American Airlines Flight 136 from LAX to London was delayed on Sunday night after someone in the vicinity picked an inappropriate name for their Wi-Fi hotspot.
The drama began when a passenger on Flight 136 from Los Angeles International Airport to London Heathrow discovered a wireless connection named “Al-Quida Free Terror Nettwork [sic].”
The passenger alerted a flight attendant who passed the concern over to the flight crew.
Passenger Kevin Simon told Daily Mail Online that the crew informed passengers there was a ‘minor security issue’ as the plane was held in position for an hour and a half before returning to the terminal gate.
While passengers were very much kept in the dark, learning what had happened later from the news, Simon did reveal how on-board security was alert to the situation, saying:
While at the baggage carousel a few passengers were talking, and a lady who had been near the front said that she was sitting near the air marshalls, and when the event happened, both of them jumped up and got busy, with one of them stationing himself in front of the cockpit door.
Fellow passenger and Head of Digital for the UK Government, Anthony Simon, took to social media to air his frustrations over the delay:
Thanks to the idiot who did this meaning I won't get back to London for another day.
Ultimately the flight, which was scheduled to depart at 7:50pm on Sunday, was delayed for 17 hours as investigators looked into possible threats. With none found, the flight was eventually cleared for departure at 1pm yesterday.
An American Airlines spokesman confirmed the flight was delayed “out of an abundance of caution” while local law enforcement said its investigation revealed that “no crime was committed and no further action will be taken.”
And even though no physical harm was caused, the disruption to the flight, passengers and airport were very real.
We know that the average person is not too fussy about the networks they connect to, as Sophos’s James Lyne discovered on his recent Warbiking tour.
While travelling around major cities such as London and San Francisco, Lyne discovered that thousands of people would connect to networks with names such as “FreePublicWiFi”, “Free Internet” and even “DO NOT CONNECT” with devices that were themselves poorly secured through the adoption of old security standards.
You can read 10 wireless security tips over on the Sophos website.
Hopefully, in this case, the owner of the ‘Al-Quida’ hotspot was nothing more than a misguided joker, proving that we cannot implicitly trust the names of Wi-Fi networks (and making the point that no security-related joke is ever funny in an airport where staff and police are required to investigate every potential breach of security).
Image of American Airlines plane licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy of Flickr user Embajada de EEUU en Paraguay.