Is Photography Prohibited on an Airplane?


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.