Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Dear American Airlines

Over at Boing-Boing, Cory posts the latest in his saga of having American Airlines ask for a written list of his friends.

As I thought about this story, I realized something very worrisome. I fly American! I also realized that I don’t know if I’ll have the right papers with me when I do. So I decided to write to Mr. Rhodes and ask some questions. I think lots of people should have questions, and be sending letters. If I don’t get good answers, I’ll be sure to send the letters higher up the corporate ladder.

We all know that sunshine is the best disinfectant. The more companies like American hear that this behavior, and the subsequent dodge, weave and spin, is unacceptable to us as their customers, shareholders, or employees, the less likely they are to engage in it. So spend 5 minutes and a stamp, and let them know what you think. Who knows, you might find a use for that liberty someday.

Mr. Tim Rhodes
American Airlines Customer Relations
P.O. Box 619612 MD 2400
DFW Airport, TX 75261-9612

10 April 2005

Dear Mr. Rhodes,

I read with interest Mr. Cory Doctrow’s letters to you regarding his interesting experiences flying American Airlines, which, as I’m sure you’re aware, are on the web at and

I have been an American Airlines customer for over 15 years. However, I am very concerned that you seem to have a different set of security regulations in place for AAdvantage Platinum members, and this raises a number of questions for me:

  1. As a non-Platinum member, am I required to provide American Airlines with lists of my friends, at your discretion?
  2. If so, what do you do with those lists?
  3. Do my many years as a customer interact with this rule?
  4. I have had substantial frequent flyer status in the past on other airlines: Will my (expired) gold status on other airlines preserve my privacy?
  5. I’ve flown American recently, and not been asked for such a list. Does this regulation only apply outside of the United States?
  6. Are there other intrusive questions required by FAA regulations that apply only to American that I should be prepared to answer, and document my answer? I ask not to avoid your security procedures, but so I can have handy whatever documents you think are needed to prove my answers.

I look forward to your reply.

Why not take a minute and send Mr. Rhodes a letter of your own? I’m sure American loves hearing from their customers. Feel free to use my text.

3 comments on "Dear American Airlines"

  • Boing Boing says:

    American Airlines’ dossier on Cory’s friends: the latest installment

    Back in January, I flew American Airlines from London Gatwick to San Francisco. At the checkin counter, I was shocked when an AA security guard (not a customs officer — private, corporate contract-security for AA) demanded that I produce a written dos…

  • Cypherpunk says:

    It’s interesting that AA claims that Cory “exhibited specific behaviors and cues before and during our initial security screening that caused our screener to initiate a secondary screening process.” I can believe it. He comes into the screening area with a chip on his shoulder, maybe kind of looking to make trouble, and guess what, he gets trouble. And he gets to write about it and enhance his fame on the net. Which will indirectly help with his book sales, by a remarkable coincidence.
    You might pass along to Cory that the FAA regulation in question, which requires airlines to keep “sensitive security information” secret is probably FAR Part 191, [link no longer works]. See in particular 191.3(b):
    The Administrator prohibits disclosure of information developed in the
    conduct of security or research and development activities under 49 U.S.C.
    40119 if, in the opinion of the Administrator, the disclosure of such
    information would:
    (1) Constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy (including, but not
    limited to, information contained in any personnel, medical, or similar
    (2) Reveal trade secrets or privileged or confidential information obtained
    from any person; or
    (3) Be detrimental to the safety of persons traveling in air

  • Richard Bennett says:

    My goodness, this Doctorow character is as odd as John Gilmore.

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