United Airlines: A Tweet Could Get People on ‘No Fly List’ and Kicked Off the Plane [Part 2]

United Airlines

A tweet or post against United Airlines from days ago, would now be enough for people to get themselves on the ‘No Fly List’, prompting the airline to kick those passengers off the flights. This could be the case even for people who have purchased confirmed tickets from either United Airlines website or any other vendor website. Recently, an incident was reported when a prominent security researcher was stopped by United Airlines from boarding his flight which was bound for San Francisco, California. The researcher had apparently tried to bring attention to United’s vulnerabilities, when he tweeted that the on-board systems of the airline could be hacked.

Chris Roberts, a distinguished security researcher, was stopped by United Airlines corporate security at the gate. He was going to a major security conference, where he was a speaker on security risks in the 21st century. Roberts is the founder of One World Labs, a company which works on identifying and discovering security risks before they could be exploited. This shows the remarkable, arbitrary power that United can use to bump passengers off the flight, as a tweet or post from days ago would now be enough for people to get themselves on the ‘No Fly List.’

It must also be reported that Roberts was taken off a United Airlines flight earlier as well. He was also questioned by the FBI for hours after he tweeted about getting the oxygen masks on the plane to deploy. His laptop was seized by the authorities, but no search warrant was shown. After bumping him off the San Francisco-bound flight, United Airlines staff informed Roberts that he would be receiving a letter within two weeks, explaining why he would no longer be allowed on a United flight.

Rahsaan Johnson, a spokesman for United Airlines, informed media that Roberts would not be allowed to fly United, because of his claims related to manipulating aircraft systems. He said that the company has complete faith in their flight control systems, and they could not have been accessed by Roberts. However, Johnson ignored the question why Roberts was still considered a threat and not allowed to fly, if he could not have compromised the control systems of United Airlines plane.

United AirlinesThis is not an isolated incident to have occurred with the airliner. Many instances have been reported of the airport staff of United Airlines, using passive-aggressive tone to convey to passengers that their name could be added to the no-fly list. An Associate Editor for this publication witnessed this kind of shocking and rude behavior on part of United Airlines ground staff at Liberty International Airport, Newark, New Jersey and San Francisco Airport. The editor was returning from a high level conference held at the United Nations regarding use of sustainable energy sources around the world.

The United Airlines flight was delayed due to reasons that were not disclosed to the passengers waiting at the gate. The flight status screen continued to display the change of timing, and further delay of the plane’s arrival, as there were hundreds of passengers left stranded at the airport gate. In the mean time, United kept updating the names of passengers in the waiting list as confirmed. Once the plane arrived after a delay of three hours, people boarded the flight, and had to put up with the pathetic in-flight service from the flight attendants.

To everybody’s horror, a similar scenario played out again at the San Francisco Airport as the connecting flights had departed. The flight in which people were transferred was also delayed by two hours. As there were many passengers who had missed their connecting flights, people started to get irate. On an elderly couple’s request, the editor approached the desk of the ground staff of United Airlines to ask about the connecting flight. The answer was that people with connecting flights were supposed to ask the other United Airlines staff at the next airport.

United AirlinesWhen the editor saw another passenger trying to prod a little more about the reason for the flight’s delay, as it was not due to weather issues, the ground staff chose to explain about the no-fly list. The staff also informed that they were making notes for the in-flight staff about the unhappiness of the passenger. This shows why United Airlines and its staff is ranked as one of the worst, because of their lack of empathy and haughty responses. This is bound to hurt the airline’s revenues as people have started choosing its competitors over United Airlines.

Nate Carozo, the attorney who represents Roberts, later said that it was disappointing to learn that United disallowed his client from boarding the flight. He also said that United needs to learn that computer security researchers like Roberts are an ally, and not a threat. The FBI did not comment on the case. These are just two out of numerous instances that passengers face everyday regarding how United Airlines can kick passengers off the flight, and a tweet or post would now be enough for people to get themselves on the ‘No Fly List.’ This article is the second in a series of investigative articles about the negligence, insensitivity, and absolute arbitrary ways of functioning of United Airlines.

(Please watch this space for Part 1 and Part 3 of the series)

By Ankur Sinha

Sources:
CNN-Fearing United plane was hacked, FBI pulls security expert off flight
The Washington Post-Just how hackable is your plane?
The Times Of India-United Airlines bans researcher from flight after tweet on security

Photo(1) Courtesy of Aero Icarus’ Flickr Page–Creative Commons License
Photo(2) Courtesy of URNewsNow’s Flickr Page
Photo(3) Courtesy of URNewsNow’s Flickr Page

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