Passenger On American Airlines Flight Detained, Had Cell Phone Seized For Taking Photos

A flight attendant for American Airlines wholly-owned regional carrier PSA detained a passenger and confiscated his phone when the plane had arrived at its destination. The passenger explained that they were already on the jet bridge headed into the terminal, but the crewmember wanted to review the phone’s photos to see whether they appeared in any of the shots.

The man, a professional photographer who has done work for airlines, reported that at the request of this flight attendant one of the pilots prevented him from proceeding the rest of the way off the flight and that he was marched back onto the aircraft where the phone was taken out of his hands.

To be clear, the passenger explains they were detained and had their property seized by employees of American Airlines Group. And this was done for – at most – suspicion of violating a company policy. And it occurred when the passenger was not even on the aircraft.

Taking photographs on board an aircraft is not illegal in the United States, nor is taking photographs of other people in public. Interfering with various duties, or obstructing people physically are another matter. However airlines often have their own policies against photographing crew without their consent, and an airline might choose not to do business with a passenger over it.

If passengers hadn’t recorded video of Dr. David Dao being dragged off a United flight, and also of his bloody return, do you think United would have ever changed its story from ‘apologizing for having to re-accommodate passengers’ to declaring the events truly horrific?

The widespread use of cell phone video has become important to document events and create proof when bad things happen.

A spokesperson for American Airlines tells me, “A member of our Customer Relations team has reached out to learn more about the customer’s experience.” The passenger reports that American acknowledges their crewmember should not have touched his phone and that they “had opened an internal investigation on the incident.”

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. That’s why I fly UA. I get lame FAs who can’t be bothered to say literally anything more than three words, “chicken or pasta,” in the most expressionless manner with a countenance that looks like they hate both their lives and their jobs.

  2. I actually have sympathy for the AA FAs here because it’s never pleasant to be in a photo without your consent. Obviously their reaction was outrageous and improper which is why I don’t fly AA.

  3. This is a criminal offense. There are several felonies here. No the camera phone photographer but the flight attendant and captain. I hope they are arrested and charged.

  4. They don’t need to be arrested and charged. This kneejerk reaction is why our criminal courts are overwhelmed and our prison population is well above any other country’s. What an AA executive needs to do is hand write a letter to this passenger apologizing profusely and offering a $1,000 travel credit plus an Admirals Club membership for at least three years. The pilots and flight attendants in question should be told in no uncertain terms that you do not grab a passenger’s phone, and that if they are not comfortable appearing in photographs, they should not be in a public facing job.

  5. The correct answer here is “no.”

    Give me your phone. No.
    Let me see your pictures. No.
    Get back on the plane. No.

    This isn’t hard. When the police show up, the answers remain the same. They want your phone or photos? They get a warrant.

  6. The man would have been in his right to use physical force to break free from the criminal flight attendant and captain who were falsely imprisoning him or use force to place them under citizens arrest. The flight attendant and captain committed a crime.

  7. OJ Simpson went to prison for this. An apology from the airline ain’t gonna cut it. Not even close.

    Catchphrase for flying in the 21st century: I want my LEO.

  8. This is what small claims court is for. The passenger sues the FA and the captain, individually, for whatever the maximum is in the state where this happened, could be between $5,000 and $10,000. Don’t sue AA.

    Do this enough times and this conduct will stop.

  9. Inquiring minds want to know what activities the PSA flight attendants from the American Airlines wholly-owned regional carrier were doing when they decided to detain passengers and seize phones, cameras, or other personal property. For example, this passenger may have inadvertently recorded photographic evidence that this PSA flight crew misbehaved or had an unsafe practice. In retaliation, the PSA flight crew wants to inspect, delay, detain, expunge or confiscate intellectual property like a photograph from some passengers before allowing their customers to continue to their next destination.

  10. And this is why one airline should not be able to have you banned from flying all airlines.

    If he had not complied in any way, I would anticipate they’d try to get him banned from all airlines.

  11. Has the passenger been released from American Airlines incarceration cell yet?
    Or still serving time?

  12. The correct response was to kick the crap out of the FA who was attempting to commit kidnap / unlawful detention. The bell with them.

  13. Cupcake believes he was detained and his phone seized. As America swirls down the toilet bowl.

  14. @FlyingWhileAnIdiot
    You’d never have the b*lls to call someone cupcake to their face, which makes you the piece of sh*t circling the drain.

    I’m with @Fred, since this was an unlawful detainment an what certainly sounds like an attempted kidnapping, the photographer should have used whatever force necessary to escape confinement.

  15. “Reached out to learn more about the customer’s experience” is PR/lawyerese for “this guy is going to sue us and we’re going to lose big, but we can’t say so here.”

  16. @Ritz and @Fred were the boys that had their lunch money taken everyday by the school bully and are so happy they can pretend to be tough guys now behind a computer screen. Such bravado.

  17. Let’s not forget that Dr. Dao didn’t board the aircraft with a boarding pass as normal and then was asked off the flight. He was denied boarding, then pitched a fit and broke loose down the jetbridge then onto the plane. The police were quickly there b/c it was a security breach b/c he was never boarded on the flight.

    Blame United all you want for the oversale and the reasons for the oversale, but let’s not forget that passengers can’t just break the law and do what they want just b/c they are angry the way a situation went. This is happening more and more these days and is becoming a dangerous precedent.

  18. The airline was completely out of line and actually committed crimes. I hope the photographer sues them, he did nothing illegal.

  19. Don’t forget that bigots like Colette Smith will always exist, who twist facts to suit their narrative.
    Hopefully Colette Smith gets her viral moment on a racist tirade some day and loses her job and reputation.

  20. Nice to see the amateur squad at work here.

    1. An aircraft is not a public space. The airline can completely control the use of photographic equipment within its space. Crew members might have gone beyond that policy, but AA has the right to prohibit camera use on its planes.

    2. As a professional photographer, he should know the rules for taking photos of private individuals and in non-public spaces. And that without a signed release, you can’t use photos of any individual commercially.

    3. Should the FA have grabbed his phone? No. Can they ban you for taking photos of crew members without their permission? You bet.

    Bad behavior all around here.

  21. @Ritz Untwist your thong it’s way too tight and the water you think you want to swim in is way too deep for you.
    So many shade tree lawyers looking for an angle…lulz

  22. @C-M really? Public space? The airline has to say no cameras at all period . You can take pictures of everyone . You can not use them commercially with out their consent but you CAN use them for journalist reasons.

    Do not make up rules that are not in the contact of carriage.

  23. @tomri – Wrong. An aircraft is not a “public space”.

    Washington Post, March 14, 2018 – “United’s photography policy, which is typical for a U.S. airline, notes that taking pictures or video on its aircraft is permitted “only for capturing personal events.” It goes on to note that “photography or recording of other customers or airline personnel without their express prior consent is strictly prohibited.””

  24. @C_M

    Your comments assume facts not in evidence, i.e., that he actually did it. Amateur squad indeed.

  25. @Jack the Lad – The guy posted the photo he took on Twitter. Gary has it embedded above. There are crew members in the background.

    Who am I going to believe, you or my lying eyes?

  26. Even if the space inside the plane was not a public space, American does not have police powers. I concede that federal law (outside my speciality) may delegate the cabin crew certain powers in the air to detain unruly or otherwise combative passengers in the wake of 9/11. These detentions can include plastic handcuffs or other methods of restraint. However, the moment that plane lands, pulls up to the gate and opens the boarding door, the crew loses any special powers. If the captain or flight attendant wanted a passenger detained they should have had the gate agent call police. Period. What the crew allegedly did in this circumstance constitutes a crime; in fact, several crimes. Depending on the jurisdiction, we are likely talking felonies for impersonating a police officer, unlawful imprisonment, kidnapping, and battery. The crime at common law of disturbing the peace would certainly be a catch-all too.

  27. @Noise – You might be correct, but that is a better argument for a legal brief than in real time. In the meantime, federal law and FAA regulations are so broad that the crew is going to assume they always have the power to instruct passengers for the “safety of the aircraft and crew”, even when the aircraft is on the ground. They might win on the idea that also, it’s a toss-up, while accused rule violator has to go through all sorts of hoops just to get out of airline jail.

    It’s sort of like the pedestrian who argues he has the right to cross the street because he has the right of way in a crosswalk. That is technically true, but you’ll also wind up dead if you assert that right on a highly trafficked street.. Better to exercise caution than to assert your rights as absolute.

  28. C_M – you’re a boot locker. Ray and Tim – no, I suspect you were the little bitches getting owned in school. Run along, kiddies.

  29. It’s interesting how this blog slowly evolved into a forum for a handful of people to just post hateful insults of each other.

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