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Crewed Talk

Stop, or Your Crew Will Shoot – Will Body Cameras Become Part of the Uniform?

Stop, or Your Crew Will Shoot – Will Body Cameras Become Part of the Uniform?
Amanda Pleva

Social media has been an amazing customer service tool in the last five or so years, with Twitter and Facebook being the first stop for many when problems arise. And should companies still fail to live up to their promises after contact is so publicly made, it can then become a public relations nightmare when onlookers chime in, and often eventually this leads to some kind of happy ending for the complainer. In some respects, it’s a great platform to ensure accountability – in others, a soapbox on which some spout slanderous, one-sided, heavily-edited stories in order to hold companies hostage until the desired outcome is achieved, whether it’s right or not. Telling the difference between the two isn’t always easy when you’re in the audience.

The heavily documented David Dao incident on United Airlines was the first of several incidents in close succession that involved passengers filming the situations once they’d been well underway. I’m not here to debate which parties were in the wrong in those events, but it did inarguably lead to a cell phone-based empowerment culture of ‘taking back the skies,’ leaving many well-meaning gate agents and flight attendants pushed to the edge by bullying passengers who want the impossible, ready to record as soon as a bead of sweat becomes visible on the brow of the targeted employee.

Of course, this has led some flight attendants more likely to choose their battles when it comes to enforcing the rules onboard in order to avoid conflict – a dicey proposition not just for safety reasons, but because, should the FAA catch us not following the letter of the law, we may be responsible for paying enormous fines…all while suspended from duty or potentially fired. There’s no easy route, and it feels like we are set up to lose either way.

But one company feels like they’ve found a solution. Guernsey-based airline Aurigny has opted to outfit their customer-facing employees with body cameras that can be activated when trouble arises. The video, once the wearer has begun filming, may not be viewed or edited by that person. A spokesperson for the airline said that while most of their clientele are model passengers, recent incidents have brought about a desire for a second perspective in the event of a potential viral video PR nightmare.

As a flight attendant, I can appreciate the idea of potential backup should I feel cornered (which I don’t often at all), but oftentimes that support comes in the form of surrounding passengers. Times are tense enough in the skies as it is right now, and I can’t imagine that flyers’ knowledge that I’m wearing a body camera wouldn’t turn the heat up several degrees on that. Headlines like, “____ Airlines Kicked _____ Off The Plane For No Reason,” a daily occurrence earlier this year, are losing their punch now, and it’s starting to make sense to public that airlines and their employees typically do not like to make trouble and paperwork for themselves, much less lose passenger loyalty. If it doesn’t make sense, there’s usually more to the story.

The CEO of the body camera manufacturer, Edesix Ltd., predicts that Aurigny will be the first of many airlines in the near future to equip staff onboard and on the ground with the wearable technology to prevent passengers from bullying and threatening employees. However, I don’t see this being a valid solution. Both sides of a conflict can start video at will, so neither perspective would be the entire one. And I don’t want to be in an environment where my passengers will automatically view me as an opponent. I have been painted in a bad light by passengers who have had ulterior motives, but the truth has always come out via witnesses when I know I’ve done the best job I’m able to do – though admittedly maybe I’ve raised my voice at times when I should have instead stopped and taken a breath. I have done this for years and am confident I can continue to do my job this way for years to come. But if body cameras are the future of flying, it might be coming time to hang up my wings.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (4)

4 Comments

  1. weero

    weero

    November 16, 2017 at 7:15 am

    “The heavily documented David Dao incident on United Airlines was the first of several incidents in close succession that involved passengers filming the situations once they’d been well underway.”
    And the proposed solution for the dilemma after clubbing a passenger that has already boarded:
    “employees with body cameras that can be activated when trouble arises”
    So how is that any different from the critique of the Dao incident?
    The cameras will be turned on AFTER the crew dished out initial hostilities and then records the adversarial reaction of the passengers.
    Today’s solution is at least recorded from a neutral POV – other passengers.

    ” I’m not here to debate which parties were in the wrong in those events”
    You mean those who claim it was an IDB after they let him board, those who manhandled him, or the doctor who didn’t want to leave? Most people have zero trouble sorting that one: Security > GA > doctor.

  2. SamirD

    November 16, 2017 at 7:54 am

    I started wearing a bodycam in conjunction with operating one of our businesses because confrontations with non-customers and trespassers were escalating. Finally, the inevitable happened–I was physically assaulted by an AT&T employee that was trespassing on my property, which is a criminal offence by state law. I had 4 xrays within hours of the assault and almost 6 months later, still have problems with my arm and jaw. The entire event was fully captured on my body cam.

    And the result? I was prosecuted–for doing my job, for complying to the letter of the law. The judge dropped the case, but not without us spending thousands in attorney fees. The true offender is off scott free due to a biased (I sense racially biased) local legal system that was supposed to deliver justice.

    So gleaning from my experience, a body cam will only potentially put an FA in harms way–and you’re right about considering leaving the industry if bodycams become the norm.

    What the real solution is something business have implemented for many years–security systems. Cameras in strategic places to capture any and all activity in your facility. This could be done so covertly that passengers wouldn’t even know they are constantly on camera. (I’m actually surprised it’s not already being done on the newer planes.) The footage could even be monitored on the ground in real-time on wifi equipped planes if an incident breaks out.

    A system like this would promote an environment of safety for all. Yes, it is a bit heavy handed, but guess what, these aren’t public spaces–they’re private planes owned by a commercial carrier that has a agreed to transport you according to specific rules. Passengers constantly combating that contract really need to read it.

  3. nitab62

    November 16, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Like everything else, folks will feel entitled. Having traveled for the last 20 years more than 50%/yr, I have seen the good and bad on both sides and although most folks don’t want to hear this, the travel industry is not totally at fault. People have become accustomed to the rules do not apply to them, if they know the rules at all.

    So everything from getting in the right line, be it the security, the air line or food line, some folks will push the rules of engagement. Then of course when someone reminds them the line starts behind them, they get belligerent and some make it about race, not their ignorance and rudeness. Now, some travel professionals do have issues but they are human as are we so we can’t hold them to a different standard when dealing with JA’s.

    As we continue in the fee ridden world (because if we actually charged correctly for a price of an airline ticket, none of them would be cheaper today than they were 20 yrs ago, just ridiculous), folks should not complain for carryons, checking bags or the like. Otherwise, pay the fair price of a ticket and maybe we would not have the airlines like Spirit making folks unhappy. You know what you are getting and yet people still complain, which should tell you airlines should stop trying to appease them with low prices and pay their employees fairly and maybe some of their attitudes might change when dealing with obnoxious customers who are always looking for the rules not to apply to them.

  4. toddhicks209

    November 28, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    I think body cams should be left to law enforcement.

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