A Miami photographer is claiming U.S. Airways did something very un-American on Friday: it kicked her off a flight after she photographed the name tag of a rude employee in Philadelphia. And that’s even after she apparently deleted the picture.
Sandy DeWitt told the photography blog Photography is Not a Crime on Saturday that an employee named Tonialla G. was being rude to several passengers in the gate area. DeWitt decided to snap a picture of the woman’s name tag so she could later complain. But after taking her seat on the plane, and minutes from take-off, the employee boarded the plane and confronted DeWitt.
“She told me to delete the photo,” DeWitt told the photography blog. DeWitt decided to oblige, mainly because the picture turned out too dark and was unusable anyway. But that apparently wasn’t enough enough for the employee:
“I complied with her wishes but it’s not something I would normally do,” she said. “It just wasn’t usable.”
But Tonialla G. wouldn’t let the issue go. She then walked into the cockpit to inform the pilot that DeWitt was a “security risk.”
Next thing DeWitt knew, she was being escorted off the plane by two flight attendants. Her husband followed.
“I announced to the other passengers that I was being removed because I took a photo,” she said. “ I announced that photography is not a crime.”
The irony in all this? DeWitt said she spoke to a U.S. Airways manager who confirmed that she was deemed a security risk, but despite her being labeled as such, he directed her to use another airline.
The story does seem odd at first glance. Are passengers really at the mercy of rogue airline agents who can deem anyone they don’t like a “security risk?” According to DeWitt’s story, yes.
But maybe there’s more to the story. Maybe DeWitt’s actions were suspicious. Maybe — but if that’s the case, why weren’t the police notified, and why was she directed to another airline?
A reader on the photography blog where the story first broke brings up some valid points if the story is true and there are no additional details. Mainly, the employee’s retaliatory actions make light of actual security threats (that is if DeWitt was generally not a security threat):
The flight attendant made a knowingly false statement about the security status of a passenger, with the intent to punish that passenger for behavior that is not only legal but, so far as we are aware as yet, does not even violate that airline’s policy or posted rules. It’s one thing for a flight representative to tell someone to stop and then punish them for not following your directives. That, at least, is (somewhat) supported by the FAA, assuming that the flight attendant’s directive is legally supported. (We’ll ignore that aspect for now.) But to claim that someone is a security risk (again, ignoring the reason why for the moment), *after they’ve already complied with your order* is a flat-out lie.
Airports have signs posted that “security is not a laughing matter”. I can only assume that this means they take this sort of thing seriously. So how will they handle an issue in which a passenger exhibited *no* risky behavior (who did something that, while the flight attendant may not have liked, was still legal), and the flight attendant lied to the pilot and to other flight attendants, thereby causing them to make a security decision they may not have otherwise if made aware of the facts, resulting in punitive action against and cost to the passenger (in adjustments to their schedule, possible missed connections and car/hotel reservations, as well as a possible hotel cost that night), as well as additional cost to the airline itself due to a delay in the airline’s schedule, two (her plus husband) lost seat revenue, and the cost of obtaining two seats on another airline – in this case, Southwest.
While this may just be a case of a flight attendant having a bad day or disliking having their picture taken, the fact remains that the flight attendant is in a position of power (that of being able to accuse a passenger of being a security risk and removing that passenger from the plane on such grounds), and this flight attendant seems to have clearly abused that power. In my mind, termination should be a given. What is questionable is whether or not there are grounds for legal charges stemming from making a false report. What happened here is just wrong, and that flight attendant has no business being in charge of passengers.
For what it’s worth, the passenger broke no laws, unless there is some kind of local statute against photography on planes, which would surprise me. Taking a photograph in airports (including screening areas, so long as it is not of the X-ray machine screens themselves) is not against TSA regulations. Just google “tsa photography section 2.7″ (without the quotes), and you’ll find everything you need to know. Now, taking a photo on private property (I suppose a US Airways plan could be considered their private property) is subject to restrictions if signs were posted, but it doesn’t sound like any were. Once the passenger is notified of a no-photography policy, they must stop or could be subject to trespassing charges, but the passenger did stop. And, prior to being asked to stop, any photographs taken are the private property of the photographer. Any request to delete them has no legal grounds, and being forced to do so could constitute destruction of property.
Know your rights, kids. ;-)
The Blaze reached out to U.S. Airways for comment but has not heard back.