No photos, please

by Christopher Elliott on October 10, 2003

Q: Is there a rule against pictures of airplanes while at the gate? The reason I ask is that I was on a Delta Air Lines flight from Newark to Atlanta recently. I was taking pictures of the plane that I was about to board and a Delta employee asked me to stop taking pictures.

When I mentioned that I had not heard of any rule or regulation prohibiting such, I was informed that the gate area was a “security area” and that I could not take pictures. When I protested further, I was referred to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

I went to the TSA people at the security check-point and one of the agents said that there was indeed a Federal Aviation Administration rule. When I asked to see it in writing, I was told it that was classified and that I could not see it. I was also given two telephone numbers to call to verify this fact. Of the two numbers I was given, one turned out to be the airport police and the other was a toll-free number that did not work.

Can you help me get to the bottom of this?

– Neal Cohen

A: I can’t imagine how taking a picture would endanger the security of an aircraft. Nor do I know why an airline employee would take it upon himself or herself to enforce a rule like that. I mean, these aren’t cops – they’re gate agents and crewmembers. They have better things to do, right?

There’s no rule against snapping a photo of your plane, at least not according to the TSA.

“That’s ridiculous and I’m sorry that your reader had to deal with that nonsense,” says Lauren Stover, a TSA spokeswoman. “We all know what planes look like from the outside.”

The agent who told you about the “classified” regulation probably needs a little remedial training. The rules for passengers are available on the TSA Web site. If you’re interested in federal regulations regarding passenger screening, you can look those up on any number of Web sites (your best bet is to do a keyword search for “Code of Federal Regulations.”)

Why did the Delta employee ask you to stop taking pictures? True, once you get past the checkpoint you’re in a secure area, but it’s not secure in the same way as, say, the Pentagon. If I had to make an educated guess, I’d say the airline worker just didn’t want you photographing Delta employees at work.

I think you should respect the right of the airline employees to not be photographed. However, I don’t condone misrepresenting the truth to a customer either. The Delta employee shouldn’t have told you there was a rule against taking photos when there was clearly none.

Still, next time you want to take photos of a gate area, it’s best to ask the agents working there. Odds are they’ll tell you to go ahead. If they say no, put your camera away and take photos later.

This isn’t worth fighting over.

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