United Airlines Kicks Travel Writer Off Of Plane For Photographing His Seat

from the not-how-you-attract-customers dept

This one is from a few weeks back, but it’s worth catching up on. In an age when pretty much everyone has a camera in their pocket via their telephone, it’s fairly crazy to try to enforce “no photography” rules — especially in places where they don’t make any sense. And, yet, for reasons that are not at all clear, United Airlines apparently has the following “no photography” rule for passengers on their airplanes:

But, of course, who would actually pay attention to something like that? Tons of people take photographs on airplanes. I’ve done it plenty of times. Yet, on one United flight a few weeks ago, apparently a flight attendant was being extra vigilant and running around the airplane demanding everyone stop taking photographs, even falsely claiming that it violated FAA regulations (it doesn’t). One of admonished passengers was a travel writer and a frequent United Airlines flyer, Matthew Klint, who blogs regularly (and positively) about the airline. He took the following photo:
The reason was that this was the first time he’d been on a plane with this configuration, and he intended to blog about it, as he’s done many times in the past. The flight attendant ordered him to stop, and he did so immediately. But then he decided to just let the flight attendant know why he had taken the picture, and that led to a ridiculous chain of events ending with him getting tossed off the flight.

Naturally, the FA’s warning bothered me and I felt the need to explain myself. I signaled for her to come back and asked her to hang my coat. I then said this verbatim—

“I want you to understand why I was taking pictures. I hope you didn’t think I was a terrorist. Here is my business card [offering her one]. I write about United Airlines on an almost-daily basis and the folks at United in Chicago are even aware of my blog.”

She took my jacket but refused to take my business card saying, “No, that’s okay,” then saying, “I did not know that” after I explained my reason for taking pictures. I again emphasize, I took no more pictures.

Just a few minutes later, he was told that the captain was ordering him off the plane. Klint eventually was able to speak to the captain who insisted that he had disobeyed the flight attendant, when he makes it clear he had not. It became a he-said/she-said debate and the airline, of course, won.

After the story started to get some attention, United reached out to Klint and claimed they were launching an “extensive internal investigation.”

Klint is, quite reasonably, pissed off about the flight attendant lying about his actions. And he feels United needs to earn back his trust (and he notes they have not offered any sort of apology). However, it seems the bigger issue is the whole “no photography” rule. It’s likely this was a rule that’s supposed to protect the “privacy” of fellow passengers, but it’s clearly one that was being misapplied by this flight attendant, who apparently stopped quite a few people from taking such pictures.

Yet, in an age where everyone has a cameraphone, the idea of stopping photographs in a settling like that isn’t just silly, it’s counterproductive and can be used (as in this case) to escalate a perfectly benign situation into a complete mess.

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Comments on “United Airlines Kicks Travel Writer Off Of Plane For Photographing His Seat”

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Re: The petty beaurocrat

This is something that you have to be careful of in general with dealing with any airline personnel either in the air on the ground. They can decide that they like you for no reason and prevent you from flying. You have no recourse.

In the terminal. At the gate. In the aircraft.

In any one of those places, an airline employee can suddenly decide to go on a power trip and there’s really not much you can do about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The petty beaurocrat

Especially if you are a reasonably well known and respected journalist with at least a decent sized readership. And you don’t really even need that. Just have a buddy start discreetly filming the entire interaction and then release it on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter then let it go viral.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Defamation is a tort

Weird, the page suddenly refreshed itself for no apparent reason and posted my comment with no actual mouse clicks from me in mid sentence. To finish my post:

Since Klint was financially harmed by the lies the FA told the pilot about him disobeying her orders, at least in the amount of the plane ticket and possibly other things like hotel costs, missed connections and reservations, etc…

He would have a pretty good defamation case against her if he were to sue her for it.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Airplanes are almost all privately owned and operated.”

Then why the fuck am I paying for air traffic controllers, surly wanna be rent-a-cops feeling up my balls, and standing in untested machines that are theater?

Shouldn’t they be paying their fair share for these wondrous services that they rely on?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, publicizing that you foiled a terrorist plot that wasn’t planned by the FBI in the first place so that they can take credit for it is what is apparently against the law. If you actually foil a real terrorist plot but don’t tell anyone about it, that’s ok with them because you made less work for them and helped keep them from looking bad for not doing the job that they are supposed to be doing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Most terrorist plots are in other languages written by foreigners and since almost no one working for the feds can speak two languages they are surely unable to foil any plots. They probably hire translators but my theory is fire all the useless FBI employees who need translators and just keep those who can speak more than one language.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Let me guess, you’re one of the people who don’t read the rules then beg for forgiveness? Or you’re just one with 100 page long criminal record because you break all the laws?

Worship rules? That’s rich. Follow rules != worship. You should really google the word before using it if you don’t understand it.

Disturbing indeed.

ralph says:


My wife and I were going to Puerto Rico a while back and our leg into Houston was rescheduled breaking our connection to San Juan. United never bothered to notify us by email or phone even though we bought electronic tickets online months before and they had both our phone and email address. No word at all. Nothing.

I guess United is too busy training their personnel to act like total morons.

Southwest Airlines is starting flights to San Juan. They seem to have it together a bit more.

Gabor Lukacs (user link) says:

Complaint filed against United ban on photography and video recording on board

On February 24, 2013, I filed a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency about the ban of United on photography and video recording on board. The federal regulator ordered United to answer the complaint by April 4, 2013.

I will be tweeting updates (@AirPassRightsCA). Stay tuned!

RyanNerd (profile) says:

Re: Re: 1st Rule of Flying

Where have you been living? Of course not. Here’s a short list of words that have the potential of not only getting you thrown off the plane, but arrested as well:

Al Queda
Ammonium nitrate
IED (Improvised Explosive Device)
Abu Sayyaf
FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces Colombia)
IRA (Irish Republican Army)
ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna)
Basque Separatists
Tamil Tiger
PLF (Palestine Liberation Front)
PLO (Palestine Libration Organization)
AQAP (Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula)
AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb)
TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan)
Home grown

Coogan (profile) says:

This is kinda what happens when you have:

A) 400 metric tons of federal laws, most of which are written so vaguely that they could be interpreted to criminalize improperly washing your hands after taking a leak.
B) Businesses that are petrified of being sued out of existence that they’ll write policies that have less give than a titanium mattress.
C) Employees that are petrified of being fired for showing the most minute sense of “oh, come the fuck on! It’s a picture of a backseat television! I seriously doubt he gonna single-handedly commandeer the plane and crash us into the Golden Gate Bridge” that they’d rather just keep their head down and not get themselves in trouble. After all, what does it matter to the pilot if the guy gets tossed off the plane?

mattshow (profile) says:

I’m not sure I even really understand what happened.

He was taking pictures. The flight attendant told him to stop. He did, but then called her back to explain to her why he had been taking pictures.

And then… the flight attendant told the captain he had disobeyed her? Was she confused and thought his explanation meant he didn’t plan to stop taking pictures? Did his explanation somehow offend her? Was she going to do that anyway, and the explanation wasn’t relevant? Was it his use of the word “terrorist”, as some people have theorized?

I can understand the flight attendant trying to enforce the policy. That’s often the way it is when you’re front-line staff. You get told the policies, and you get told it’s your job to enforce them, and you don’t have the authority to grant exceptions. Even if you think it’s a stupid policy, you don’t want to risk your job.

But I just don’t understand why the flight attendant would lie. It seems so weird.

Or maybe I’m missing something really obvious here. I’m very tired, so that’s quite possible.

The dude says:


The worst part of all is not the fact that they kicked him out of his fly; but the comments on his blog by sheeple.. i mean of course “people”, a lot of them say basically that he should have shut up and do as ordered, others said that it was his fault and that he should have let “sleeping dogs lie”.
This mentality is exactly what will lead to more and more of this shit, with people even defending this measures that are implemented for their own “good”.
In this age, everyone should be a Rosa Parks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Naturally, the FA’s warning bothered me and I felt the need to explain myself.

Oh, here we go. This is where it went wrong. He stopped taking pictures when the flight attendant told him to. He should have just left it at that and written something up in his blog about wanting to take pictures but not being allowed to. All he did (in the flight attendant’s mind) is get confrontational. Whether he was actually confrontational or not doesn’t matter…she seems to have perceived it that way and went crying to the captain. He should have just put his camera away, ordered a drink, and enjoyed his flight.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

the FA knew exactly what she was talking about, and “rule” and “law” makes no difference to her, she was following the rules she was trained to enforce.

just because she said “against the law” as opposed to “against the companies policy” still means you are not allowed.

as far as everyone including the FA is concerned, she is right, you are not allowed to do it, and she told you that fact.

because of that, you will no longer fly delta, because a flight attendant, said “law” instead of “rule” or “policy”.

I am sure Delta are devastated by this.. that someone with such a disgusting habit is not longer flying with them.

Anonymous Coward says:

this guy is a moron, he claims to be a seasoned traveller and wants to say the word terrorist to a flight attendant. What an idiot.

That is cause enough to warrant your removal off a plane.

Also even though airlines are often run by private companies they are public and a public space, the company cannot without reason deny the use of that service.

Same for any shop, it’s privately owned, but you cannot stop someone from a certain race or sex or skin color from using your shop, you can for security purposes require no photography or video.

It is a public place but you are not allowed to film and or photograph in ALL public places.

mattshow (profile) says:

An airplane is not a public place. United owns that plane (or at least controls it) and they have the power to limit who is and is not allowed to be on it. I’m sure that somewhere in the process of purchasing his ticket, obtaining his boarding pass and boarding the plane, the blog author put himself in a contractual relationship with United whereby he agreed that, in exchange for them letting him on board their plane, he agreed to pay them money and abide by their policies.

Talk of the 9th amendment is equally pointless. The Bill of Rights restricts the government’s power, not the power of corporations to include whatever conditions they like in their contracts. There do exist laws that have that effect, such as laws that prohibit corporations from adopting policies which discriminate against people on certain grounds, but the Bill of Rights isn’t one of them.

It’s not that I don’t think this is some truly horrendous customer service on the part of United. It is. In general I think the paranoia around photography is absolutely ridiculous. Anger is totally justified here, and boycotting United makes perfect sense. I just don’t think talking about the 9th amendment or having a “Is an airplane a public space?” argument makes sense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

an airplane is a public place only in that they need to have a valid reason for not allowing you to fly, such as your attitude, perceived risk, or as you said a breach of the contract you entered into with them when you purchased your ticket.

you are right, but in as far as they are not allowed to discriminate against your for many reasons such as race, sex, or disability applies as if it was a public place.

you most certainly are not allowed by default to photograph or film in private companies or some public places regardless of this.

Government offices are one place at least here in Australia, that are public places where there are signs posted specifically stating no recording, filming or photographs are allowed. And security guards to enforce that.

They can make that policy, just as an airline can make their own policies. They can define dress code, codes of conduct, no photography, no electronic devices. All sorts of things.

The issue with this person is we said “I am not a terrorist”, that is confrontational and is something any person of normal intelligence would never say on a commercial aircraft to a flight attendant.

She does not want a confrontation with you, nor does she want or need him to explain why he was taking a photo.

She asked him to stop, he should of simply complied and left it at that.

He brought up the subject of terrorism, something the airline industry in quite sensitive about.

Who in their right mind would say “I am not a terrorist” to a FA !!!! Especially someone who claims to be a seasoned air traveller and travel writer.

Any flight attendant who has just been told by a passenger ” I am not a terrorist” would be duty bound, and required to informed the captain and he in turn would be duty bound to remove him from the flight. Either by law, company policy or common sense.

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