back to article Beaten passenger, check. Dead giant rabbit, check. Now United loses cockpit door codes

You get the feeling United's PR boss must be praying for death at this point, after his employer admitted to another serious cockup. After settling the case of a doctor who had his teeth knocked out for refusing to be bumped from his flight, and with the current legal action over a giant rabbit that died in transit on one of …

  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    "t took a few thousand deaths for the airlines to get their acts together."

    Sounds about right.

    They're not saying all the United cockpits use the same code are you?

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: "t took a few thousand deaths for the airlines to get their acts together."

      They fly Transit Vans do they?

      "Locked out? Here, try my key".

    2. TheVogon

      Re: "t took a few thousand deaths for the airlines to get their acts together."

      Not a big deal anyway. The occupants of the cockpit can still choose to block entry even if the code is known:

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/germanwings-captain-patrick-sondenheimer-tried-to-break-into-locked-cockpit-door-with-an-axe-as-10138492.html

      1. JassMan Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: "t took a few thousand deaths for the airlines to get their acts together."

        The Germanwings incident shows yet another example of the stupidity of airline regulations. You can't even carry on a thread cutter with a 1/4inch blade for embroidery because it has a sharp edge yet there are AXES already on board so that the crew can try break down the cockpit door. Any genuine axe murderer would have a field day.

        1. Glenturret Single Malt

          Re: "t took a few thousand deaths for the airlines to get their acts together."

          I have always been a little surprised that Emirates issues splendid metal knives and forks with its (economy class) meals.

        2. AngryFace

          Re: "t took a few thousand deaths for the airlines to get their acts together."

          The fire axes are on the inside of the cockpit door you donut.

          Source: Am a pilot

    3. Hans 1
      Facepalm

      Re: "t took a few thousand deaths for the airlines to get their acts together."

      They're not saying all the United cockpits use the same code are you?

      Not only that, it is VERY EASY to watch a steward(ess) enter the digits ...

      The system makes EVERYBODY feel safer, so I guess it is OK ... Note that almost anybody can break a piece of plastic off a seat to have a sharp weapon of mass destruction ... pretty sure you can pass security with a piece of sharp plastic ... I managed to board a flight with a cork screw, hehehe, told the security guyz I was French, worked!

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: "t took a few thousand deaths for the airlines to get their acts together."

        pretty sure you can pass security with a piece of sharp plastic

        They sell glass in Duty Free, one sharp tap & you have a sharp weapon.

  2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Waiting....

    ...for the door codes to be changed? WTF?

    I suppose it's like where I used to work in local government where if you needed the door keypad number to be changed you had to submit a change request to Sites & Premises and wait for Finance to approve it and wait for the caretaker who knew which cupboard the hex spanner was in to turn up. "We'll get around to it in the next few weeks" doesn't cut it when a councillor has defected to another party and the door code needs to be changed NOW so he can't get back in again.

    1. vir

      Re: Waiting....

      Supposedly they change the code annually so I believe they'll just do it early this year. The pilots also have a button in the cockpit that overrides the keypad so even if someone got a hold of the correct combination, they would still have to convince the pilots into letting them in. I'm also willing to bet that the crew has a duress word to let the pilots know that a face-to-face request (so to speak) isn't legitimate.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Waiting....

        I'm also willing to bet that the crew has a duress word to let the pilots know that a face-to-face request (so to speak) isn't legitimate.

        Knowing these muppets it'll be a word they have to say only when threatened, a bit difficult with a weapon at your back. Better you pick a word you have to say each time if everything is ok. If the attacker tells you to only say what he tells you then he's not gonna know you normally mention 'Squirrel' and when the pilot doesn't hear that he knows something's up.

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: Waiting....

          If I were a hijacker, I'd be telling the crew member "either that cabin door opens, or your spine does, so think about that before you get clever with any 'duress' code or something".

          I'm none too sure how much "security" that would add to the whole setup.

          1. Wzrd1

            Re: Waiting....

            I don't think that'd be all that effective.

            You're dead if you don't give in, you're dead if you do give in and all of the passengers are dead as well.

            1. Black Betty

              Re: Waiting....

              Amazingly effective actually. Most people will do almost anything in order to prolong their own lives, even if only by minutes or seconds.

              1. Rich 11 Silver badge

                Re: Waiting....

                Amazingly effective actually. Most people will do almost anything in order to prolong their own lives, even if only by minutes or seconds.

                Yes, but people also do incredibly courageous things in the face of a threat to something they consider their responsibility.

            2. ps2os2

              Re: Waiting....

              Knowing that airlines cheap out on just about everything. I expect there is a clause in the insurance policy that if you somehow give access to the pilot your insurance isn't valid. If however you die because of resistance to a hijacker then your policy is limited to X.

  3. frank ly

    Maybe

    "The interim procedure is that the identity of an entrant onto the cockpit has to be cleared by someone inside before the door is opened."

    'Who's that?'

    'It's me, the senior stewardess, with your coffee (and a gun pressed into my back).'

    1. cbars

      Re: Maybe

      Sorry to be that guy, but I believe the term is Flight Attendant

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Maybe

        Ha! The Flight Attendant wouldn't make that mistake, she must have a gun pressed against her back!

        1. m0rt

          Re: Maybe

          You, Sir, I want to defend me in court...if I ever get caught.

      2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Maybe

        Nope, not Flight Attendant any more. It's "Cabin Crew".

        Don't want to give the impression that they're on board to attend to anything now, do we?

  4. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    Hmmm

    United's PR boss must be praying for death at this point

    Uber's former PR flack is looking for work. Given her extensive recent experience with conflagrant trash receptacles, United Airlines PR would be a perfect fit for her.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Strengthened doors with electronic locks on airliners are stupid

    There've already been a few cases where one of the pilots has been locked outside the cockpit either inadvertently, due to system failure, or intentionally as happened with the Germanwings suicide crash. They don't prevent hijacking (think rogue cabin crew with access to the cockpit) and if a hijacking does occur, then the passengers are completely at the mercy of the terrorists who will lock themselves inside.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Strengthened doors with electronic locks on airliners are stupid

      Plus, how secure is the code changing procedure? Is it really involved, or are they hiding the fact that anyone with a motive, access, and a paper clip could change it? I have a laptop lock that has the same level of security, if that is the case. Best keep that one under lock and... oh yeah. Never mind.

      1. Barry Rueger

        Re: Strengthened doors with electronic locks on airliners are stupid

        Plus, how secure is the code changing procedure? Is it really involved, or are they hiding the fact that anyone with a motive, access, and a paper clip could change it?

        I'll hazard a guess that it requires one of the super secret, super secure universal luggage keys that the TSA agents use to rifle through your belongings.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Strengthened doors with electronic locks on airliners are stupid

      IMHO it's just down to risk probability. A suicide pilot or a rogue cabin crew are less probable of terrorists trying to hijack the airplane.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Strengthened doors with electronic locks on airliners are stupid

        IMHO it's just down to risk probability. A suicide pilot or a rogue cabin crew are less probable of terrorists trying to hijack the airplane.

        As already mentioned, they can make hijackings more dangerous, not less, should the terrorists take control of the cockpit.

        Anyway, after 9/11 hijacking became much less feasible purely through an alteration in probable human behaviour and psychology. Nowadays, very few passengers will follow the orders of terrorists while they attempt to take control of an aircraft, as used to happen in the past, since they know there's a strong likelihood that the plane will be used for a suicide mission. In any conceivable situation the passengers will vastly outnumber the terrorists, so their odds of success have now become negligible.

        1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

          Re: Strengthened doors with electronic locks on airliners are stupid

          @AC - If the odds of surviving are very slim and truly none the passengers have nothing to lose by grabbing at very slim. For practical purposes they are dead anyway.

          1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

            Re: Strengthened doors with electronic locks on airliners are stupid

            "For practical purposes they are dead anyway."

            That sounds a lot like "Let's shoot down the plane!"

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Strengthened doors with electronic locks on airliners are stupid

              "That sounds a lot like "Let's shoot down the plane!"

              I have no doubt that that is one of the options considered these days, even if not spoken about publicly.

        2. LDS Silver badge

          Re: Strengthened doors with electronic locks on airliners are stupid

          Sure, there were no hijacks since 2001, right? In some of them passenger reacted, but not all of them.

          Also, it someone gets into the cockpit, it takes very little to put the plane in a non-recoverable dive. Made soon after take of, or before landing, it can still create big damages, although may not allow for hitting specific objectives.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Angel

    El Reg--you left out United's problems with stowaway scorpions!

    Truly indicative that a biblical plague is descending on United Airlines!

    http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/13/health/scorpion-united-airlines-flight-trnd/

    https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/05/12/scorpion-reported-united-flight-houston-ecuador/319319001/

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Coat

      Re: El Reg--you left out United's problems with stowaway scorpions!

      Goddamit! I've had it with...

      Coat.

  7. swschrad

    try 1234

    and thank you for flying the >bang<

    1. admiraljkb

      Re: try 1234

      don't tell anyone, but the new keycode sequence is 4567 (keep it under your hat)

      1. Wzrd1

        Re: try 1234

        Aw, now you've spoiled it!

        Quick, change the changed code to 6789...

      2. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: try 1234

        That's the kind of code an idiot would have on their luggage.

        1. eldakka Silver badge

          Re: try 1234

          I'd better change the code on my luggage.

        2. LDS Silver badge

          Re: try 1234

          Since you need TSA locks on luggage if you need to touch the US, does it really matter?

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: try 1234

            "Since you need TSA locks on luggage if you need to touch the US, does it really matter?"

            So, how do get these locks if not in the US? Are they available for a small consideration at the departure airport, possibly with a slight mark-up?

            1. LDS Silver badge

              Re: try 1234

              Most luggage shops sell them worldwide, now, as well airports shops. And a lot of luggage now comes with TSA locks built in, meaning luggage handlers don't really need much effort to open whatever they like...

  8. 2Nick3

    What if the pilot and copilot both have the fish???

    If someone has to let you in from the cockpit side of the door, and both pilots are incapacitated, it doesn't matter if Ted Striker is on the flight or not - your only hope is Otto!!

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: What if the pilot and copilot both have the fish???

      and hope you don't have to use the manual inflation nozzle... (37 seconds in)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What if the pilot and copilot both have the fish???

      Yet another reason why such doors are stupid.

      Really a very poorly thought through reactionary move in response to 9/11. Kinda like the Iraq War, come to think about it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What if the pilot and copilot both have the fish???

        "Kinda like the Iraq War, come to think about it."

        Everyone knows that the US Army have some of the most poorly trained soldiers in the world. A US soldier can have as little as 6 weeks training. As a comparison, UK soldiers have a minimum of 28 weeks... What happened was that the US aimed for Saudi Arabia and missed!

        1. James O'Shea

          Re: What if the pilot and copilot both have the fish???

          "As little a 6 weeks training"

          Oh, really? Training in the US Army is split into two components: basic training, which all soldiers regardless of specialty, must take and which lasts10 weeks, not 6, and advanced training, which varies by specialty and which can last 52 weeks. Might be as short as another 10. Anyone who's done just six weeks ain't out of basic yet. The USMC does 12 weeks of basic, plus varying amounts of advanced. Where _do_ you get your info?

          1. eldakka Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: What if the pilot and copilot both have the fish???

            Where _do_ you get your info?

            The Register?

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: What if the pilot and copilot both have the fish???

            "Where _do_ you get your info?"

            1970s-80s Hollywood films :-)

    3. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: What if the pilot and copilot both have the fish???

      The button in the cockpit is a time based lockout. If nobody buzzes the person in when a code is entered the person is let into the cockpit after x seconds. If someone presses the lockout button the keypad (and thus the door) is locked out for some time (I believe a minute or something) so pilots have to keep pressing the button to keep the door closed. If no-one presses the button the cockpit door can be opened. (Yes, they've put atleast SOME thought into this)

      1. Norman Nescio

        Re: What if the pilot and copilot both have the fish???

        I'm sorry to say you are incorrect as far as the Germanwings crash is concerned.

        The French Air Accident Investigation Bureau (Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses, (BEA)) have made an English translation of their final report available for download on their website, here:

        https://www.bea.aero/en/investigation-reports/notified-events/detail/event/accident-to-the-airbus-a320-211-registered-d-aipx-flight-gwi18g-on-24-march-2015/

        If you look at the section on the cockpit door locking system (Section 1.6.4 starting on page 19) you will see the door could be locked permanently (no timeout) by whoever was in the cockpit. Details are on page 21:

        "...three-position toggle switch..."

        " - If they move the switch to the LOCK position, the door is kept locked. The acoustic signal stops. The red LED lights up continuously on the keypad to indicate locking is voluntary. Any interaction with the keypad is then disabled for 5 minutes (until the extinction of the red LED) (10). At any time, the crew in the cockpit may cancel this locking by placing the switch in the UNLOCK position. The door then immediately unlocks.

        - In the absence of any input on the switch, the door remains locked. No LEDs light up on the keypad. The acoustic signal stops after one second."

        In other words, on that model of Airbus, in the configuration used at the time, someone in control of the cockpit could lock out other people indefinitely, without needing "to keep pressing the button".

        There was a lot of discussion on PPRuNe about this at the time.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: What if the pilot and copilot both have the fish???

          @ Norman Nescio

          I'll bow to your clearly better informed knowledge. I'm not a commercial pilot, I just pretend to know stuff on the internet :)

          Also, great nickname.

    4. LDS Silver badge

      Re: What if the pilot and copilot both have the fish???

      Isn't there a rule both pilots can't have the fish (they can't eat the same food before flying)?

    5. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Obviously

    To keep Abagnale Jnr's out

  10. Paul

    damn, that was the same combination as my luggage!

  11. Someone Else Silver badge
    FAIL

    Untied Airlines

    Maybe they are too big to not fail?

    1. eldakka Silver badge

      Re: Untied Airlines

      Maybe they are too big to not failfall?

      FTFY.

  12. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Security Theater

    Locking the cockpit door is only effective if every other security procedure has failed - a bad guy has to get on the plane first AND they have to be effectively armed, so preflight checks have failed AND passenger scanning has failed. What are the chances?

    Realistically we're in far more danger from a bent laptop battery in the baggage compartment.

    1. admiraljkb

      Re: Security Theater

      "Realistically we're in far more danger from a bent laptop battery in the baggage compartment."

      or just in the passenger area via a bad battery in a phone, tablet, laptop, baby toy, etc etc etc...

      1. G.Y.

        battery Re: Security Theater

        It's way easier to put out battery fire in the cabin than in the hold

      2. collinsl

        Re: Security Theater

        Better for the battery to be in the cabin where someone with an extinguisher can put it out and dump it in a bucket of water than in the hold where it will burn and then set light to all the suitcases and clothes and other lithium batteries where no one can do anything bar releasing the one shot extinguisher system and praying...

  13. Alistair
    Coat

    I rather suspect

    that the cockpit door codes can be changed rather easily by the appropriate flight maintenance crew. The issue of course is distributing the updated codes to the, lets see now:

    a) flight deck crews that will be flying the plane

    b) the cabin staff that will be serving the flight deck crews

    c) the ground staff that maintain the equipment on the aircraft

    d) the security folks at the airports that will need to be able to access the fight deck in the event of a flight deck crew emergency

    e) the foreign ground staff all over the planet that need to maintain the equipment on the flight deck.

    I'm rather sure that the list is somewhat longer than that.

    Security theatre. KeyWord Theatre.

    1. admiraljkb
      Joke

      Re: I rather suspect

      "KeyWord Theatre."

      Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if you walked up to the door and just said "Alexa, open the door" ?

      1. Florida1920

        Re: I rather suspect

        Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if you walked up to the door and just said "Alexa, open the door" ?

        "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

        1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: I rather suspect

          Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if you walked up to the door and just said "Alexa, open the door" ?

          "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

          https://xkcd.com/149/

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: I rather suspect

      The cleaners have to have access to the cockpit.

      You know, those highly trained, hand-picked specialists that got their security clearance after a robust and thorough vetting process who are paid so well that trying to bribe them is futile outsourced guys on zero hours contracts who'll switch jobs in a heartbeat at the mere chance of landing a gig that pays minimum wage, working shitty jobs for shitty companies whose rate of staff turnover are so large that they'll hire anyone who stands still for long enough to stuff them into a cheap polyester coverall.

  14. LaeMing
    Unhappy

    "The safety of our customers ... is our top priority"

    Unless we have overbooked and want your seat back.

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