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Why don’t flight attendants like people taking photos or videos while working on a plane?

I can only speak for myself, but I would guess that my thoughts on this are probably very similar to those of many other Flight Attendants.

The short answer is that photos and even videos are too often misrepresented. With photos, the context is often left untold or worse, partially explained with extreme bias (i.e. “Here’s a photo of Mary clearly guilty of murder as you can see her shooting John”, but the photo is at an angle that doesn’t show the knife in John’s hand that he’s driving toward Mary’s heart).

Videos are filmed from one person’s point of view, and that rarely tells the whole tale. The story that a video depicts can be severely distorted depending on how it’s edited and how it’s narrated (Mary and John again…)

Sadly, today’s media is all about ratings. The more sensational the story, the more drama, emotion and thrill they can pack into a piece, the more viewers it will attract. Actors… uh, I mean reporters, googly-eyed and breathless with carefully practiced melodrama, use exhilarating words to imply thrills and passion in place of commonly used phrases. (Sorry, but the Dow “falling two points prompting some to sell” just doesn’t have the same punch as when it “plunges in free-fall driving the market into a selling frenzy!” even if it was only two points.) Frenzy, hysteria, turmoil, thrills and furor are all much preferable to the tedium and mediocrity of the language of everyday conversation.

That’s the short version.

The longer version is a fictionalized illustration of an actual event that happened to me a long time ago. First the illustration, then the true story:

Imagine that you’re on an airplane, packed into a large space with many other people. You are aware of what is happening around you, within your tiny space, usually bounded by the seat in front of you and your seat-back, and perhaps several seats on either side. Beyond that, unless you are actively listening and watching, you’re not likely to know what’s going on more than a row or two away.

Suddenly you hear commotion five or six rows behind you. You crane your head around and see two Flight Attendants physically involved in a knock-down-drag-out fight with another passenger who is yelling incoherently. Thinking fast, you grab your phone and start filming. Suddenly the passenger begins screaming, and you see blood on her arm.

The Flight Attendants are seriously pounding on this woman, and in time they manage to subdue her, using their scarves and belts from their uniforms to tie her up and buckle her tightly into her seat, completely immobilizing her. She continues to scream that she’s being abused, beaten and injured by the Flight Attendants, all because she refused to change seats!

And you just got the whole thing on video! WOW, you’re going to make a ton of money from this one! Lucky you! Indeed, as the plane continues for the next half-hour before landing, the woman complains bitterly of how she has been unfairly beaten because the Flight Attendant demanded that she change seats, and she refused. It’s all so unfair, and she swears she’ll sue everyone involved.

Word has gotten out, and upon landing, the press are everywhere as police haul the passenger away. You tell one of them that you got it all on video, and they say that they’ll give you $5000 for the exclusive rights to air your video. When they ask, you tell them that you turned around to see Flight Attendants beating up on this poor girl, bloodying her and tying her up, all because she wouldn’t change seats with another passenger.

That evening it goes on the air, recounted with breathless sensationalism, cutaways to the blood and the swinging fists, complimented with the passenger’s screams of unfairness and “…because I wouldn’t change seats…” in full volume. Several passengers are quoted in 3- and 4-second clips gushing about how the Flight Attendants were mercilessly battering the woman, ruthlessly harsh and unforgiving. The next day, the entire nation is aghast at the inhuman barbarity of the Flight Attendants, the callousness of the airline and the lasting damage to the poor passenger… all because she wouldn’t change seats with another passenger.

One lone voice speaks up, saying, “That’s not what happened at all.” But nobody listens because that person’s account of the incident has none of the drama, none of the panache and excitement. There’s no sensation, no juicy titillation or gory thrills. Frankly, it’s kind of boring, and certainly won’t draw much of an audience on the five o’clock news.

Can you see where I’m going here?

This happened to me in the mid-1990s. OK, it was before cell phones were common, so there was no video, no photographs. But it did make a local newspaper who interviewed two people who had been sitting five and seven rows away. Their version of the incident was undoubtedly true, from their point of view. The reporter didn’t print the story that she got from passengers seated closer because frankly, their story was boring. Clearly, the story that was printed was slanted in favor of the “poor woman who was beaten up”; it made for gripping print. I dreaded going back to work, fearful that I would be recognized and would get “attitude” as “that awful Flight Attendant who beat up on the poor passenger.”

The true story was altogether different :

In fact, my co-worker Beth had asked the woman if she would be willing to change seats so that a mother could sit with her 7-year old daughter, but the woman abruptly, almost belligerently refused. Moving on, Beth asked a few others in the immediate area, and nobody was willing. Finally, she offered free cocktails to anyone who would. Immediately someone volunteered.

The woman who originally refused was furious that she wasn’t offered free alcohol first, and came back into the galley to argue with the us, demanding free cocktails for herself. We refused. (Part of our refusal was the suspicion, based on her behavior, that she had already been drinking heavily in the airport bar.) The woman became loud and insistent. When we again refused, she threatened a lawsuit and retaliation, then returned to her seat, sullen, angry and muttering under her breath.

We notified the lead Flight Attendant of the situation and discussion ensued. One of our concerns was that this passenger could be a planned diversion, a way to distract us from other areas of the aircraft, to draw us away from the cockpit door or otherwise divert our attention so that we may be too preoccupied to notice another more serious danger (such as a hijacking). So we notified the Captain, who advised us to maintain presence throughout the cabin, keep an eye on the passenger, and report anything suspicious.

As we came back down the aisle toward the rear of the aircraft, the angry passenger stuck her foot out and tripped my co-worker. Beth managed to steady herself as she regained her footing. She gave me a “knowing glance”, an unspoken signal that meant back me up here, and with that we both spun to confront the passenger, who smirked aloud and half-rose out of her seat, as if preparing for a fist-fight. Sensing a possible threat, we stepped back a half-step, and firmly informed her that any further aggression would be viewed as a threat. She suddenly straightened up to a full standing position, and leaning forward, she tried to slap Beth in the face, though she missed, hitting her neck instead.

This was not only an assault, but an attack that we considered to be an imminent threat to the safety of the flight. Our response, ingrained in us from constant training, was immediate, and our goal clear: we were to subdue and restrain the passenger in any way possible. We initiated standard procedures for restraining the woman and attempted to enlist the help of nearby passengers. But nobody came to our aid. (Later they stated that they “didn’t want to get involved”, perhaps remembering the woman’s threats of lawsuits.)

The woman was strong, though her reflexes were a bit slow. We used the skills taught in the self-defense courses and managed to get the upper hand amid her flailing, shouting and cursing. During the ensuing scuffle, the woman cut her arm on the edge of the seat as she was grappling with us. Finally, we were able to restrain her, using our neck scarves to tie her hands and legs. We held her still long enough to get a Band-Aid on the small cut with some difficulty as she writhed and squirmed despite being belted into the seat. With the battle over and the passenger restrained, the Captain was fully informed of the situation, and police were notified to meet the flight.

The media got it wrong, and we were the villains. And the thing that made me the most angry was that the reporter was told the truth, but chose to sensationalize the story anyway in an effort to gain readership.

Now can you understand why we don’t like to have photos and videos taken while we’re working? In a sense, it’s a deep and unpleasant invasion of our privacy because thanks to the nature of today’s news media, we are usually painted as the bad guys. Events are usually sensationalized to attract viewers, and that rarely ends up being a good thing for us.

Source: Quora

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