Garuda Indonesia Reverses Photo Ban Amidst Public Backlash
Amidst a public relations nightmare, Indonesian flagship carrier Garuda Indonesia has reversed a recent injunction banning passengers from taking pictures and video on board.
On July 13, Indonesian travel vlogger Rius Vernandes discovered a handwritten note that he described as the menu for business class passenger meals on his Garuda Indonesia flight from Sydney (SYD) to Bali (DPS). Vernandes shared his discovery on his social media channels, along with his thoughts on the matter.
The response, both positive and negative, was swift. Vernandes has more than half a million followers on YouTube and more than 122,000 followers on Instagram, whose quick comments and reshares made the menu go viral. The viral discovery led to widespread online mockery of Garuda Indonesia, the nation's flag carrier.
The airline did not take lightly to this. Garuda Indonesia distributed an internal memo to employees the following day, July 14, stating that passengers and flight crew were to be banned from taking in-flight photos and videos.
And just three days later, Vernandes posted images of two letters from the Indonesian police, demanding that he and his travel partner appear before authorities for questioning. Indonesia's strict electronic transactions laws may result in Vernandes and his fiancée facing defamation charges, according to Reuters.
Vernandes appealed to his followers and "fellow influencers" for support, saying, "I hope you can help share and support me through this problem because I don’t want to see that, in the future, whenever we review something as is, whenever we give constructive criticism, we can be criminalized."
In response to severe public backlash, Garuda backed down from its anti-photo policy within days, claiming that the memo was just an appeal for passengers to respect the privacy of other travelers and flight crew on duty.
"This appeal is also based on reports, suggestions and input from customers/passengers who feel uncomfortable and disturbed by the shooting and documentation of activities without prior permission,” Garuda spokesman Ikhsan Rosan told Reuters, adding that there was no correlation between Vernandes's post and the internal directive.
Tomy Tampatty, the head of Garuda’s labor union, told reporters that the police report against Vernandes had been filed by several airline employees, not the airline itself. Tampatty said that the employees felt the vloggers were "causing a negative perception...towards the country’s national flag carrier," according to Reuters.
Even before the menu incident, Garuda Indonesia has struggled with bad publicity for some time. Just two weeks prior to Vernandes's menu discovery, the airline was criticized for serving business class passengers food catered from Japanese fast food chain HokBen. The carrier has also been under heavy financial scrutiny.