a cell phone with a screen

If it goes viral, definitely…

The molotov cocktail known as relations between airlines, hotels and customers is now bubbling over as social media reigns supreme and camera phones record cinematic quality video, shared in mere seconds with the world. At an alarming rate, the difference between “we’re sorry for your travel trouble, but we can’t offer you anything” and “you’ve just won a million dollar settlement” comes down to proof, and this brings one important question into the mix: is it ok to videotape airline or hotel employees?

a man taking a selfieLegally

Legally, the right to videotape or record people varies by country, and in some countries, even by state. What may be perfectly acceptable in Atlanta may not be in Boston, and vice versa. Legally, this is far more crystal clear than what’s fair. In confined spaces like planes, trains, automobiles, it’s virtually never ok, and generally the only time you’ll feel cabin crew wrath is if you catch one of them in your photo or video. But even in states, planes or countries where legal protections exist, can someone working such a customer forward job truly expect full privacy? It’s a question, not a statement – but it’s a fair one…

Latest Issue

A news story is making the rounds today, after a Caucasian female employee at Delta’s baggage desk in Boston was aggressive and rude to an African American customer whose bags had been lost. You can view the incident here. According to reports, Delta ignored the woman for weeks, until she aired her video, in which the employee is seen calling the police on her rather than taking accountability, after a series of inexcusable remarks and behavior.

a cell phone with a colorful screenFairness To Employees

Most, 99%+ of airline and hotel employees are wonderful, hardworking people and receive far more negativity and downright meanness than they could ever deserve. It’s despicable to see and is never ok. In fairness to cabin crew members, customer service agents, concierge, front desk managers and anyone else, it’s ALWAYS best to try to resolve an issue privately, without…

  1. profanity
  2. threats
  3. the use of any recording devices
  4. raised voice
  5. personal insult

Starting with your phone recording will always escalate things. Quite often the person that an airline or hotel has put forward to deal with you is not the person that has wronged you, and taking your anger with the brand out on a person trying to alleviate a situation is never ok. And it’s important to be accountable for how far yo want to push an issue. Not getting an upgrade is never a reason to “go viral”, so put the phone down. Be logical, listen to their side, ask for help, make them actually want to help you (by not being a jerk) and go from there. If this tact fails, as it appeared to in the most recent incident, I say yeah – let loose with the video or audio, even better if you do it discretely to capture the unpleasantness of the person in its purest form. If you’ve followed steps 1-6, you should never, ever have the police called on you.

The Gauntlet

I travel more than most, and if I had video evidence of some of the things which have happened to me on planes, I may actually own an airline myself. I recently had a drawn out verbal altercation with an airline employee, who went on an extreme power trip, threatening to kick me off a flight for taking pictures, even though I had prearranged picture access with the airline in advance, via their media team. If I went the aggressive in your face video route, I no doubt would’ve had a big story, but I also would’ve been arrested in Bangkok and missed my flight.

If not for video, the Dr. Dao incident would not have been a viral story which may or may not have helped to teach airlines about treating customers with dignity. If not for video, we wouldn’t have ever seen or believed that a Japanese baggage handler was caught polishing luggage and standing it upright for easy offloading either. If not for video, many real injustices done by airlines to passengers would never be properly rectified, like when a United “customer service agent” body slammed a 71 year old man. That would be unacceptable.

a glass of beer on a ledgeAirline And Hotel Customer Service

As we’ve lamented before, doing the “right thing” isn’t the right thing if you put customers through hell to get it in the first place. When an airline or hotel wrongs a customer, the only way to do the “right thing” is to offer an acceptable form of apology and gestures of goodwill, refunds or whatever is fit, without the need for customers to fill out 7 forms, make 5 threats, waste hours on the phone, email their congress person and kick it up the ladder. Having solid video proof that backs up an account and putting it on social media sends a claim from priority 7,500,000 to the single digits, and airlines and hotels have only themselves to blame for this, in how they handle legitimate customer issues.

What are your thoughts on this emerging issue?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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1 Comment

  1. I once found myself in this situation and used the threat of video to de-escalate it. A simple, “I’d like to start filming this exchange because I find your behaviour unacceptable” soon hit the reset button. No direct threat, but an implied threat to publish it, either to the airline or on social media.

    I agree entirely however, staying calm and polite is essential.

    The tricky one for me, is filming an incident that doesn’t involve you directly, but is going on around you. How’d you handle that one?

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