Yesterday, while on my return flight from Salt Lake City where I was attending the World Horror Convention, I pulled out a copy of United Airlines’ inflight magazine Hemispheres from the seat pocket in front of me, something I tend to do when the plane begins its descent and I’m forced to put away my electronic devices.
And while looking at the fine print in the back—you know, those pages where you’re told what you can’t bring on board (“liquid and explosive devices”) and how to avoid getting those pesky pulmonary embolisms (“with foot on floor, gently roll the sole of the foot inward), I discovered a notice I’d never seen before.
At the bottom of page 121, I found a block of text that read:
The use of still and video cameras, film or digital, including any cellular or other devices that have this capability, is permitted only for recording of personal events. Photography or audio or video recording of other customers without their express prior consent is strictly prohibited. Also, unauthorized photography or audio or video recording of airline personnel, aircraft equipment of procedures is always prohibited. Any photography (video or still) or voice or audio recording or transmission while on any United Airlines aircraft is strictly prohibited, except to the extent specifically permitted by United Airlines.
I can sort of understand United not wanting me to violate the privacy of the guy in the next row sticking peas up his nose, but what if a pilot suddenly freaks out and starts shouting about al-Qaida, or a flight attendant begins rambling about 9/11? You know any passengers not involved in jumping on top of the offender will be whipping out his or her iPhone and recording the event. The problem is, though, that technically, the fine print of United’s rule prohibits that.
But what did those words really mean?
I decided to call United and ask.
I phoned the United corporate service department and explained my concern. Would United start confiscating our handheld devices upon landing if we were to whip them out when something outrageous happened in flight?
I’m pretty sure I completely baffled the friendly CSR to whom I put the question, after which I then listened to “Rhapsody in Blue” for ten minutes while she apparently attempted to get some direction from a supervisor. When she came back, I was told that, “It depends on the circumstances and I really can’t answer that question.”
I asked if this was a new policy and was told that it wasn’t. I asked if there was anyone else I could speak to who could might be more familiar with this policy and could give me further details, maybe her manager or someone higher up the corporate ladder, and was told, no, I couldn’t. The only thing more I could get her to share was that, “You can’t if there’s nothing wrong on the flight.”
So there you have it. Regardless of the literal meaning of the above words, if you ever do happen to see a bunch of mother@#$%in’ snakes on a mother@#$%in’ plane, feel free to thumb that record button whether the mother@#$%in’ snakes have given their “express prior consent” or not.