I Was Lied To And Legally Threatened By An Emirates Purser

Yesterday I flew from Dubai to London Gatwick on an Emirates A380. I was quite looking forward to the flight, as I’d wanted to try Emirates’ A380 business class product since it came out. From the title you’d assume I was hugely disappointed by the flight, but it was largely awesome, and most of the crew were so, so friendly. That being said, of course, there was one huge exception.

Emirates Airbus A380 Munich Airport (I’ll share why I didn’t share a photo of an Emirates A380 in Dubai Airport later)

Let me start off by saying that I’ve always been very cautious not to take pictures of crewmembers without their express permission on flights. Even when crewmembers intentionally get in my photo, most of the time I choose not to publish photos with crew in it, and always ask before I take my first photo whenever I’m onboard an airplane cabin. I know some other bloggers don’t ask, and it’s technically not required to ask on most airlines; though I’ve never gotten a “no” before upon asking (even on this flight), so it usually always works to my advantage.

So I did go ahead and take some photos of Emirates’ beautiful A380 cabin. I asked the caring crewmember Rachel, who said “yes”, and even offered to smile in the photo (I haven’t chosen to publish that one).

Emirates Airbus A380 Business Class

Mid-flight, the incredible Issam (another crewmember) offered to grab a picture of me at the bar using a Polaroid camera, which Emirates advertises as an amenity onboard their flights.

This photos is apparently not allowed either…Emirates took it!

Here’s where the drama starts

Around two hours before we landed into Gatwick, the purser, Hatem Mamdouh, shoulder-tapped me at the bar, and brought me into the galley. He then said that he’d been tracking me taking photos of the cabin on Emirates’ A380 cameras, and said that he suggested I wipe all the photos immediately. He used the analogy “if you’re in someone’s house, you wouldn’t take pictures of it and post it online“.

This makes no sense for a couple of reasons:

  • Airplanes are public spaces; they’re owned by the airline, and certainly not by the purser
  • I paid for my seat using my own internship cash, so if anything it was “my” house for the flight

Here I am “taking photos of someone else’s house and publishing them” at the Emirates A380 bar, an amenity that came as part of a ticket I paid for

He then said that the no photos policy was clearly stated on Emirates.com. Now, being tech-savvy, I’d signed up for unlimited WiFi, which Emirates provides to Skywards members traveling in business class. Hatem tried to stop me from connecting by saying I wouldn’t have “any more free 20 MB data”, though I managed to connect anyway. Sure enough, I pulled up Emirates.com – no photography policy. I even used the search function on Emirates.com and explicitly searched “photography policy” – sure enough, no results.

I made it clear that I didn’t take any photos of crew or other passengers, though he said that the seats were “copyrighted”. Not only did he threaten me over pictures of the cabin, he also stated that pictures of Emirates’ services, including their food and beverages, were “not meant for the public”, so I was breaking rules by photographing them. The Emirates A380 cabin clearly isn’t copyrighted – heck, it’s on Google Maps! – nor are my photos – who’d know if I’d grabbed my own pictures onboard the Emirates A380, or if I’d taken them from some random other website? That being said, he said he had to “report the incident to the airline”, and threatened to file legal action if I posted any of my pictures online.

I told him that I was confused why I got verbal approval at the beginning of the flight. He made me point out who gave me verbal approval – I initially didn’t remember, though was able to point out that Rachel was the crew member who gave me approval, since she got into the photo and smiled in it. Hatem said “that’s interesting, there’s miscommunication there since she was the one who reported you”.

Hatem’s lies get shaky…

Before our confrontation ended, Hatem said “for the rest of this flight, no more photos. I’ll be watching.” I already had taken a photo of everything I wanted to photograph, so I approved. Before landing we had a bit of a sunset, so I asked another flight attendant (Olga, the sensational bartender – she was AMAZING!) to grab his approval for me to take pictures out of the window – he approved.

Olga, Issam and Rachel all came around individually to ask if I was alright after the confrontation – my compliments to them, they were spectacular. I even asked Rachel “did you find my photos uncomfortable? The purser said you were the one who spoke up.” to which Rachel denied.

Even Hatem couldn’t stop me from taking a photo of this

Before landing, I surfed the web to make sure Emirates didn’t publish a photography policy anywhere. I searched up this article on Gulf News published in 2017 titled “Dos and Don’ts for taking pictures on airplanes” – where an Emirates spokesperson said (bolding mine):

As per the rules on board Emirates flights, for example, passengers can take photos or videos of their personal experiences using small cameras or smartphones as long as they do not violate others’ privacy.

“Customers must keep in mind that their activities do not disrupt operations during the flight or infringe on the privacy of other customers on board,” an Emirates spokesperson said.

I was using a small camera and I wasn’t violating anybody’s privacy, and I’d asked crewmembers multiple times if I could take photos of the cabin. So I sure wasn’t breaking any of the above rules.

I also learned from the same article that the UAE prohibits photography whilst airside in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah airports. Now, that’s a policy I’ve seen plenty of people break without issue, though to help my case I’ll refrain from publishing those photos just yet.

On request, Hatem came around to offer his business card. I asked Hatem if he was familiar with Gulf News, to which he said yes. I showed him the article, and without reading it he said “that’s not Emirates.com, that’s not right. I emailed my relevant department and they already responded saying you need to stop now.”

  • “You need to stop now” – I’d stopped long ago
  • I asked to see the email, and he refused as it was “internal communications” (fair enough, but that only degrades his reliability)
  • He wouldn’t say which department he sent the email to

Bottom Line

In an ideal world I’d vent out my anger on what a terrible flight this was and I’ll never fly Emirates again. But I can’t do that – I need to acknowledge that the rest of the crew was spectacular, and they are so good at what they do at their job. This plane was entirely full, with 74 passengers in business class, and they were calm, cool, collected, and just so personable, especially when we were having a good time in the bar mid-flight.

However, I can’t let Hatem’s actions slide, and I need him to know the onboard rules on Emirates. I’ll contact Emirates to discuss this issue more thoroughly, and also have a video planned that will explain the situation to my YouTube viewers. It’ll contain largely similar content to this post, so well done if you’ve read up until this far.

I will make it clear to Emirates that if they provide full explanations of the below pointers, I’ll refrain from publishing my Emirates A380 picture and video reports:

  • why I was given verbal permission to photograph the cabin, and only confronted so late in the flight
  • why crew members are generally unaware of a photography policy
  • why the Emirates.com website does not state any sort of photography policy whatsoever (and if it does, why it cannot be found easily using the Emirates.com search function)
  • why so many passengers have been able to document their experiences on Emirates aircraft, including Casey Neistat, whose footage on YouTube Emirates’ team responded favourably to by upgrading him to first class

Stay tuned, this is going to be fun.

I won’t be providing first impressions posts of my flights on Emirates’ 777 and A380, as I plan to publish the full reviews entirely over the course of the next week. At the same time, I’ll also be dealing with this situation. Stay tuned!

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