Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Have JetBlue and the Port Authority gone off the deep end?

Philadelphia International Airport at DawnA late December snow storm in the northeastern US caused havoc at airports from Washington north through Boston. The northeast storm caused delays and cancellations across the US, and seriously affected international flights.

The storm was a tough one, to be sure. At one time or another, seven major northeastern airports were closed due to the snow, some for more than a day. No where, it seems, was affected more than New York City's airports. At John Fitzgerald Kennedy International Airport (JFK), commonsense seems to have been thrown out the window more than anywhere else.

The airlines had no choice but to cancel thousands of flights. Despite the fact that aggregately the airlines canceled more than 8,200 flights, affecting as many as 1.2 million travelers, I don't think anyone can take general issue with the way they handled the storm, except possibly that passengers could have been informed of the changing situation they faced, more quickly and more fully.

Unfortunately, there was one incident which occurred, that as a travel photographer I found preposterous, and imperative to discuss in this blog. The incident involved both JetBlue Airways and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and caused me to believe they've lost their commonsense.

At JetBlue's Terminal 5 at JFK airport, three JetBlue security guards confronted New York Daily News photographer Steven Sunshine, who was covering the flight delays at JFK Airport. At the time, Mr. Sunshine was photographing the giant board showing JetBlue's flight delays and cancellations, due to the huge storm.
The guards ordered Mr. Sunshine to delete his photos, and warned him he could be in trouble for taking photos on "private property" even though he showed them his press identification and informed them he was working on a news story. They then escorted him out of the airport.

Readers of my weekly column at ConsumerTraveler.com know I've been writing about the problems taking photographs that both professional photographers and everyday tourists encounter almost daily throughout the world.

Ever since September 11, 2001, it seems war has been declared on photographers. Photographers, including me, have been harassed, interrogated and detained, just for taking photos in public.

In Travel Photography is not illegal! I discussed the problems of two non-professionals, one taking photos at Downtown Disney, and another taking photos of his child in front of a public library.

In Hey Amtrak, travel photographers are not terrorists! I discussed my own travails with Amtrak. Last May, I was approached by an Amtrak security person and threatened with arrest if I didn’t stop taking photos of the auto-train at the Sanford, Florida station. I had a ticket for the train that day, and at all times I stayed behind all fencing, and areas which Amtrak signage indicated was restricted.

I was never asked why I was photographing the train. I was told, “Photographs of Amtrak trains are forbidden by federal law, and by taking photographs of the auto-train you are subject to arrest and imprisonment.”

It isn't true. There is no federal law restricting photography of Amtrak trains.

Eventually, through the hard work of the National Press Photographers Association, (NPPA) Amtrak created a detailed photography policy, which essentially permits anyone to take photos on their property, except areas restricted to Amtrak employees, unless they are legitimately putting themselves or others into danger.

I've been back to Amtrak since, and had no problem taking photographs in Amtrak's stations, and even on station platforms.

Meanwhile back at JFK, JetBlue spokesperson Jen Cardillo said Mr. Sunshine should have asked for clearance at least 72 hours in advance. Of course, no one knew in advance the storm would be so devastating. Ms. Cardillo said security officials only intervened to avoid “potential disruptions” to travelers. “We weren't prepared to have our terminal photographed.”

When Mr. Sunshine tried to place a formal complaint with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who own and run JFK International Airport, Port Authority officers refused to take a report and apparently suggested they would confiscate Mr. Sunshine's NYPD-issued press card if he pushed things too far.

Travel photographers, press photographers, and tourists are not terrorists!

In my opinion, it's not coincidence that our nation's founders, included “freedom of the press” in the “first” amendment to the Constitution.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Having a free press is essential to maintaining a free society. To even generally require three day's notice to enter a facility open to the general flying public, a facility located on government owned and operated property, is on its face outrageous.

Do JetBlue's actions make sense to you? By taking his photographs, was Mr. Sunshine disruptive? The notice requirement is bogus, as far as I'm concerned, and guards shouldn't be asking a press photographer to delete photographs taken of a news event.

What is JetBlue trying to hide?

In fact, as far as I'm concerned, no one should be stopped from taking photographs on public property, from public property, or where the public is given general access, and even when access is controlled, as it is in airport terminals.

It's only commonsense!

Photo of Philadelphia International Airport at dawn by NSL Photography


Jim in Philly said...

Great article. I had no idea this nonsense was going on. It's outrageous. I support you and all photographers in this denial of free speech.

Stan said...

Unbelievable is all I can say. What are they trying to hide?

Jan in Dallas said...

Great series of articles about "illegal" photography Ned. When are companies like JetBlue going to learn these stupid decisions only alienate their customers and potential customers.

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