As most of the world knows, Republican Senator Ted Cruz popped down to Cancun last week while wild weather lashed his home state. Senator Cruz choose to fly United Airlines from its Houston hub down to Cancun. Now, an investigation is underway at the airline to discover who leaked details of the Senator’s travel itinerary. Like the hapless Senator, United Airlines is not amused.
“It’s against United’s policies to share personal information about our customers, and we are investigating this incident,” a United Airlines spokesperson told Simple Flying.
Passenger flight information leaked to a news reporter
Senator Cruz hopped on a flight down to Cancun on Wednesday, February 17. United operates multiple flights on that route each day, with fares in the main cabin from just US$91. Senator Cruz took his kids down for a family event – kudos to the man for being a good Dad. It’s just the timing of the flight, in the middle of a savage winter storm, put a lot of his constituents offside.
With his trip starting to attract a lot of media attention, Senator Cruz’s story about why he was in Mexico and for how long changed. After just one night there, he was heading back to Houston. United now wants to know who told the press the Senator brought forward his return flight.
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Skift’s Edward Russell made quite the splash a few days ago when he posted online information about Senator Cruz’s itinerary. Just to rub salt into the wound, it seemed the Senator was getting an upgrade. Well, he was on standby for an upgrade to business class. Nine other passengers were already confirmed as upgraded. How thrilled those passengers were to see their names up in lights nobody has asked.
Spoke to a source at United Airlines, Senator Ted Cruz rebooked his flight back to Houston from Cancun for this afternoon at around 6 a.m. today (Thursday). He was originally scheduled to return on Saturday.https://t.co/QV9xgibIQ9
— Edward Russell (@ByERussell) February 18, 2021
An amusing story raises a bigger question about the integrity of personal data at United Airlines
With this tweet doing the rounds, the media papped Senator Cruz passing through Cancun International Airport on his way back to Houston. There was also a media welcome committee waiting in Houston. The Senator has received a media belting ever since.
On the face of it, this is an amusing travel story about a hapless politician with a poor sense of timing and a talent for digging his own PR holes. Bigger picture, it shines a light on privacy and the security of personal data at airlines. It doesn’t matter whether you’re famous or not; airlines should not be leaking personal information about passengers.
That upgrade list included information about nine other passengers. Employee misconduct and privacy breaches can represent a serious reputational risk for any airline. If the Senator had come to anything other than reputational harm, the blowback at United Airlines could have been severe.
It’s also worth noting it wasn’t the media that first blew the whistle on the Cancun trip. The Senator’s family and friends had discussed the trip on their publicly accessible social media feeds. That included details of the lavish hotel they planned to stay in. It’s not necessarily a great look. But as one media organization pointed out, most of the information about the Cancun trip was already out in the public domain before Edward Russell’s explosive tweet.
Nonetheless, with airlines able to easily track which employees access passenger data and when, finding the person responsible shouldn’t be too hard. When that’s done, that person’s career at United is likely to end faster than Senator Cruz’s presidential ambitions.