Self-Check Kiosks Pose Airline Safety Threat

Having conquered the imminent threat of self-immolating shampoo, airline safety has returned to “iron-clad” status. Yeah right, all the terrorist need is a credit card with the same as someone flying that day. Using such a card, one can print a boarding pass and get on the aircraft. Creating the card would require access to a credit card writer, which hasn’t proved an obstacle for numerous identity thieves and ATM hackers.

Brandon reveals how he stumbled on this insidious arcana, inside…


    “During spring break earlier this year, I was flying from DFW to Phoenix to see my sister. I had a late flight on America West, but mistakenly went to the American Airlines quick-check-in kiosk (this was just after the two airlines had decided to merge together). I swiped my credit card and I had to input which city I was headed to. It asked me if I wanted to print my boarding pass, but there were also the names of a few other people of whom I could’ve printed their boarding pass as well… I thought this was strange, but this was really the first time I had made a flight by myself so I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I went to the gate indicated by my boarding pass, stood in line, and even though a red warning light flashed when my boarding pass was scanned, I was allowed on the plane. When I saw someone in my seat, I knew something was amiss and, after about an hour delay, was told by the stewardess that I was on the wrong flight.

    Here’s the catch: there was someone else on that plane with my name and who was also headed to Phoenix, who had 4 or so in his party. The reason I was able to print off his boarding pass was because I HAD THE SAME NAME AS HIM AND MY CREDIT CARD REFLECTED AS MUCH. That’s all you need to do to print someone else’s boarding pass! Have the same name and walk up to one of those kiosks to check in! And not only that person’s boarding pass but also anyone else whose ticket had been purchased by that credit card.

    I do commend America West, even though I missed my flight, the attendant was able to get me on a flight the next day, (in first class even!). However, I was still perplexed as to why I was able to actually board a plane for which I did not pay a ticket, merely because I had the same name as someone on the flight. I never reported what happened to the security at the airport, because it was spring break, and I didn’t feel like reporting all that had happened. “

Comments

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  1. AcilletaM says:

    How’s this any different than walking up to the counter and saying you are someone else? There is something missing here, did he have to show ID at all? If he didn’t, that’s the security issue. I use the kiosks all the time when I travel and I still get ID’d. I’m guessing though this would have happened even if he went to the desk. And you don’t need the credit card number either, you can have the ff number or even just the persons name and destination because that’s all you need to get your boarding pass from the person working the desk.

  2. Myron says:

    If you have a credit card with the name of a passenger and photo id of you in the name of that same passenger then it would seem you could fly without buying a ticket. Except when the real passsenger shows up it would have to be sorted out, so this is hardly flying undetected. Doesn’t seem like much of a threat to me.

  3. Sheik says:

    I imagine he was IDed, but having the same name as the guy who actually bought the ticket, he was allowed through.

  4. Note to Arabs with the name John Smith: We’ve got our eye on you.

  5. WindowSeat says:

    Obviously we need to place everyone with the same name flying on the same day on a list that will have them strip searched and probed at a molecular level.

  6. I’m pretty sure this was covered in a Slate (or Salon?) article in depth a while back, from using the kiosk the day of with a stolen/forged credit card to editing the printed online boarding pass from home.

    Security lapses aside, I’m not sure I look forward to the day when they finally do get their act together and we’re tracked by GPS and DNA from the moment we enter the airport grounds until we’re on the plane.

  7. Smoking Pope says:

    As for credit card writers, I work in IT and needed 5 of them for a project I was working on. (Admittedly, this was pre-9/11 and before identity theft became as big a deal as it is now.)

    I called several manufacturers, and when I found one with a good deal, I ordered 5. The entire security procedure I went through was like this:

    “What do you need a writer for?”

    “An IT project. We’re making security/time-tracking cards”

    “Ok. We have to be careful.”

    Not too careful, apparently.

    I’d be curious to see what the procedure for buying one is like now. Hopefully it’s been tightened up a bit.

  8. inzain says:

    How would tightening up the purchase solve anything? Security through obscurity isn’t security at all. The security of the data on the credit card should be strong enough to prevent people from being able to create their own credit cards. It wouldn’t matter if you even went so far as to outlaw credit card writers, because the malicious ones are breaking the law anyway.

  9. Pelagius says:

    I’ve checked in online and printed a boarding pass, then headed over to National Airport (DC) without once showing ID. The first time it’s checked is at the security gate. They just check that the name on the ID and on the boarding pass match. You could simply present a faked up printout.

    They do scan the barcode at the gate. Not sure if that links up to DO NOT FLY lists or other technology the way the desk agents’ terminals do. The gate agent usually seems pretty harried anyway, and doesn’t know how to use the machine half the time.

    I love the convenience, and bless ye gods that despite all the other stupidity TSA still allows it, but imagine that it wouldn’t be too hard to hack.

  10. Smoking Pope says:

    @Pelagius: And since people can print off their boarding passes at home now, the gate agent often gets them after they’ve been folded up so many times that they’re unreadable. In that case, they just eyeball the pass quickly and let you right on board.

  11. phrygian says:

    A year ago, I checked in with an AA clerk, who looked at my ID and handed me someone else’s boarding pass. To make matters worse, the other person’s boarding pass only shared *part* of my name. (It wasn’t even a close match.) Realizing the mistake right after I left the counter, I returned to a different clerk. (The previous one had conviently just gone on break.) I was scrutinized, questioned about how I possibly could have gotten someone else’s ticket, and scowled at for wanting to have *my* seat next to my husband’s (the way I’d booked them). After about 15 minutes, both my husband and I had our (corrected) passes printed out with the dreaded “special security screening” code on them. Punishment for questioning the airlines, I suppose.

  12. Hitchcock says:

    And anyone at home can print out a fake boarding pass to get passed security. Big deal.

    The biggest use I see for this is scamming Southwest out of airfare, as often the scanner isn’t working and the gate agent doesn’t verify if the boarding pass is legit or not. Just don’t choose a full flight and you should be fine.

  13. Blue says:


    A credit card is NOT NEEDED to bring SOMEONE ELSE’S itinerary up. I did last friday while checking into a USAir flight at KLGA. I entered my name then the wrong flight number and the comp. retrieved someone else’s itinerary.

    The software is idiotic. I had a confirmation code but there is not option to enter it. I was cursing over that.

  14. kostia says:

    Very little sympathy for the inconvenience of someone who can’t tell the difference between American Airlines and America West (which has merged with USAirways, NOT with American). I can’t believe they put this guy in first class or did anything to accommodate him. It was his mistake checking in on the wrong airline. He should have lost his fare entirely.