Did Ann Coulter's Twitter Tirade Break a Law?
The conservative commentator's recent run-in with Delta Airlines raises the question: Do passengers have the right to take photos on aircraft?
A recent public battle between political commentator Ann Coulter and Delta has brought a question to light: What rights do travelers have when it comes to snapping pics and videos onboard aircrafts?
After she was moved to a different seat on a Delta flight from New York City to Florida on Saturday, July 15, Coulter took to Twitter to express her anger over the matter. Having paid an extra $30 in advance for a seat with extra legroom, Coulter published a series of angry Tweets, calling the airline “fascists,” insulting the crew members and the flight’s passengers and going on to publicly argue with the company.
In response, Delta promised to refund Coulter $30, issuing a statement apologizing for the mix-up, while also saying: “We are disappointed that the customer has chosen to publicly attack our employees and other customers by posting derogatory and slanderous comments and photos in social media. Her actions are unnecessary and unacceptable.”
During her Twitter tirade, Coulter also snapped and tweeted a photograph of the person sitting in her previously booked seat. In another tweet, she even insulted the woman, calling her “dachshund-legged.”
Hey @Delta, if it was so important for the dachshund-legged woman to take my seat, she should have BOOKED THE SEAT IN ADVANCE. Like I did.— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) July 16, 2017
Taking photos and videos onboard an aircraft has been a grey area for some time now. And it turns out that might be because there’s no official policy set by the Federal Aviation Administration about photography onboard an aircraft. Instead, it’s up to the airlines.
However, without the help of smartphones and social media, events such as David Dao being forcibly dragged off the United flight in April may have gone unnoticed. Yet, it turns out, the people who took the videos of the incident could have also been removed from the flight for violating United’s policy, which reads: “The use of small cameras or mobile devices for photography and video is permitted on board, provided you keep the purpose of your photography and video to capturing personal events. Photographing or recording other customers or airline personnel without their express consent is prohibited.”
United is not the only airline to have such a policy, however it is one of the few to publish one online. American Airlines, JetBlue and Delta also reportedly have similar policies in place, however these airlines have internal policies that give airline employees the rights to prohibit people from taking photos as a means to “protect” the privacy of airline employees.
In a May 26 email from American Airlines CEO Doug Parker shared today by a company spokesperson with Entrepreneur, Parker wrote: "When videotaping infringes on the safety or security of a flight, we have the right to request that filming stop… American has a policy asking customers not to film onboard or at airports, but there is no federal law or regulation that prevents it. Nor will law enforcement require customers to delete photos or videos they’ve taken.”
It turns out, it’s not only on aircrafts where photography is often prohibited. In 2016, former Mashable writer David Yi took a video of an American Airlines gate agent speaking to passengers of a delayed American flight. Upon seeing Yi filming, the gate agent said: "Sir, if you're recording, that's against the law. We can take you to jail for that.” Shortly after the incident, local police escorted Yi out of the Charlotte airport.
While photography is acceptable in airports because they are considered “public” areas, the case is different when it comes to aircrafts. “Individuals are free to take photos/videos in the checkpoints. Checkpoints are public areas,” TSA representative Lisa Farbstein shared. However, once you’re on an aircraft -- beware.
“You can’t prohibit photography in public,” Daniel Greenberg, an attorney who specializes in photography rights issues, told the Huffington Post. “But the prohibition of photography on private property is legitimate. That decision is up to the property owner. If you don’t want to follow the carrier’s rules, don’t get on the carrier’s plane.”