Tech

American Airlines has deployed bot detectors to disable an app flight attendants consider vital to their jobs.

In the context: After hours may not accurately describe flight attendants’ ground time, as much of that time is spent planning their next flight. Assistance from the airlines they work for is less than effective as there are no real-time updates on the many daily flight delays and list schedules, unless the maintenance staff likes to hang around the airport or monitor the employee portal 24/7.

Enter the iPhone app called “Sequence decoderThe software is available to everyone and can display information about past and future departures and arrivals in real time. However, it has even more value for flight attendants as it can provide flight-specific information, calendars, crew chat, backup lists, and more. It can also display crew lists for specific flights so flight attendants can see which ones still need members and plan to fly with familiar colleagues.

One would think that airlines would adopt such a practical employee app, and many of them do. However, American Airlines (AA) allegedly goes to great lengths to block Sequence Decoder from collecting the information necessary to provide employees of the company with this useful service.

In his blog Paddle Your Own Kanoo, international flight attendant Mateusz Masczynski notes that the app has become a “must have tool” for flight attendants. This need is especially relevant for AA because of the numerous reserve flight attendants. The fact that he has an app for clients but not for the team is somewhat ironic, but also not surprising since the consumer app doesn’t seem to be very well designed.

American Airlines does not have an app to help employees manage their schedules and has allegedly turned down offers from Sequence Decoder developer Jeffrey Reisberg to partner with him. Instead, AA deployed “sophisticated bot detection software” to keep Riceberg’s app from collecting information from public websites.

For Sequence Decoder to work, it must collect data from various AA web pages. He does not collect anything illegal. All information is in the public domain if you know where to look. However, the airline is actively trying to disable the app with bot detection software.

“We tried to get them to talk to us, find a way to peacefully coexist, but they refused all communications,” Reisberg told app owners via email. “At the end of the day, I don’t think they understand why this service is important and they don’t care.”

In other words, rather than let the app do what it does or create an equivalent of it, America Airlines has adopted the conventional corporate stance that its employees are worth less than its public data.

“You can collect all this data yourself and process the numbers manually, but we’ll be damned if you have an application that makes it easier for you,” the airline says indirectly. It’s something within his right to do, but it’s a terrible PR optics. The review section of the app is full of five-star ratings and accolades from flight attendants who use the app every day.

Luckily, the bots haven’t completely disabled users yet. Reisberg says he’s found workarounds so far, but it’s getting harder.

“We found holes in the network and managed to survive, but the network always gets better,” he said. “Last week the network helped us again, I thought this might be the end.”

Maschinski said he spoke to one anonymous AA employee who said they “never saw the company go out of its way to make life difficult for its employees.”

It’s worth noting that Riceberg doesn’t seem to be making any money from his app. Sequence Decoder is available for free on the Apple App Store, has no in-app transactions, and does not collect user data. So it’s not even a case of someone using AA’s public data for personal gain.

Sequence Decoder is not the only app of its kind. Other similar organizers work in much the same way. 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 hostile. Maschinski says that one unnamed airline created a copycat and then closed access to third-party apps trying to provide the same service. At least in this case, the airline recognized the need and provided similar functionality rather than leaving the maintenance staff in the lurch.

American Airlines has not commented on its alleged actions, but is currently engaged in litigation with a similar web application that collects data to provide AAdvantage account holders with an accessible portal to manage airline points and miles.




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