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United Airlines’ cockpit access codes were made public. They didn’t fix it right away

Access codes for United Airlines cockpits were posted online.
Access codes for United Airlines cockpits were posted online. AP

A flight attendant mistakenly posted information on a public website including security codes used to access the cockpit on United Airlines planes, according to the Wall Street Journal.

United emailed employees a safety alert on Saturday that told them the company’s security procedures “may have been compromised,” CBS News reported. They were told that “the risk of a breach of the flight deck door is strongly mitigated by carefully following the flight deck security procedures.”

These procedures include visually verifying the identity of someone seeking to gain access to the flight deck, which also requires entering a code. Those codes are changed occasionally, but airline employees were told be sure they knew who was trying to gain access before the person was allowed in. Even if the right code is entered, pilots have the ability to override the system and prevent someone from entering the cockpit.

“The safety of our customers and crew is our top priority and United utilizes a number of measures to keep our flight decks secure beyond door access information,” United said in a statement, saying that the visual verification protocol would keep cockpits secure.

The Air Line Pilots Association on Sunday said the problem had been fixed. It was not the result of a hack or data breach, and the Federal Aviation Administration was alerted of the security lapse. No flight delays were reported in connection with the incident.

Cockpit security was heightened following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when hijackers took control of four commercial airliners. Passengers aren’t allowed in the front bathroom on an aircraft when the cockpit door is open, and access to the flight deck is blocked, sometimes using a food cart. Passengers are also prohibited from gathering in the front of the aircraft at any time.

According to FAA regulations, the door to the flight crew compartment on an airplane should be designed to “resist penetration by small arms fire and grenade shrapnel.” Doors must be kept locked except when people are entering and exiting the cockpit.