Flight attendants admit to being reluctant stars in viral videos
In these videos, flight attendants are either portrayed as “heroes” who effortlessly manage difficult passengers or as “villains” accused of being rude and non-professional. The trend has become a major industrial issue. Unions are voicing their concerns, and airlines have introduced new rules to curb the practice.
Unkind comments about appearance and age
Flight attendants’ health can be affected by the stress of working in the knowledge that they could become the unwitting star of a viral clip.
As part of my PhD, I speak to flight attendants daily in Australia and overseas. In my discussions with attendants, I have heard that they are often worried about finding videos of themselves that contain unkind remarks about their appearance or age.
Kate*, a flight attendant, describes the unsettling feeling she had when someone pointed a smartphone at her as she tried to do her work.
You have no idea why they are filming or what they will do with the footage.
Marie talked about being in a TikTok safety video, where viewers made fun of her appearance.
Charlotte was threatened with her job after she refused to give more alcohol to a drunken passenger. She also had a camera shoved in her face.
Mark described how it made him uncomfortable to have to tell a passenger not to take photos of crew members during service.
These accounts show the distress that flight attendants may experience when they are filmed or photographed in secret.
Imagine that you could be the star of an unintentional viral video at any time.
The broader industrial issue
The issue of flight attendant unions and their concerns is a topic that has attracted the attention of both policymakers and airlines.
Japan has recently passed laws to curb sneak photography. These laws may be used by passengers who want to film flight attendants in a voyeuristic manner. According to a study conducted by Japan’s aviation union, 70% of 1,573 flight attendants believed that they had been photographed secretly while working.
After unauthorized filming, passengers were arrested in both Turkey and India.
Flight attendant unions from Japan, Hong Kong, and Australia all expressed concern about this issue.
Videos can be a valuable tool in determining what happened during an incident on a flight. Flight attendants can often be found sharing their experiences on social media, allowing the video to be recorded. Many videos show airline staff going about their work (while being recorded, without their consent).
Many attendants are concerned about finding videos online that contain unkind remarks about their appearance. Getty/Catherine Falls Commercial
News reports indicate that staff aboard Dutch carrier KLM “now frequently make an announcement during safety briefings asking passengers to refrain from taking photos of any crew member.”
The rules of the KLM website are less clear.
On board an aircraft, it is forbidden to record videos or take photographs except for personal videos and photos.
Virgin Australia has a rule that anyone flying on Virgin Australia aircraft must be able to speak English.
Use cameras and photographic devices (including smartphones) only for personal use. When using photographic equipment onboard, you must follow the instructions of the flight crew.
Qantas will introduce new rules in November 2023 that require passengers to comply with them.
Before filming or taking photographs of Qantas Group employees, contractors, or other customers, you must obtain their consent.
It’s a good start. There are no clear guidelines for most airlines on recording or publishing footage of flight attendants at work. The rules are usually buried deep in the small print of the terms and conditions that few passengers read. Airlines must rethink how they communicate these restrictions to their passengers.
In the future, airlines should set clearer rules regarding filming crew members while they are working. Unsolicited filming can be unfair, intrusive, and distressing. By developing a framework for enforcing these provisions and improving communication regarding these rules, passengers can be informed about how to respect flight attendants’ privacy and comfort in their workplace.