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Pics on a Plane: How Airlines Are Missing Their (Potentially Awesome) Shot

Matthew Klint's picture of his business class media screen

Pics on a Plane: Shoot & Get the Boot – Matthew Klint’s Offensive Shot

On top of all the controversy about the supposed threat that mobile telecommunications devices have on airline communications comes a bizarre story about United Airlines tossing a well-known travel blogger off one of a flight to Istanbul from Newark, NJ for snapping a photo of the screen in front of his seat.


From various reports, it sounds like one particular flight attendant (FA) lost her marbles. After asking Matthew Klint to cease and desist from capturing media, the FA went to the captain of the flight with stories of perceived threats. Mr. Klint then got kicked off the plane. No big arguments, no yelling. Mr. Klint has witnesses and corroboration from police investigations that he was nothing but calm and didn’t even argue. He reports that he simply put away his phone and tried to reach out to the FA to explain his simple action of taking a pic for his popular travel blog. Mr. Klint wasn’t trying to expose any wrongdoing by the airline. He was sitting in business class and was happy about it.


Mr. Klint wound up getting to Instanbul despite the problem, and United has yet to apologize for the incident but says they are investigating.


This is another case of the tech outrunning the culture. Police and governments are also having a hard time dealing with a media-enabled public. Grass-roots groups are popping up everywhere to inform the public of their First Amendment rights.


Mr. Klint was aboard a private vessel. The owners of that vessel are free to enact almost any terms of service they deem necessary. United has put forth a policy that informs customers that any use of media capture is unwelcome. (The FA in the Klint case is reported to have said that there are FAA regulations against the use of cameras, but probably was thinking of the rules banning wireless mobile use.)


Out and about, though, the First Amendment ensures a lot of freedoms to capture media. Those who are out in public give up a reasonable expectation of privacy and should be prepared to be recorded. If you want to move around incognito, there are spy techniques and technology hacks that can fool cameras/face-recognition software, but one word of advice: don’t start snapping shots of your surroundings. That still gets immediate unwanted attention.


If I were in charge of United’s creative direction, I’d embrace the tech. This would be more of a Virgin approach, but I’d think up ways that the flight attendants themselves and perhaps the planes/seats could be destinations to “check into” a la Foursquare or other social media apps. I could see sweepstakes, geo-caching-like gifts given from person-to-person (like wheresgeorge), and other games growing out of such efforts. Travelers will pick up the games, because they are social and they will pique their curiosity in a usually mind-numbing situation. United could hide QR codes in various places on the plane for the media savvy customers, offering coupons or simply fun videos as prizes.


Flying is such a pain. Having “famous” flight attendants to meet and planes and seats to occupy and share with like-minded travelers and friends would add a layer of social fun that could translate into more customer loyalty. Flight attendants should be posing for pics with customers instead of deplaning them. There are many creative opportunities for airlines to grow and maintain a new generation of customer base. They just have to wake up and smile for the camera.