American Airlines deployed bot detectors to cripple an app its flight attendants find...

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,725   +1,176
Staff member
In context: Off-hours might not accurately describe the ground time of flight attendants since much of it is spent planning their next flight. Help from the airlines they work for is less than efficient since there are no real-time updates on the numerous daily flight delays and roster schedules unless the attendant enjoys hanging out in the airport or monitoring an employee portal 24/7.

Enter an iPhone app called "Sequence Decoder." The software is available to anyone and can display past and future departure and arrival information in real time. However, it has even more value for flight attendants as it can furnish specific inflight info, calendars, crew chat, standby lists, and more. It also can show crew rosters for specific flights so that attendants can see which ones still need members and plan to fly with familiar coworkers.

One would think that airlines would embrace such a practical app for employees and a lot of them do. However, American Airlines (AA) is allegedly going to great lengths to block Sequence Decoder from gathering the information it needs to provide the company's employees with this helpful service.

In his blog Paddle Your Own Kanoo, international flight attendant Mateusz Maszczynski notes that the app has become a "must-have tool" for flight attendants. This necessity is especially true at AA because of its numerous reserve flight attendants. The fact it has an app for customers but not crew is somewhat ironic, but also not surprising since the consumer application is apparently not well designed.

American Airlines doesn't have an app to help employees manage their schedules and has allegedly turned down offers from Sequence Decoder developer Jeffrey Reisberg to collaborate on one. Instead, AA has deployed "sophisticated bot detection software" to keep Reisberg's app from scraping information from its public-facing websites.

For Sequence Decoder to function, it has to gather data from various AA webpages. It doesn't collect anything illegal. All the information is publicly available if you know where to look. However, the airline is actively trying to cripple the app with bot-detecting software.

"We've tried to get them to talk to us, find a way to peacefully coexist but they have refused all communications," Reisberg told app owners in an email. "At the end of the day, I don't think they understand why this service is important, and they don't care to know."

In other words, instead of allowing the app to do what it does or creating an equivalent to it, America Airlines has taken an all-too-common corporate stance that its employees are worth less than its publicly available data.

"You can gather all this data yourself and crunch the numbers manually, but we'll be damned if you can have an app that makes it easy for you," the airline is indirectly saying. It's something within its right to do, but it is terrible optics from a PR standpoint. The app's review section if full of five-star ratings and praise from flight attendants that use the app every day.

Fortunately, the bots have not entirely shut down users yet. Reisberg says he has found workarounds so far, but it's getting harder.

"We've found holes in the net and managed to survive, but the net is always getting better," he said. "Last week the net got us good again, I thought it could be the end."

Maszczynski said that he spoke to one anonymous AA attendant who said they had "never seen a company go out of their way to make life harder for their workers."

It's worth mentioning that Reisberg does not appear to be making any money from his application. Sequence Decoder is free from the Apple App Store, has no in-app transactions, and does not collect user data. So it's not even a case where someone uses AA's publicly available data for personal profit.

Sequence Decoder is not the only app of its kind out there. Other similar organizers work in much the same manner. Most airlines allow this software because they recognize its usefulness but don't have the time or resources to develop and maintain their own.

However, others are adversarial. Maszczynski relates that one unnamed airline created a copycat and then shut down access to third-party apps trying to provide the same service. At least, in that case, the airline recognized the need and provided similar functionality rather than leaving its attendants high and dry.

American Airlines has not commented on its alleged actions but is currently involved in a lawsuit with a similar website app that scrapes data to provide AAdvantage account holders an accessible portal to manage airline points and miles.

Permalink to story.

 

brucek

Posts: 1,352   +2,031
Yet somehow AA flight attendants have been showing up for their flights for years. Could it be that using their official employee portal website vs. an 3rd party app is not the hardship this article is making it out to be? Or possible that flight attendants being asked to observe a late-breaking schedule change are notified via phone call, email, and/or SMS? And that there are rules as to when schedules are final so no one has to "monitor an employee portal 24/7"? And/or that there are formal distinctions as to when you are on standby status -- including getting paid for being on that status with different rules whether it is airport standby or phone standby -- again so that it is clear what your responsibilities are?
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 9,363   +8,581
Sounds to me like this is an App that American Airlines itself should consider adapting. Linking it to the employee portal website would not be a major undertaking and in fact would give them the added expectation that all employee's are fully informed. In this day and age being "informed" is often a requirement of the job and any employer that misses a great opportunity to add depth to information that meets that expectation is simply giving less efficient employee's an "out" for their misbehavior.
 

psycros

Posts: 4,578   +6,901
Yet somehow AA flight attendants have been showing up for their flights for years. Could it be that using their official employee portal website vs. an 3rd party app is not the hardship this article is making it out to be? Or possible that flight attendants being asked to observe a late-breaking schedule change are notified via phone call, email, and/or SMS? And that there are rules as to when schedules are final so no one has to "monitor an employee portal 24/7"? And/or that there are formal distinctions as to when you are on standby status -- including getting paid for being on that status with different rules whether it is airport standby or phone standby -- again so that it is clear what your responsibilities are?

Its more likely that one or two highly-placed IT people are terrified of being made obsolete by an app.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 2,085   +1,298
Yet somehow AA flight attendants have been showing up for their flights for years. Could it be that using their official employee portal website vs. an 3rd party app is not the hardship this article is making it out to be? Or possible that flight attendants being asked to observe a late-breaking schedule change are notified via phone call, email, and/or SMS? And that there are rules as to when schedules are final so no one has to "monitor an employee portal 24/7"? And/or that there are formal distinctions as to when you are on standby status -- including getting paid for being on that status with different rules whether it is airport standby or phone standby -- again so that it is clear what your responsibilities are?
"People used to do things the hard way, so I demand they continue to do them the hard way forever"
 

brucek

Posts: 1,352   +2,031
"People used to do things the hard way, so I demand they continue to do them the hard way forever"
Still waiting on an honest, accurate depiction of what this hard way is. I believe the one specific allegation in the article ("unless the attendant enjoys hanging out in the airport or monitoring an employee portal 24/7") to be complete BS. (There is one form of standby that requires hanging out at the airport, but it is paid work, and the reason they are paying for it is for literal immediate availability, not over some portal/app issue.)

There's no response from the airline yet but all they'd have to say to get me on their side is they see no upside to enabling the stalking of particular named flight attendants by publishing their work schedule to the world. I don't think they should ever have been doing that in the first place.
 

trieste1s

Posts: 97   +122
TechSpot Elite
Still waiting on an honest, accurate depiction of what this hard way is. I believe the one specific allegation in the article ("unless the attendant enjoys hanging out in the airport or monitoring an employee portal 24/7") to be complete BS. (There is one form of standby that requires hanging out at the airport, but it is paid work, and the reason they are paying for it is for literal immediate availability, not over some portal/app issue.)

There's no response from the airline yet but all they'd have to say to get me on their side is they see no upside to enabling the stalking of particular named flight attendants by publishing their work schedule to the world. I don't think they should ever have been doing that in the first place.
Maybe hire the guy to continue the app internally, and stop making the information publicly available? I don't know, if I really care for my flight attendants, this sounds really logical.
 

mbk34

Posts: 425   +337
Most web sites try to stop bot scrapping of their data. I think TS should try to understand both sides of the story rather than basing their story on one disgruntled blog post and an annoyed developer. Perhaps they don't want the public to know which flight attendants are on which planes for their own security or perhaps they don't want competitors knowing all their flight routes and delays.
 

TheRealSCDC

Posts: 500   +865
"People used to do things the hard way, so I demand they continue to do them the hard way forever"

Just saying, as an employee it isn't their job to make policy. It's their job to follow policy. I'm just playing devils advocate here. When the boss says something, if it is within the job description and company policy, it's the employees job to do it.
 

quadibloc

Posts: 385   +253
They certainly should be providing their employees with an application with equivalent functionality.
But since people who are not their employees can also download and use the app, I'm not surprised that they find convenient access to detailed information about flights to be a potential security risk. After 9/11, an approach to security that might seem paranoid shouldn't be surprising at all.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 2,085   +1,298
Just saying, as an employee it isn't their job to make policy. It's their job to follow policy. I'm just playing devils advocate here. When the boss says something, if it is within the job description and company policy, it's the employees job to do it.
Fun fact about company policies: they can be literally whatever the company wants them to be. Nothing stops AA from going "hey, use this free app to stay up-to-date on our company operations, as they may impact your day-to-day job".
And if they have an issue with the App being "external", nothing stops them from either developing their own app, or contracting with the existing app to provide & guarantee service.
 

TheRealSCDC

Posts: 500   +865
Fun fact about company policies: they can be literally whatever the company wants them to be. Nothing stops AA from going "hey, use this free app to stay up-to-date on our company operations, as they may impact your day-to-day job".
And if they have an issue with the App being "external", nothing stops them from either developing their own app, or contracting with the existing app to provide & guarantee service.
But if you accept the job, it's your job to abide by it.
 

Theinsanegamer

Posts: 3,959   +7,014
But if you accept the job, it's your job to abide by it.
That's how you end up with mindless drones that do as they are told, which is not how American industry operates. There has, specifically, been pushes in the air industry to avoid this type of thinking, because you do not want a bunch of drones in an emergency.

If company policy is contradictory (and that is not mentioned in the article at all) and makes the employees job harder for no reason, those employees are well within their right to complain about it. You are not a slave to your employer, despite what some may want.
 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 3,392   +4,405
Pan-Am and TWA used to be the biggest airlines in the world. Corporate mismanagement led to their extinction. Stupid decisions like this make it clear that American Airlines is going to join them very soon.
 

PaulDeemer

Posts: 11   +16
Yet somehow AA flight attendants have been showing up for their flights for years. Could it be that using their official employee portal website vs. an 3rd party app is not the hardship this article is making it out to be? Or possible that flight attendants being asked to observe a late-breaking schedule change are notified via phone call, email, and/or SMS? And that there are rules as to when schedules are final so no one has to "monitor an employee portal 24/7"? And/or that there are formal distinctions as to when you are on standby status -- including getting paid for being on that status with different rules whether it is airport standby or phone standby -- again so that it is clear what your responsibilities are?
Or maybe just flip AA the Finger and go work at another airline that appreciates them more. (Nuff Said)
 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 3,392   +4,405
Or maybe just flip AA the Finger and go work at another airline that appreciates them more. (Nuff Said)
It's never that simple unfortunately. You're assuming that all companies are hiring at all times and that's just not the case. The companies that appreciate their staff more tend to keep their staff for far longer and that lack of turnaround means a lack of opportunity for anyone else trying to get in there.
 

PaulDeemer

Posts: 11   +16
It's never that simple unfortunately. You're assuming that all companies are hiring at all times and that's just not the case. The companies that appreciate their staff more tend to keep their staff for far longer and that lack of turnaround means a lack of opportunity for anyone else trying to get in there.
Are you kidding me? Airlines are way understaffed right now and desperate for staff. They layed off so many people during the pandemic they were not prepared for when travel resumed in the numbers it did. Trucking, Travel, Restaurant Industry to name a few are all desperate for people. Employees have the power right now. If your flight attendant or Pilot you can quit one airline and find another willing to hire you easily.
 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 3,392   +4,405
Are you kidding me? Airlines are way understaffed right now and desperate for staff. They layed off so many people during the pandemic they were not prepared for when travel resumed in the numbers it did. Trucking, Travel, Restaurant Industry to name a few are all desperate for people. Employees have the power right now. If your flight attendant or Pilot you can quit one airline and find another willing to hire you easily.
I wasn't aware of that. In that case, I'd say that you're 100% correct. AA is being extra-stupid because if airlines are desperate for staff, deliberately making their life harder is corporate suicide. I guess that AA is even dumber than I had previously thought! :laughing:
 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 3,392   +4,405
They accepted the job when there was no policy forbidding the usage of the app. Now they added a policy forbidding the usage of the app.
Interestingly enough, this also illustrates my point that company policy can be literally whatever the company wants (within the bounds of the law).
Yep, and in this case, company policy will sink the company. It happened with Pan-Am and TWA and now AA will join them.
 

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,725   +1,176
Staff member
Most web sites try to stop bot scrapping of their data. I think TS should try to understand both sides of the story rather than basing their story on one disgruntled blog post and an annoyed developer. Perhaps they don't want the public to know which flight attendants are on which planes for their own security or perhaps they don't want competitors knowing all their flight routes and delays.
That's all fine and good. However, AA has refused/failed to comment on the situation, so one side of the story is all we have to report on at this point. The only thing we know for sure is that AA has refused all communication with the app developer to work on a resolution.

"Perhaps they don't want the public to know which flight attendants are on which planes for their own security or perhaps they don't want competitors knowing all their flight routes and delays."

Those are fair assumptions, but they are assumptions nonetheless and not facts. If AA wants to respond to requests for comment, we are more than happy to add its side to the story. So far, it hasn't.
 

Rocky4040

Posts: 144   +174
"People used to do things the hard way, so I demand they continue to do them the hard way forever"
It's called doing what needs to be done to get things done..lol Maybe this airline needs to have an App developed so their flight people have an App that is directly connected to the company they work for instead of some third party App that can be viewed by every Tom,**** & Harry out in the world.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 2,085   +1,298
It's called doing what needs to be done to get things done..lol Maybe this airline needs to have an App developed so their flight people have an App that is directly connected to the company they work for instead of some third party App that can be viewed by every Tom,**** & Harry out in the world.
If they were concerned about public facing data, they shouldn't be posting it publicly in the first place.
Note: they didn't put the data behind an internal portal when they discovered their employees were using the app, they just started playing whack-a-mole with whatever APIs the developer was using to scrape the data, while leaving the data publicly accessible. They continue to expect their employees to still go to these public portals to get the information to do their job, they just expect them to go to all of them manually now.