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Airline passengers' right to video gets push from incidents in air, on ground

Kelly Yamanouchi, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA -- When things go wrong on an airline flight, a picture is worth a thousand words -- and a video can be worth even more.

That's become evident over the last several months, amid a string of viral videos showing passengers getting booted off flights, altercations between crew and passengers, and the United Airlines passenger dragged off a plane.

With smartphone cameras in the hands of nearly every passenger, episodes that once would have been barstool stories now become national news.

Which raises the question of whether passengers have a right to whip out the phone and start recording whenever they want.

Airlines have in some instances prohibited flyers from recording on planes or at the airport. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines says in its in-flight magazine: "If a crew member asks you not to use your camera/mobile device, follow his or her instructions."

A recent filing with the U.S. Department of Transportation asks the federal government to clarify the issue and say airline passengers have a right to record to resolve disputes.

"Passengers face significant challenges in their efforts to hold airlines accountable for service they view as deficient or worse," wrote Ben Edelman, a Harvard Business School associate professor and consumer advocate, in his request for rulemaking.

"Airlines and airline staff improperly attempt to block this market-based mechanism by banning recordings and purporting to ban recordings."

It's currently a gray area, pitting consumer rights against privacy rights, business owners' interests and security concerns.

The DOT says it's reviewing Edelman's filing.

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