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Do you know the rules about recording?

Jess McHugh
May 10, 2017

A United Airlines ticket agent canceled a passenger's reservation after the passenger recorded her with his smartphone.

Navang Oza, 37, arrived for his flight in New Orleans and was told that his oversized bag, which he said cost $125 to bring on the flight to Louisiana, would cost $300 to continue on to San Francisco. He said the United agent was rude to him, at which point he began filming her.

The airline employee can be seen on camera refusing to give her permission to be recorded, and then ordering someone else off-screen to cancel the man's reservation. Oza also admitted that he had been drinking and can be heard slurring his words in the video, but potential intoxication was not the reason given for canceling his reservation.

Who was in the right?

While the unnamed gate agent repeatedly says she does not give her permission for him to record her, the rules around how and when passengers can photograph or record in airports and on airplanes vary greatly.

Parts of an airport are technically public space, meaning that in most cases people can photograph and take video without needing permission of others. TSA noted in a 2009 blog post that passengers can even take photos while standing in the security line, although they might be questioned if they appear to be doing so for surveillance purposes or if their actions interfere with the screening process.

Public and private spaces vary airport to airport: At John F. Kennedy International in New York, for instance, the terminals are owned and operated by the carriers. Therefore, the terminal is private property and the airlines can decide the rules concerning photo and video, the Port Authority told Travel + Leisure.

The same goes for on the airplane itself.

On American Airlines, filming passengers or personnel goes against carrier rules and can result in airline crew asking passengers to delete photos or videos, or even removing them from the aircraft.

Which photos are allowed?

Many airlines note that photos and videos need to be for personal use only — like Instagramming an aerial shot or Snapchatting of your meal.

Southwest encourages passengers who want to record “personal events” to ask before they record customers or employees while always putting safety as the top priority, a spokesperson told T+L in an email.

“We wouldn't encourage an employee to altogether refuse video or photography but would expect them to kindly let the customer know their wishes if that were the case,” the spokesperson wrote.

Passengers who want to know the legality of recording devices on their flight should always check directly with the carrier, as many airlines do not make this information readily available on their websites. Many of the regulations have also changed with the rise of smartphone popularity.

Regardless of the legality in this particular case, United issued an apology, saying it would investigate the incident, NBC reported.

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