Flight Attendants Weigh in on the AA Photo Ordeal

Jun 21, 2015

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On a recent American Airlines flight, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig was harshly reprimanded for taking pictures from his seat for a review of AA’s 777-300ER business class. Today, three flight attendants weigh in on how the purser handled the situation.

A few days ago, I flew from New York to London on American’s new 777-300ER, en-route to the Paris Air Show. I was originally scheduled to travel in AA’s new 767 business-class cabin, but following a last-minute aircraft swap to a 767 with the far inferior angle-flat business seat, I requested a move to AA flight 100, the nonstop from JFK to LHR.

I planned to follow up on TPG’s review with my own take on the seat (considering that I’m of a more average height), but the purser decided that I was a threat to the safety of the aircraft — for taking pictures of the amenity kit, entertainment system, meal service and my girlfriend sitting next to me, while sitting in my own seat. A few flight attendants and pursers who heard the story offered to chime in with their opinion, which I’ll share below. Let’s start with TPG’s own Carrie A. Trey.

The last AA 777-300ER I'll be flying for a while.
The last AA 777-300ER I’ll be flying for a while.

Carrie A. Trey

She was totally out of line. I’ve flown with people like this before who just go over the top with everything. Some pursers are really sweet to crew but awful to passengers and this sounds like one of them. If I saw someone taking pictures and had questions about it, I would have a conversation with them to feel out the situation. If they shut down and refused to talk to me, starting behaving oddly or something along those lines, then you start to get suspicious and go from there. But a letter of approval and a conversation with your girlfriend without even speaking to you? That’s a load of crap. The only thing that really gets under crews’ skin, and I understand it, is if they are in the picture and you haven’t asked their permission first. That drives us crazy, and rightly so. The fact that she was nice in the end basically means that either the captain or the OCC (Operations Control Center — the people they would have contacted on the ground) told her to back down. And her asking if you wanted to speak to the Captain was another set up and it sounds like she was clearly trying to escalate the situation rather than defuse it.

A United Airlines Purser

I see both sides of the situation. Similar to AA, UA had an incident last year with a customer taking photos onboard a legacy UA flight to Istanbul from Newark. It wasn’t pretty. Both AA and UA lost planes in the September 11 attacks and ever since then their flight attendants have been left untrusting of anything “out of the norm.” It seems that AA let [you] down twice. The company should ensure that their crew know the policy since we live in an age where social media and smartphones are quite common. The purser also let [you] down by not asking supporting questions. Something as easy as “why would you choose to take the photos” or “what will you use the photos for.” I’ve had customers taking photos onboard and I simply ask for what purpose. It’s as simple as that. You get a sense when someone is either lying or hiding something. Being a flight attendant gives you that sixth sense. To be able to smell the BS! My advice for someone who may want to document their journey would be to communicate to the flight attendants. Maybe something like “we are excited to experience the cabin on this aircraft,” and not having to disclose that they’re writing for a travel blog.

I would have gotten a much better night's sleep on Delta.
I would have gotten a much better night’s sleep on Delta.

A Delta Air Lines Purser

Sounds like the purser started off trying to enforce policy and procedure but then got caught up, in over her head and unable to follow up correctly and thereby escalated the situation, maybe out of lack of knowing what to say or being able to factually back up her arguments. When she realized she was in over her head she resorted to a bit of a power trip to save face. Unfortunate for her. Part of our job, of course, is ensuring policies and procedures are followed, however situational awareness would have helped her avoid this mess she made. If I had noticed someone taking an “excessive” amount of photos I would have started up a casual conversation, maybe showing interest in photography and after talking, their blog or business. Then it would have become obvious to me that this person was not trying to film or photograph the crew personally without their knowledge/consent, or that they posed any sort of security threat. And then I would have obliged to more photos. Haha! But hey, I know we have a great product!

Ultimately, I got to my destination in one piece and on time. In many ways, my connection at Heathrow was even less pleasant than my experience on American — I’ll probably try to avoid both in the future. That said, I’m happy to give AA another shot once the airline clarifies its policy on photography. Based on the current policy (at the bottom of this post), I wasn’t violating any rules, but I can see how the purser may have interpreted the policy incorrectly. With clear language (and perhaps a more flexible policy), I’m confident that photographers can have a good experience without jeopardizing the safety of the passengers or crew.

As a final note, I’d like to point out that at the Paris Air Show, I had unrestricted access to Qatar’s Airbus A350. I was permitted to photograph the cockpit, every nook and cranny in the passenger cabins and even up above in the crew rest. If there was a legitimate security argument to be made, I can’t imagine that the airline would have encouraged (or even permitted) my photography.

If photography is really a threat to aircraft security, would Qatar have allowed photos of the cockpit?
If photography is really a threat to aircraft security, would Qatar have allowed photos of the cockpit?

More from the Paris Air Show:

If you’re a flight attendant (or passenger) and you’d like to share your opinion, please chime in below!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.