United Airlines is taking a beating for forcibly removing a passenger from one of its planes, but the passengers who shot the videos that exposed the incident may also run into some trouble.
According to the airline's policy on electronic devices, passengers are free to take pictures and shoot video as long as they are "capturing personal events." But the policy forbids passengers from capturing other passengers or airline personnel without their consent.
Technically, that means the passengers were in violation of United's policies and could face legal repercussions in civil court or be barred from future United flights. Practically, aviation and legal experts doubt United would take that step.
Perry Flint, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, which represents 265 airlines, said he had never heard of an airline going after a passenger for video the person shot on a plane. Passengers regularly shoot and post videos on social media from their flights, from cabin crew announcements to incidents showing unruly passengers or crew.
"Certainly it happens all the time," Flint said.
Even if United could pursue legal action, Anthony Rickman, a former prosecutor turned defense attorney in Tampa, said the airline is already facing a public relations nightmare that would only be compounded by an attack on the passengers who captured the incident on video.
"Are they in violation of the policy? Without a doubt. The airline has a right to control what happens on their planes," Rickman said. "But with all the bad press United is getting from this, do I think they would pursue anything? No."
United did not respond to a request to comment.