united airlines has been in the news worldwide after video footage of security personnel dragging a passenger off a plane in Chicago went viral. Blasting News reported on the story of a passenger who was chosen at random by computer software to leave the flight, in order to make room for United employees who needed to travel to Louisville. The man turned out to be a doctor who had to see patients the next morning and needed to go home. He ended up screaming and bloody as he was violently removed from the flight.

While the airline’s business is suffering from the controversy, it turns out that those who captured the incident on their phones and cameras could get into trouble too.

USA Today reports that according to United Airlines’ policy relating to electronic devices, passengers are allowed to take photos and video footage, but only if they are – as the policy states – “capturing personal events.”

A man being dragged violently off the plane does not constitute a personal event, except, of course, for the doctor himself. The policy says passengers are not allowed to capture images or video footage of airline personnel or other passengers without their consent.

Videos of doctor dragged from flight contravene United Airlines' policy

If United Airlines decided to hold to their policy, this would technically mean that those who took the controversial footage did so in violation of the airline’s policies and could be barred from future United Airlines flights, or even face legal charges in civil court.

However, according to legal and aviation experts, it is reportedly doubtful that the airline will take that stand.

According to Perry Flint – speaking for the International Air Transport Association which reportedly represents 265 airlines – he personally does not know of any airline that went after a passenger for taking video on a flight.

Flint said, it happens all the time – people take video footage and post it to social media with all kinds of incidents, including anything from unruly passengers to funny cabin crew announcements.

Unlikely that United Airlines will take action against videographers

The Independent reports that the policy in question only relates to United Airlines, as the plane is a private space operated by the airline, so those taking video footage were only in violation of United’s policy, but not the law.

The only legal restriction relating to cameras and planes applies during takeoff and landing and relates to the use of electronics and airline safety. That news report points to reporters who were removed, either from an airport or a flight, for taking video at the wrong time, including Mashable reporter David Yi and Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks.

USA Today quotes Anthony Rickman, a former prosecutor now working as a defense attorney in Tampa, as saying even if the airline did pursue legal action, they are already facing a huge public relations nightmare, which could only get worse if they went after the passengers who took the footage. While Rickman says they were, indeed, violating United Airlines’ policies but he believes with all the bad press already out there, it is doubtful.