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A man booked to fly on American Airlines out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was kicked off his flight after filming an argument with a gate agent. I want to figure out who’s right.
The individual in question, Liran Hirschkorn, posted a video to TikTok of the interaction which you can check out below:
According to Hirschkorn’s explanation to an airport policeman in the video, the incident stemmed from a disagreement over carry-on baggage. At some point, Hirschkorn told the agent that he was going to lodge a complaint with American Airlines and began recording. The agent then told Hirschkorn that because of his recording, she was denying him boarding.
American Airlines (lack of) policy
According to guidance by the US Department of Transportation, “an airline can refuse to transport a passenger for the reasons listed in its contract of carriage, so long as the refusal is not discriminatory.”
American Airlines’ contract of carriage (the agreement you sign whenever you book a ticket on American) makes no mention of a prohibition against taking photos or videos, either at the gate or on the plane.
Granted, the contract does say that you may not be able to fly for failing to “comply with American Airlines rules or policies,” but you won’t find anything about American Airlines’ photography policy on its website or anywhere else I can find. It previously outlined the policy in its in-flight magazine, American Way, prohibiting “unauthorized photography or video recording of airline personnel, other customers, aircraft equipment, or procedures,” but the magazine has ceased operations (thanks to Gary Leff for pointing this out!). All this is to say that there is effectively no American Airlines policy, at least not a published one, that prohibits photography or filming of gate agents.
The trump card: common carrier laws
Most importantly, American Airlines falls into a legal classification of firms known as common carriers. The legal definition of a common carrier is complicated, but one key feature is that it cannot arbitrarily deny a passenger the right to travel, which regular private companies can do as long as they’re not discriminatory.
At the same time, common carrier airlines also have the authority to refuse service to a passenger under specific circumstances, most notably in scenarios where safety might be compromised. Denying a passenger on safety grounds would likely be covered by 49 USC 44902(b): “Permissive Refusal. — Subject to regulations of the Under Secretary, an air carrier, intrastate air carrier, or foreign air carrier may refuse to transport a passenger or property the carrier decides is, or might be, inimical to safety,”
The problem is that there is very little case law defining what “inimical to safety” actually means in practice. Nevertheless, given 49 USC 44902(b), an airline simply having a policy in their inflight magazine is not sufficient grounds to deny a passenger boarding. Rather, their behavior has to be deemed unsafe in some way.
So who’s right?
If this were to go to trial, American Airlines would likely need to prove that Hirschkorn’s behavior was a threat to safety. I can’t make a definitive judgment on that based on the video alone (nor am I a lawyer, paralegal, judge, or anything close to a legal professional) but I personally have a hard time believing that Hirschkorn’s filming constituted unsafe behavior.
In short, American Airlines is probably wrong and Hirschkorn is probably right.
All of this is just one amateur’s legal interpretation of this situation. I tried to simplify things as much as possible and there’s lots more complexity here, not least because the US Department of Transportation’s own guidance seemingly conflicts with common carrier laws.
Though I’m sure you won’t, don’t take anything I write here as authoritative. For a definitive answer on any specific scenario, you’d need to consult a legal expert or attorney who could provide advice based on the specifics of the situation and the applicable laws and regulations.
The incident involving Liran Hirschkorn and American Airlines raises surprisingly complicated questions about passenger rights. Based on the given information and the video in question, it appears that American Airlines might have acted inappropriately by denying Hirschkorn boarding due to his filming. Their justification hinges on a policy that is only outlined in their in-flight magazine, while the filming behavior does not seem to be directly tied to any clear safety concerns.