took it and that was last year. I’m flying on AA tomorrow to California from Toronto and I’ll see if I get hassled. I’ll report back when I can.

  5. Griffon says:

    You know, when you are dealing with flight attendants I’m sorry to say they are mot the most current or well trained group of folks. They are low level customer service staff, slightly better trained then sombody working high end retail. That dose not make them bad people but it’s importent to set your own expectation about what they can cope with.
    Flight attendants love to claim anything they don’t like or don’t understand (say flight mode on a iphone) is illegal (but never mind being able to provide any actual law) and will crash the plane, they love to say that to anyone who does rollover, I can’t count the number of times sombody has been told their cel phone is putting everyone’s lives at risk, sigh.
    I have hard this about completely ridiculously harmless tech that is fully certified for in flight use by the FAA. They quite simple have no clue (nor do they want one, nor dose anyone want to shell out the cash to train them), and since 50 other people on the flight have their phones on but in a pocket they feel no qualms about trying to ‘punish’ (always a good customer service mode) anyone they can catch.

    Airlines don’t want photo’s or recordings because of the same reason schools don’t. Employee’s make mistakes and if it’s caught there is liability attached to it. It’s much easier to try and strip people of their freedoms then to deal with the liability. It is awful but the only way to deal with it is to put companies that are anti customer out of business. It would also probable help if we, as the US, where not quite so incredible lawsuit happy and drive the belief that any harmless human error requires a payout

  6. Timo Heuer says:

    Any experiences with bmi? I will fly bmi in April and of course want to take pictures out of the plane window…

  7. Chris says:

    Use of any ‘electronic device’, that is, a device that runs on electricity (i.e. battery) may not be used after the door of the aircraft is shut until approx. 10K feet when P.A. is made that it is ok. Old cameras that aren’t battery operated, that are simply mechanical and click their picture are ok any time. Here’s the problem, since 9/11, it has become a legitimate security concern. We don’t want persons with malicious intent to record the procedures of the crew, equipment on board, etc. I’m not sure why photographing out the window would be a problem, but every passenger cannot be under surveylence by the crew at all times.
    Hope that helps.
    Chris
    Flight Safety, American Airlines

  8. discarted says:

    what about taking photos through the window not of the equipment but rather the beautiful blue sky, clouds, sunsets, UFOs, the approaching ground, etc

  9. TK says:

    For AF, none of these photos wouldn’t have happened:

    http://tinyurl.com/cq2crd

  10. […] Is Photography Prohibited on an Airplane? […]

  11. I have never been prohibited, and have even had crew be friendly when I have gotten up to take pictures of the shores of lake superior on the way back from London to Minneapolis.

    Southwest is really pulling it out every month becoming more and more of a market leader from a one time small budget carrier. I say they keep making all the right decisions.

  12. Chris says:

    Griffon (fifth post) really gets it all wrong. Cabin crew (Flight Attendants) are very highly trained safety/security professionals. Pretty much all the public ever sees (thankfully) is crew performing food/drink service activities. We train the crew to know what electronic devices can be used and when. We don’t get into the details of how the devices can disrupt flight deck systems or the studies that suggest reason for concern. Griffon laments over the fact that no crewmember has ever been able to present proof of a law prohibiting use of devices. They aircraft aren’t stocked with printouts of F.A.R.’s for passengers wanting proof before they will comply with crew instructions. 99.9% comply. Most airlines explain in their inflight magazines what’s prohibited and what isn’t. You can do a simple search on FAA.gov to locate the Federal Aviation Regulations (F.A.R.’s) that make illegal the use of various devices (look for “Part 121″ Regulations). Griffon, I’ve never met a crewmember who enjoyed conflict w/passengers about this matter – you suggest they seek out those not in compliance in order to be punitive. It is a legal requirement that the Flight Attendants ensure, to the best of their ability, that all electronics are off when they must be off – if they skip this duty they can be PERSONALLY fined by an FAA inspector up to $1,100. Finally, Griffon, the photography regulations were not put into place until after 9/11 – prohibition of filming Pilots, F/A’s, peforming their procedures, or the recording of saftey equipment is directly related to security issues (as I explained in my other post), not for any other reason.
    Hope this helps everyone.

  13. Roberto R. Mola says:

    First, after Sept 11, was the security paranoia (still present). Now we get the clear behaviour of all airline employee to make your life difficult, if any chance for someone suit them for any reason arise. Policies do not solve problems, good performance in corporate and operational management does!

  14. Carpenterbee says:

    Probably prohibiting photography because they plan to start charging for that perk. Probably 20 bux per flight, like pillows and blankets now cost extra.

  15. I’ve been taking photos from planes for years. British, Polish, German, French, Dutch airlines – never had a problem. Indeed on one BA flight, I was wielding a big 400mm lens for some air-to-air shots of another plane, and two flight attendants came up to me for a chat about digital photography – my opinions on SLR v. compact, which brand, etc.

    I was only once told I cannot take photos on take off and landing – on SwissAir (or whatever that country’s bankrupt national carrier is now called). The flight attendant was completely unable to explain why the airline had this policy.

    Can the electronics on a digital stills camera interfere in any way with an aircraft’s avionics? One for Mythbusters, I think.

  16. Tom says:

    I see things like this and I think one of two things: new personnel or there’s an upcoming or just was a flight-safety inspection. It always seems the new attendants and ones that either know an inspection is soon to happen (or were just dinged on one, recently) are the ones that are sticklers. For example, I’ve been carrying a rollable laptop backpack. The backpack is a touch long, so it doesn’t fit behind the line of the seat in front of me. When I’m not in an exit row, this shouldn’t and hasn’t been a problem. On one flight, it magically WAS a problem. Turns out the girl was new and was enforcing everything that was in her manual.

  17. When I have one of my many lovers with me on a flight to our little love nest, the very last thing I want is some mug waving a camera around.
    Planes are like restaurants and other public places, ask first, don’t assume!
    By the way I am a proffesional photographer, I don’t say this smugly either but I understand that everything isn’t for recording.
    Other than that take care and get as much joy as you can every day.

  18. I meant professional not proffesional. Sorry

  19. jman says:

    this happened to me yesterday! i was met by police and fbi after taking video of an altercation on an airline… what do i do? i feel violated.

  20. Adrian says:

    Bellow is link to the Airfrance website. It is a list of what you can bring on a plane. A camera is listed and further more, it does not say that it has to be turned off(like it says for cell phones and IT material)

    http://www.airfrance.com/RO/en/common/guidevoyageur/pratique/preparer_bagage_cabine_airfrance.htm

  21. As for getting Pujols, Im just hoping that somehow, someway, the Dodgers will be a player if Pujols becomes a free agent next year. I also wouldnt be in the least bit surprised if hes locked up by the Cardinals. And I doubt that the February 16th deadline he set is etched in anything resembling stone.