As an avid plane spotter, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with the curious/uninformed public, skeptic law enforcement officers (LEOs), airport staff, and even airline employees. Typically these exchanges go positively and, with luck, without missing out on any good shots: “Who are you? What are you doing? Why are you taking photos in a post-9/11 world?” To which I respond: JL Johnson, frequent traveler, airline reporter, and, most importantly: AvGeek.
Typically I tell them about my passion and how [whatever organization they represent] is generally supportive (or at least tolerant) of such activity. It’s not uncommon that I pull out an iDevice and show the inquirer samples of my work and/or tweets endorsing or acknowledging spotting from various institutions (I keep a list of tweets handy for this very reason – you should too).
While doing homework on the environment in advance of spotting is key, I find that the more geeky and passionate I make the conversation the quicker a situation is defused. Apparently geeks can’t be bad guys. For whatever reason, people respond better not to fact, but passion/emotion. So I bring both.
That’s the typical interaction. Alas, my attempts to convince folks that I’m not a terrorist and that my telephoto lens doesn’t shoot plane-crippling ray-gun beams are not always successful. I had one such interaction recently at Chicago’s Midway Airport (MDW) which I’d like to detail if only to clear the air about what’s generally allowed vs. not, how to handle these encounters, and to assure my AvGeek brethren that it’s typically OK to take photos of publicly-visible property from public areas. But…your results may vary.