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United Gives Passengers More Flexibility to Capture Photos and Video On Board

July 23, 2018
5 min read
United Gives Passengers More Flexibility to Capture Photos and Video On Board
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When I heard that United would be updating its onboard photo and video policy, I was certain the carrier would be making it more difficult for passengers to photograph flight attendants and other staff members — after all, a more restrictive policy could theoretically serve to reduce the number of incidents that end up escalating to become viral hits.

As it turns out, that isn't the case at all — United is actually relaxing its policy, giving passengers more flexibility when it comes to capturing experiences on board.

Currently, the policy states:

"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."

While it clearly hasn't stopped many passengers from whipping out their photos and hitting record, that last sentence makes it clear that anyone who photographs another individual on a United aircraft is clearly in violation, unless they specifically request (and receive) permission to do so.

That restriction has been significantly modified in the airline's new policy, however:

"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."

It'll still be up to flight attendants to determine if passengers are "[creating] a safety or security risk," but as long as they aren't interfering with a crew member's duties, they should be in the clear.

It's often a-okay to capture photos onboard. Photo by Zach Honig.

The airline explained the change in a memo to flight attendants:

"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."

The new policy clearly emphasizes a need for flight attendants to consistently offer service that's in line with the company's new "Core4" employee values: Caring, Safe, Dependable and Efficient. Assuming a crew member is compliant, there shouldn't be any reason they wouldn't want to be photographed performing their duties.

The new policy is less restrictive than American's:

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"The use of still and video cameras, film or digital, is permitted only for recording of personal events. Unauthorized photography or video recording of airline personnel, other customers, aircraft equipment or procedures is prohibited."

... and Delta's:

"You may use small cameras/mobile devices to take pictures on your flight. Always get consent from other passengers and crew members before including them. If a crew member asks you not to use your camera/mobile device, follow his or her instructions."

As a photographer who's often tasked with "recording personal events" during a flight, for the purposes of a review, United's new policy will theoretically make it easier to do my job. I've captured photos on countless flights over the years, and I've only had issues on one.

I do try to be fairly discreet, though, since taking dozens of pictures of cabins, seats and entertainment systems can be a dead giveaway that I'm there for the purposes of a review, which could impact the service I receive during a flight. In some cases, we don't have a choice but to reach out to the airline for permission in advance, but most of the time photography hasn't been an issue. And it doesn't hurt that I go to great lengths to avoid getting other passengers in my photos.

For "regular" passengers, United's new policy should make it possible to photograph a travel adventure freely. As always, it's critical that you follow crew member instructions, however — if you're told to stop shooting, be sure to comply right away, and consider calmly and politely referencing the airline's photo policy. Hopefully you'll be given the go-ahead to continue shooting, assuming you aren't creating a safety or security risk, or otherwise interfering with a flight attendant's duties.