Garuda backflips on anti-selfie policy after influencer critiques airline on handwritten menu

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Vernandes has more than 500,000 subscribers on YouTube.

An Indonesian travel blogger says he is facing defamation charges after posting to YouTube a video mocking a handwritten menu he was presented while travelling on a Garuda flight.

Key points:

  • Vernandes posted video of the handwritten menu he was given on the flight on his YouTube channel 
  • Garuda told employees to stop passengers taking photos on flights, before reversing that decision after a backlash 
  • The travel blogger says he was reported to police for defamation

Rius Vernandes was travelling from Sydney to Denpasar, Bali, with his fiancee when he says he was given a handwritten menu for his business class meal.

He mocked the airline in a video review on his YouTube channel, which has attracted more than one million views.

In the video, a flight attendant can be heard apologising over a printing problem and “bad writing”.

A spokesman for the airline denied the handwritten note was the airline’s “official in-flight menu for the business class” in an article from The Jakarta Post.

On Twitter, the airline said the menu was not for passengers but had been meant as a notice for flight attendants.

A person holds a hand-written menu while sitting on a plane.

Australian travellers lament lack of wine

Mr Vernandes’ video also included the comments of two Australian men, who said the plane had run out of all wine two hours into the flight.

“It’s pretty sad because the staff are very embarrassed,” one of the men said.

“There’s like 40 business-class seats here right, and you have three bottles of champagne — that’s all they had.

“For 40 seats, that’s pretty bad.”

Mr Vernandes has 500,000 subscribers on YouTube and more than 120,000 followers on Instagram, with the review quickly being picked up by Indonesian media.

Airline’s photo policy changes

On Tuesday, a directive from the airline instructing cabin crew to stop passengers taking photos and videos mid-air was leaked on social media.

Indonesia is one of Instagram’s biggest markets worldwide, where posting travel “selfies” is hugely popular.

On Wednesday, Garuda spokesman Ikhsan Rosan said in a statement that the directive had been an internal document which has since been revised to make clear it was just appealing to passengers to respect the privacy of other passengers and flight crew on duty when taking photos.

“This appeal is also based on reports, suggestions and input from customers or passengers who feel uncomfortable and disturbed by the shooting and documentation of activities without prior permission,” he said.

He told Reuters there was no link between the intended directive and Mr Vernandes’ posts.

‘You all have a voice — especially influencers’

But the travel blogger said police had contacted both him and his fiance over the matter.

“We were reported on suspicion of committing a crime of defamation,” he said on Instagram.

“I’m sure you know that I have no intention at all to defame anyone.

“I really ask for your support about this. All of it. Anyone. You all have a voice. Especially influencers.

“I hope you can help share and support me in this problem because I don’t want it in the future when we review things as they are, when we give constructive critics, we can be [treated as a] criminal.”

An Instagram photo of two envelopes with police crests on them.

The head of Garuda’s labor union, Tomy Tampatty, told Tempo news website that several airline employees had filed a police report accusing the bloggers of “causing a negative perception… towards the country’s national flag carrier”.

Mr Rosan said the company itself had not filed a report, only “union employees”.

Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta airport chief, Victor Togi Tambunan, said Mr Vernandes and his fiancee had been reported to police over claims they had broken Indonesia’s broad internet defamation laws, although they had not been made suspects.

The policies of airlines around the world over taking photos in the cabin appear to vary depending on the carrier.