Airlines Crack Down on Inflight Photography… While Delta Now Officially Encourages It!

It’s common for airlines to have photography policies, even if they aren’t well known or publicized and even if they are ignored for the most part. They usually are something like “you may photograph your own personal events” (which is fairly undefined) but may not photograph crew or equipment.

People break this rules every day without knowing it, the rules are mostly there to be enforced when the airline wishes to do so or when a particular flight attendant is having a bad day (reasonable people can disagree on the appropriateness of photographing people which in the US is generally fine to do in public out in the open, but I don’t think there’s much of an argument against photographing your seat, meal, or the inflight entertainment system).

Last month extended their onboard photography restrictions to include the gate area as well.

United publishes its photography policy in its inflight magazine (a strange place for it, I think).

ONBOARD PHOTO AND VIDEO POLICY United Airlines strives to provide customers with a safe and pleasant travel experience. The use of any device for photography or audio and/or video recording is permitted only for capturing personal events. Any photography or recording of other customers or airline personnel without their express prior consent is strictly prohibited. Any photography (still or video) or recording (audio or video) of airline procedures or aircraft equipment is strictly prohibited, except to the extent prior approval has been specifically granted by United Airlines. This policy is not a contract and does not create any legal rights or obligations.

United rarely enforces this, but when they do they take it seriously. Just ask Matthew (who also notes the irony of United releasing a safety video showing a passenger photographing a flight attendant).

Interestingly, then, via World Airline News Delta established a hashtag (#PhotogInFlight) and gallery for your next travel photos taken inflight.


Headed to someplace new? Share a photo of it from the air using #PhotogInFlight (this gives us the right to use your photo as our cover image).

Delta’s ‘taking off’ blog doesn’t exactly say what you can take pictures of, and this encouragement notwithstanding might still object to other things which another airline could object to in 1 of 10,000 flights.

But they also don’t make clear, through this encouragement, that there’s anything off limits, though I think we can reasonably assume anything safety related might be off-limits because we live in a hyper-paranoid society.

Maybe they’re just asking you to submit incriminating evidence?

As for restrictions on inflight photography, especially as it relates to the plane itself and its interiors — I am not a lawyer, let alone a specialist in aviation law or freedom of expression, but I wonder how much legal scrutiny these prohibitions would survive. The TSA cannot prohibit photography, with specific exceptions, so I think it’s fair to say that photography is not inherently a safety concern.

You do have to generally follow the instructions of crew members while inflight. Courts have repeatedly held that the broad latitude granted to airlines to enforce policies for safety reasons has some limits – an airline’s claim that an action is taken for safety cannot be unreasonable or irrational and ‘must be justified by the facts’.

The airlines own or have some property rights over the aircraft, so unlike inside most airports the aircraft isn’t a public space.

I’d love to hear from lawyers with knowledge of these issues.

Although in practice of course the airline can deny you boarding, or divert and offload you and refer you to law enforcement, and any recourse would be costly — and at a minimum you wouldn’t get where you were going when you intended to get there no matter the strength of your legal position.

Do you take photos when you fly?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Paranoid Seppo’s, how funny, carry a gun but don’t you dare take a photo. How friggin ridiculous. Like I said, paranoid Seppo’s LOL

  2. Maybe the airline has some case authority which indicates that such a policy could allow them to exclude improperly obtained evidence from legal proceedings.

  3. Mate, it’s an aeroplane, people fly, they take photos, whats the big deal, apart from you Seppo’s, most of us aren’t walking around or in this case flying around worrying about who’s gonna sue. You Seppo’s are out of control. Whatever happened to freedom, liberty and all that BS. You became paranoid and this is, and you are, about as paranoid as it gets. You’re all bloody mad mate

  4. Cool, LOL. It’s very much a term of endearment my friend. Besides, i am married to one and have 5 kids, all seppo’s

  5. many (most?) large companies prohibit photography on their premises – I would guess that many of you reading this at work right now are technically covered by some corporate prohibition against taking photos in your workplace (some of you might be surprised by this, but you might want to go look it up or ask HR). Of course, these policies are routinely ignored. Just an artifact of our crazy, litigation-happy society. I’m sure it’s a general CYA policy that’s only pulled out when needed (for example, after someone is fired and they challenge it).

    That said, on my last United flight, me and my wife were invited to the flight deck (prior too takeoff), where the captain let me sit at the controls and took pictures of me seated there, and I took a dozen more of the flight crew and us with their obvious consent (and delight, actually – they were obviously enjoying it). Later, in flight, everyone was taking photos of themselves and their travel companions in their seats (upper deck of a 747 in Business class) and the flight attendants took pictured of everyone who wanted them. About a year ago. Awesome flight!

  6. @seppo is right. Many, many companies prohibit photography. By employees and by customers. Ironically no one has ever asked my permission, to video tape me, any where. It seems anyone can video tape any one. No permission/release required.

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