In a Post-9/11 world, airport security is at an all-time high. Unfortunately, the attitudes and security policies that resulted from that tragic day have had a negative effect on plane spotters and their beloved hobby. Spotter-friendly airports, as loved and appreciated as they are by the aviation community, are few and far in between these days. This website was started with the intent to educate, inform, and promote the hobby of plane spotting as a fun, safe, and harmless activity.
Perhaps you're new to plane spotting? Or maybe you're an experienced spotter with stacks of log books and thousands of photos of flying machines to your name! Regardless, this site has something for everyone. Need help getting started? Fuzzy on your legal rights as a plane spotter or photographer? It's all here. Let's get started!
“What is plane spotting?”
Wikipedia defines plane spotting as:
“... the observation and logging of the registration numbers of aircraft: gliders, powered aircraft, balloons, airships, helicopters, and microlights.”
While that may sound boring and tedious to some, there are thousands (millions?) of plane spotters that enjoy this wonderful activity every day. Some (myself included) choose to take pictures or video of airplanes while other plane spotters merely like to sit, relax, and enjoy the view. All of the above would be considered "plane spotting" in my opinion.
Sounds simple enough, right? It is! There are however, some "Do's" and "Don'ts" of plane spotting.
Know your rights!
A large portion of plane spotters also double as photographers when out spotting, therefore it is good to know and understand your rights as a photographer. Below are some excerpts from "The Photographer’s Right" by Bert P. Krages II. Download the full .pdf here. I suggest keeping a copy in your camera bag or on your person when out plane spotting.
“The general rule in the United States is that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place or places where they have permission to take photographs. Absent a specific legal prohibition such as a statute or ordinance, you are legally entitled to take photographs.”
“There are some exceptions to the general rule. A significant one is that commanders of military installations can prohibit photographs of specific areas when they deem it necessary to protect national security.”
“Despite misconceptions to the contrary, the following subjects can almost always be photographed lawfully from public places:”
- accident and fire scenes
- bridges and other infrastructure
- residential and commercial buildings
- industrial facilities and public utilities
- transportation facilities (e.g., airports)
- criminal activities
- law enforcement officers
“On occasion, law enforcement officers may object to photography but most understand that people have the right to take photographs and do not interfere with photographers. They do have the right to keep you away from areas where you may impede their activities or endanger safety. However, they do not have the legal right to prohibit you from taking photographs from other locations.”
“Sometimes agents acting for entities such as owners of industrial plants and shopping malls may ask you to hand over your film. Absent a court order, private parties have no right to confiscate your film.
Law enforcement officers may have the authority to seize film when making an arrest but otherwise must obtain a court order.”
“In the event you are threatened with detention or asked to surrender your film, asking the following questions
can help ensure that you will have the evidence to enforce your legal rights:”
- What is the person’s name?
- Who is their employer?
- Are you free to leave? If not, how do they intend to stop you if you decide to leave? What legal basis do they assert for the detention?
- Likewise, if they demand your film, what legal basis do they assert for the confiscation?
Additionally, the ACLU has created a website that has helpful information pertaining to photographer's rights as well.