Cockpit Codes Accidentally Revealed — But Access Was Never an Issue

May 16, 2017

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United’s back in the news. And — again — the news isn’t good. But it isn’t the disaster many are making it out to be, either.

To make a long story short, a flight attendant accidentally shared codes that crew members use to request access to the cockpit on select Airbus planes. According to a WSJ report, “a flight attendant mistakenly posted information that included access codes on a public website.” While this can surely be considered “sensitive” information that clearly should not have become public, the “access” code in question doesn’t actually give an unauthorized person access to the cockpit. Instead, it sounds a chime alerting the pilots that someone would like them to open the door.

While it’s essentially a doorbell, you can also think of it as a secret handshake of sorts — in theory, anyone with the code would be eligible for access to the cockpit, but a crew member would only open the door after verifying the identity of the person asking to come in, and checking to make sure that the coast is clear using an overhead cabin camera or cockpit door peephole.

United did confirm the leak, but also clarified that the code alone will not grant access to the cockpit:

We have learned that some cockpit door access information may have been made public. 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. In the interim this protocol ensures our cockpits remain secure. We are working to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

United reportedly alerted crew members once it discovered the breach on Saturday. So, were any of us ever at risk here? That’s difficult to say — if a pilot had been reckless and had simply opened the door without checking to see who was trying to get in, a passenger could theoretically have made their way to the flight deck. But considering all the training crew members go through, especially when it comes to cockpit access procedures, that’s a very unlikely scenario — code or no code.

Featured image by ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images.

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