I’ve shot thousands of images of airliners. Aviation became a lifelong passion when I was a child. I took pictures of planes long before becoming a blogger.
Never did I encounter any pushback taking pictures of planes — including Air Force One twice at then-McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
But that decades-long streak came to end this week — when Israel’s EL AL airlines had some words with me.
Finding a Space to Relax
I flew Delta Air Lines to Los Angeles (LAX) from New York-Kennedy (JFK) after checking out Delta’s great new Terminal 2 at LaGuardia Airport (LGA).
Thunderstorms smacked the New York metro area that evening. Not surprisingly, my flight home to LAX was delayed. (That left me time to enjoy a great meal of miso-glazed garlic chicken thighs and garlic and rosemary potatoes at the American Express Centurion Lounge.)
I arrived at my flight’s gate about five minutes prior to the delayed boarding time. There wasn’t much room available to sit. So, I wandered across the hallway to a gate where a Tel Aviv-bound EL AL Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner finished boarding at a gate normally used for Delta flights. I sat in an available seat, people watched, planespotted, and relaxed.
While this blog generally doesn’t cover EL AL, one never knows when we might need a relevant picture. I like having stock images for the blog — especially photos we ourselves shoot.
So, I walked to the window and snapped four or five pictures of the EL AL Dreamliner. I planned to go through them a few minutes later and select one to edit and add to our photo bank.
“Excuse me,” an EL AL employee said after appearing out of nowhere. (I know the Israeli airline’s security is legendary but, darn, this lady was stealth.)
She was not happy with me.
“Would you please not take pictures of the EL AL flight?” she said. The young lady was a good foot shorter than me — but her tone and glare were intimidating.
I really wanted to say (tongue-in-cheek), “Oh, it’s okay. I’m a travel blogger who also writes about credit card and loyalty points.” Something told me her sense of humor didn’t punch in for work that afternoon.
“Sure,” I said instead. Several people in the gate area were now watching the developing situation. (I’m shocked no one pulled out their phone to record it.)
I already knew where this was going. I showed her my iPhone as if to say, No trouble here, ma’am.
“And would you please erase the pictures you already took,” she said. I intentionally omitted a question mark at the end of that sentence. She wasn’t asking me to delete them — she was telling me.
“No problem,” I said. Then she watched me delete each image, one by one.
She gave me a curt “thank you,” and walked back to wherever (the EL AL ninja team clubhouse?).
As I sat down, I noticed a couple of people giving the woman dirty looks. Perhaps they don’t know that EL AL is a bit sensitive when it comes to security.
Her tact could’ve been friendlier (like the people Ben Schlappig encountered — and they let him take pictures!). But maybe she used me as an example to everyone else. While a bit surprised, I didn’t take personally.
After visiting the restroom and returning a couple of minutes later, I sought out an EL AL employee to find out why officially — even though I pretty much already knew — picture taking is verboten.
I spotted my new friend and another EL AL employee sitting on a banister in front of a window. They participated in what appeared to be a somewhat animated conversation. About what, I don’t know. It could’ve been sports, politics, weather, taking pictures of planes…
I walked over to her and smiled. She didn’t.
“Excuse me,” I said, “Just out of curiosity, why was I asked to stop taking pictures?”
“It’s our security procedures,” she answered, nodding and giving me the look. I thanked her, she gave me a “yep,” and that was that. I didn’t ask her name or demand to speak to her manager. No need. International incident avoided.
Look, EL AL has every right to protect themselves. Their home country is in the Middle East — which isn’t exactly known as a peaceful place. (I know some Jewish people here who absolutely hate Israel — mostly because a handful of U.S. politicians and billionaires influence them to do so. But that’s another topic for another time or someone else’s blog altogether.)
Taking pictures of EL AL planes from inside airports seems to go a bit far.
Why doesn’t EL AL post any “Don’t Take Pictures” signs? Even though EL AL apparently borrowed a Delta gate in this situation, why not print some out and tape them on the windows if it’s that big of a deal?
Or have a dedicated staff member stationed at windows to warn people before they take pictures? (Maybe EL AL usually does and has staffing issues?)
Or, heck, curtain off all of the windows but one. This way, the general public has a difficult time seeing the plane(s) — and staff can still monitor what’s going on.
How Do You Think I Handled This?
Should I have pushed back and said, “No, I won’t delete the pictures! This is America! Can call my lawyer if you have a problem!”?
Sure, that’s one answer.
I personally know (and respect) some print journalists and photojournalists who would’ve stood their ground.
But it’s not like I desperately needed pictures of an EL AL plane. This, however, was a battle avoided in about five seconds. As you can see from this post, I can license plenty from a stock media service.
Could EL AL or JFK security have detained me? Maybe. I honestly don’t know. My flight home was already delayed. I was eager to see my wife and daughter before they left on a trip the next morning to see family (I started work on client assignments a few hours after arriving home late night in Los Angeles).
Plus, I didn’t want this to turn into a Matthew Klint situation (though I think EL AL would’ve handled this better than United).
By the way, Terminal 4 (where I took the EL AL pictures in question) is privately owned. So, screaming “This is taxpayer property here, lady!” could’ve been embarrassing.
In the end, it’s not that big of a deal (says the guy blogging 1200 words about it).
Post It Anyway!
Several people to whom I relayed the story pointed out that the images were deleted from my iPhone — but not my iCould account. I was encouraged by some to restore the pictures and run them as part of this post.
But I don’t know if that would ever hinder my chances of flying EL AL. (Not that I have any EL AL flights planned.) Plus, my wife’s family and many of our friends are Jewish. Going to Israel is something my family would like to do sometime. Irking the country’s national airline doesn’t seem prudent.
Anyway, I’m curious to hear your thoughts in the below Comments section. Please use your common sense. Any remarks that are racist, attack someone’s religion, etc. will not be allowed.
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