Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996
Stealing Airline Shots While Flying In The USA
Published : 4th August 2013
Wasn't sure if this was applicable for Pro or Chat, so Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa... I've got a Producer that wants to get some shots of take offs and landings, clouds and blue sky and of an empty window seat from within a passenger jet while airborne. He would like to steal/grab these shots without getting permission to shoot from said airline. Cameras in question are a 235 and F-3 with LoMo's.
Their plan is to bring the built, hand held cameras on-board in camera bags, store them overhead, make "friends" with the flight crew and get the shots over an 8 hour, 3 flight journey. Now aside from the logistics of film stock, batteries, changing bag, tape, etc..., my main concern is the TSA and Flight Marshalls, both on the ground and in the air (once the "friendly" flight crew has had enough with us).
Has anyone attempted this since 9/11? This just seems so brash and balsy to me. I could see doing it with a palmcam, but a 235 and a F-3 with Lomo's... The Producer will be booking 1st Class seats, so maybe we’ll have a little extra room, but the little voice inside my head is starting to scream at me. Thoughts, advice, lawyers names???
Student of S3D
John, no direct experience with this but the voice in my head says for you to listen to the voice in your head.
Ian Ellis DP
>> I could see doing it with a palmcam, but a 235 and a F-3 with Lomo's...
The words formed in my mind in reaction to your post were "...world of
hurt". Why not use a DSLR? Or a new iPhone!
Santa Monica, CA
John Sheeren wrote:
>>Has anyone attempted this since 9/11? This just seems so brash and balsy to me.
>>I could see doing it with a palmcam, but a 235 and a F-3 with Lomo's...
You might try inquiring about this with an airline other than the one
you're planning to use.
Also make sure you're on the clock for detention time.
IA 600 DP
>>Has anyone attempted this since 9/11? This just seems so brash and balsy to me John Sheeren
One of TSA's trigger points is people taking pictures who don't look or act like tourists. One call from the plane to the ground and you'll be met on landing by a welcoming committee consisting of several federal agencies. None of whom will believe you were just taking shots for the kids back home.
I've shot extensively with my 7D on Southwest, but at least I didn't look
like a reality TV crew on location...which you will.
Engineer and Somewhat DP
Filming is OK above 10,000'. Below that you could be facing a $10,000 fine though you still may get away with it if either your flight attendant can't see you or is OK with it (most really don't care).
I just went through this on Wednesday on a chartered flight to DC—even asked if I could sneak a GoPro into the cockpit!
Preditor, Knoxville, TN.
This is a genuine non starter.....
Will not happen.
You'll be shut down in minutes....and any arguing and there will be some fine fellows in uniforms waiting for you when you land...
Cell: 310 344 5159
I'll send you a cake with a file in it. You'll break out easy!
John Sheeren wrote:
>>I've got a Producer that wants to get some shots of take offs and landings, clouds and blue sky and of an >>empty window seat from within a passenger jet while airborne. He would like to steal/grab these shots
>> without getting permission to shoot
First remember that no electronic equipment may operate when the flight is taking off or landing, so right away you will not be able to get that footage without the flight crew objecting.
You probably couldn't get anything out the window until you are up to 20,000 ft or so (cruising altitude) when they turn off the seatbelt sign. Unless you are shooting during the summer when there are lots of 'thunderheads', the clouds at that level are very much 'non-interesting'.
The angle of any interiors could not include any passengers and you couldn't work from the 'aisle' since the flight crew would object. Passengers are required by their ticket to remain seated at all times unless in transit to the restrooms.
Absent official permission from an airline, a flight crew can rightfully restrict you from using the camera (or take it) and interfering with the flight crews actions could be a Federal offense ($25,000 fine).
Airlines are also "very nervous" about batteries in passenger compartments...you may not carry-on any battery rated at more than 160Wh or any lithium battery that has more than 2 grams of lithium in it for lithium-metal or 24 grams of lithium for a lithium-ion battery. Any Lithium batteries must have the exposed terminals taped off and placed in separate insulated plastic bag; one for each battery. You can have one battery installed in a device if it is switched 'Off'. No 'spillable' batteries like lead-acid or 'wet' batteries are permitted (except for battery-driven wheelchairs).
A more appropriate approach is to find a willing airline ahead of time on less busy legs 'to nowhere?' Or rent a corporate jet that has airline style seats -- some can be had for $2K-$4K for an hour and you can get as many inside take-offs and landings as you want.
Culver City, CA
1. Get yourself a nice Super 16mm spring wound Bolex.
2. Get some nice new 16mm Film.
3. Wear a black turtleneck, act artsy like.
4. Smile then politely ask about filming, show them how the camera winds up.... watch as nostalgia gushes...
5. Film from seat.
6. Send film to your favourite lab.
7. Marvel at how good your footage looks compared to all of those crappy digital cameras....
8. Think about shooting more with a wind up camera.
If the flight crew, TSA, or air Marshalls don't get you, I would expect that some alarmed passengers would likely beat you into submission. Think of it: a small group of men pull out some strange contraption that might be mistaken for a rocket launcher, it's got a part on the front with Cyrillic writing (Lomo lens), and then they start pointing it out the window. I could imagine a "Let Roll" moment.
If the flight crew, TSA, or air Marshalls don't get you, I would expect that some alarmed passengers would likely beat you into submission. Think of it: a small group of men pull out some strange contraption that might be mistaken for a rocket launcher, it's got a part on the front with Cyrillic writing (Lomo lens), and then they start pointing it out the window.
I could imagine a "Let Roll" moment.
You'll likely have a much nicer time of this on a chartered jet. You can arrange the flight for the most photogenic views, guarantee an empty seat by the window, and avoid disagreements with Air Marshals and the like.
If the important stuff doesn't specifically include seeing a swept wing outside the window, you may also be just as well served, at a lower cost, by booking a Pilatus PC-12 or similar turboprop, or even a light twin (as long as you can get a shot that doesn't include the wing-mounted engine!).
The flight will be governed by Part 135 regulations, "Operating Requirements: Commuter and On Demand Operations and Rules Governing Persons on Board Such Aircraft", as opposed to the much nastier and more rigid Part 121 regs, "Operating Requirements: Domestic, Flag, and Supplemental Operations.", which govern airline ops. Beyond that, the post-9/11 paranoia surrounding airline ops is an order of magnitude more than that around charter ops.
The rule on electronics is basically that "electronics that the operator has determined will not cause interference with communications or navigation equipment" are OK.
When I did this the last time (on a small commuter plane), I asked the pilot about my video camera, and he said it was likely to be OK; I switched it into record and he verified no changes in his OBS/CDI and radio reception, and said I was good to go. Again, you'll have much better luck with this on a charter or commercial plane than on an air carrier flight.
I have fond memories of filming (yes, actual film) out the window of a commercial airliner (sun refracted though the transonic shock wave on the leading edge of the wing, and an aerial refuelling happening just a few miles away), and explaining what I was doing to the interested cabin crew, but that was in 1978. I don't think I'd get away with that these days.
technical services, Meets The Eye LLC, San Carlos CA
tech writer, provideocoalition.com, Mountain View CA
>>make "friends" with the flight crew and get the shots over an 8 hour, 3 flight journey. Now aside from the >>logistics of film stock, batteries, changing bag, tape, etc…
I love these "hopeful producer" stories. "We'll just do this, and then we'll just do that… make friends with the flight crew, buy them a few drinks, promise them parts in our next big film, and then whip out these massive cameras for a few impromptu shots."
It'll never happen. You could do it with a 5D, but not a 235 with Lomos. That's just nuts. Short of a charter flight you're not going to be able to do this on a commercial airliner. Well, you could, in which case please personally tell Bradley Manning that he is not completely forgotten. And, for fun, you might tell him you were arrested in 2019 just to see the look on his face.
Art Adams | Director of Photography
San Francisco Bay Area
I would not know about the US laws but I have yet to see a plane window that equals less than a combination of a #5 ProMist + white net Not to mention these windows are double glass and they get looooooots of reflections
On the other hand if this is illegal did anyone thought that entire list
might be accused of promoting a non legal action?
Or a RED BOMB EVF?
Cell: 310 344 5159
Why no filming below 10,000 ft?
They just say no electronic devices.... there's nothing electronic in
Frequent TSA Victim
Friend of mine who is an artist just did this with a 16mm camera, no problems. Totally aside from this conversation.
You know guys this is really simple and frankly common sense. Honesty is the best policy. I have smoozed myself into more "no photography/video shoot" zones than I can remember. If asking to do it will get you shut down then you shouldn't be doing it and you are asking for trouble. Be forewarned don't screw with the airlines, the flight crew or the TSA you won't like the results.
Weisscam Hi-Speed Tech
Los Angeles, CA
New Orleans, LA
>>a small group of men pull out some strange contraption that might be mistaken for a rocket launcher"
I was hanging out with some local pilots at a charity breakfast this morning. These guys are both retired and currently-working airline pilots. They have no problem with people taking in-flight video at all, as long as the equipment isn't so large that it causes a physical safety problem, such as smashing somebody's head with it. It's done all the time. But, if the passengers become hysterical over it, that's an entirely different matter. I would think that a big black box with a glass lens on one end and a viewfinder on the other might provide a clue to the passengers that it's a video camera, not a bazooka. But, you never know.
Clearly, smaller is better in such a situation.
Stephen ("Steve") Stough, DP
Washoe County, Nevada, USA