What to do when your airline offends you

1-Screen Shot 2013-12-014Nothing could have prepared Jeff White for the shock he got after printing his boarding pass for a recent Delta Air Lines flight from Pensacola, Fla., to Albany, N.Y., by way of Atlanta. Right there, next to his name, was a confirmation code that proclaimed: “H8GAYS.”

“At first I didn’t think I read it right,” says White, a student at the University of West Florida. “I was worried that another customer might think I somehow picked that code. If I were a gay male, I might have thought that a Delta worker purposely gave me that code, and that would have made me extremely uncomfortable.”

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Every day, in ways big and small, airlines offend their customers. Most of these transgressions are fairly minor, from serving the wrong meal to addressing a guest by the incorrect name. But taken together, the incidents raise a larger question: How should companies respond, and what kind of compensation, if any, are travelers entitled to?

Delta apologized for any “concern or misunderstanding” that its code may have caused White. “These confirmation codes are computer-generated and are completely random,” says Russell Cason, a Delta spokesman. “We will make every effort to ensure that a similar combination does not occur in the future.”

A closer look at most offended-passenger cases reveals that, apart from appealing to an airline’s sense of good customer service, travelers’ remedies are limited. Often, a carrier does little more than say it’s sorry, and almost always, customers have no choice but to accept the apology and let it go at that.

Delta seems to get more than its fair share of complaints from passengers who feel slighted. A year ago, the airline angered military veterans when it allegedly humiliated a double-amputee Marine on a flight from Atlanta to Washington. This spring, it made headlines for offending the mother of a 6-year-old by separating her from her son on a flight from Minneapolis to Orlando. And just a couple of weeks ago, Delta canceled a flight from Gainesville, Fla., to Atlanta so that the University of Florida men’s basketball team could use the aircraft, angering the displaced passengers and many others.

In all those cases, the airline apologized.

I receive complaints on an almost hourly basis from passengers who say that they’ve been treated rudely by flight attendants or dismissively by a call center employee, or whose special meal requests weren’t honored and who want to be compensated for it. Those grievances are difficult to respond to because, from an airline’s perspective, they’re unimportant. Five-star service in economy class disappeared soon after deregulation. And from an airline’s point of view, if you and your luggage eventually arrived safely at your destination, you shouldn’t be complaining at all.

For example, when Heather Sachs recently flew from Baltimore to Singapore, the flight crew referred to her as “sir” on several occasions, which upset her. “I’m a tall woman with short hair,” says Sachs, a real estate specialist for the military. “But very obviously a woman.” Had the flight attendants bothered to look at her before addressing her, they would have known.

“To have that happen so often by so many seems to me to be a failure of training,” she says.

Sachs wrote to American Airlines, which sent her a form letter apologizing for “the unprofessional treatment that you reported.” The airline didn’t acknowledge her problem or say how it intended to prevent it from happening again.

But a form letter is not enough, says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and owner of the Protocol School of Texas. She believes that airlines should respond “respectfully and responsibly” to even perceived slights. “The airline should respond to the letter, e-mail or phone call by a real person, not a computer-generated ‘We have received your e-mail and will look into the issue,’ ” she says. “It should offer a sincere apology for the mishap and a ‘Thank you’ for alerting them to the potential problem.”

Beyond that, she says, offended passengers shouldn’t expect too much. White, for example, should accept his apology and move on. “I don’t believe every incident should warrant a free round-trip to a destination of their choice, or even a $200 voucher,” says Gottsman.

Indeed, in virtually all the recent cases where customers have felt wronged, it wasn’t because an airline failed to meet its contractual obligations or violated government regulations. So compensating disgruntled passengers with vouchers or ticket credits would be completely at the airline’s discretion.

White, for his part, says that besides an apology, he’d like a specific assurance that Delta’s IT department will prevent someone else from receiving an offensive message when they check in.

“I’m an IT major, and what surprises me is that they didn’t block [his confirmation code] as a possibility of the string of random numbers and letters in the software they use to generate” the code, he says. “I’m sure they removed many four-letter words that would be seen as offensive. I’m surprised that ‘gays’ and ‘H8’ weren’t blocked as well.”

I’m not. The airline industry — and America’s three remaining legacy airlines in particular — doesn’t appear to spend a lot of time worrying about hurting our feelings. Perhaps passengers expect too much from the winged buses of the 21st century.

Maybe it’s time to lower our standards a little.

Are you offended by Delta's confirmation code?

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188 thoughts on “What to do when your airline offends you

  1. the issue is; majot corporations CANNOT address all claims.

    i have read articles n elliot.org with similair complaints the OP says -“i want to KNOW that something will be done”- how.

    does the OP really think his or her complaint is sooo important that the company will give them a follow up letter?

    a form letter saying “we may or may not put time and resources in to dealing with your problem.” is really the best they can hope for.

    1. With respect, Polexia Rogue, that’s not the issue. The issue is that we seem to be a nation obsessed with being offended by someone or something. Rude treatment by staff is one thing, but being upset because a random computer-generated string of characters can be misinterpreted (if you substitute a homophone for spoken value of a number or read it backwards and upside down) is why Xanax was invented. Jeff White needs to get a life.

      By the way, “Polexia” in your handle is the name of a character in the Movie “Almost Famous,” which is about Rock and Roll. Rock and Roll is the Devil’s work and offends my incredibly delicate Christian sensibilities. I demand that you issue me an apology and a gift card as a show of good faith, and change your handle immediately.

  2. I think there is a big difference between serious issues and more trivial issues where an airline, hotel or other business does something to offend a customer. Treating someone badly or not providing what is paid for (unless there is a good reason) is a serious issue. Upsetting you by mispronouncing your name or not being polite is a more trivial issue. Unfortunately the world as a whole can often appear unfeeling and impolite.

    If I am in a situation like this I think of a comeback attributed to Groucho Marx when somebody was harassing him – along the lines of “My dear sir, I have been insulted by EXPERTS”.

  3. Chris. The “blue problem” is back. I don’t know if it’s significant, but the ad at the top of the page is for Chase “Sapphire” Card. “Sapphire” usually means blue, so the ad may be realted to the problem.

      1. Mine is doing the same thing. It is very difficult to read the article and especially those that are in a different color (gray?) on top of the blue is almost impossible to read. I have cleared my browser twice with no luck.

      2. Blue is not my favorite color, in fact it terrifies me. You should have known that many people suffer from this phobia (Cyanophobia); I am offended, Chris. May I please have a voucher for drinks on my upcoming flight to Phoenix? I’ll only need a couple.

        1. No, but Chris will upgrade your class of seating for the next article. If that does not suffice, he’ll give you a free read of a future post.

          1. It’s still showing for me on Chrome. Cleared my cache and it’s still there. FWIW, the ad currently showing is for Iberoster Hotels. Before that was Rocky Mountain Train (I think… didn’t look that closely, but know I saw the words Rocky Mountain).

          2. Assuming posters here have cleared their cache and cookies, does you hosting company infuse ads into pages?

          3. As I mentioned to LeeAnne (above), could these “blue” folks have an ISP in common? I’m with AT&T, and have never seen “the blue” on either my laptop or my iPad.

          4. Chris,

            I tried browsing your page in AOL browser, and the whole page loads with a filled blue background behind the text.

            Is this the issue people are talking about or is the problem an “AD” issue?

            Loading your website within Firefox works perfectly.

            Two thoughts here:

            1) Issue is browser specific

            2) I’m guessing the issue is related to browsers interpreting either the border or background fill color improperly.

            I am very rusty at HTML =( but I wonder if there’s a way to force the background “white”?


            Run it by your gurus. Seems for some reason the border color

      3. Home page is fine but blue background appears (using either Chrome or IE) but only after clicking on “continue”. The page initially loads black text on white background but then the background changes to the yucky blue making the black text very difficult to read. As a temporary workaround for readers, click CTRL+A which will select all the text on the entire page and display it as white on blue — a little easier to read.

  4. In the great words of some random philsopher: “sh*t happens”.

    No ill will or malicious arose from a computer generated code. We’re not talking a disgruntled employee or angry waitress. What we have is a technological glitch where human error didn’t account for every fault.

    Move on and suck it up. If you are so easily offended by trivial mistakes or lapses in etiquette, might I suggest living in a bubble to avoid the human race?

    Bah humbug.

    1. Thank you. When some randomly generated computer code happens to make sense in l33t speak, you have to work to get offended. I was really expecting that the code had been entered by an ill-mannered ticket agent. Find out it was random took all credibility out of the complaint.

      1. Precisely. I too expected the OP to be seated at a restaurant or service industry where a malicious person acted improperly. Instead we have a computer printing out millions of tickets daily happen upon an offensive “l33t” speak term. Chances are great it’d happen before seeing the sheer numbers of people ticketed. I bet he wasn’t the first, just maybe the first to cry foul via chris.

        Human error. Nothing more.

        I await the lawyers and vultures. I bet the Op is scarred for life.

        1. Lawyers for this? We so need lawsuit reform.
          The costs of lawsuits where airlines are involved as the defendant promptly drives up costs on to the most important people……consumers. with that being said I totally understand a majority of cases against an airline is a legitimate suit.
          I am very interested to see what the op gains here being that the offender is a computer not an employee/human. Eh I don’t see a lawyer touching this oh wait I was married to one briefly they’ll jump on it. Sighs*

    2. Actually, it wasn’t any sort of glitch. The computer did exactly what it was told to do. Generate a locator code, which it did.

      1. I didn’t mean a literal glitch but a metahorical one. System worked as prescribed. The “glitch” was human error not filtering out terms. No where near intentional or malicious.

  5. I think it all goes back to political correctness and what a joke that term is… Get a grip and get over yourself. Why do people get offended over the stupidest things?!? So the computer made up a code that could be considered offensive, ooooooohhhh. If that’s the biggest problem in your life I know at least twenty people who will swap spots with you.

    1. With the invention of the world wide web and social media Americans everywhere now how something to get their feelings hurt about that has absolutely no hidden meaning whatsoever. Maybe people are just bored and this is a big reason I feel like America needs law suit reform asap! Imho

  6. On one side you have ‘etiquette experts’ (insert rolling eyes here) who say that companies need to make personal phone calls and send hand-written letters to whiners who complain about a trifling detail, even if the whiner filled out the form on a computer.

    On the other hand, you have reality, where customers will pick airline A over airline B over a one-dollar difference in fare. Hence why people fly Spirit Airlines, Ryanair, and the rest. The “flying buses” exist because people happily surrender kind acts and good service for a penny’s difference…until something offends them….and then they want the best of both worlds.

    1. And let’s not forget that the company has to pay every time they send their IT folks digging through code to prevent certain combinations of letters and numbers. That means that they are going to transfer the costs on to the customers.

      I wonder if the OP would have been offended if the code had read “H075TUD” or “L0OKER”?

      1. Not all airlines actually own their reservation systems. Most of the airlines run on partitioned systems of GDS companies. That said, airline IT folks have a lot more important stuff to worry about. A few points will make this problem go away.

      2. Bingo. You got it. That applies to aircraft cleanings too. Put those feet on the bulkhead and scuff up a million dollar machine etc in the end who do you think pays for it? Consumers
        We are all in this together bursting through the skies in an aluminum tube. Treat everyone as you’d like to be treated it’s not that hard. Off topic sorry

  7. Offended by a randomly generated series of characters on a boarding pass? LOL. However I did see a couple of clouds the other day that looked like a naked woman but the weather office refused to do anything about it!

  8. Delta can’t fix their awards calendar which they have been working, supposedly, on since 2008. You really think they are going to fix something that is randomly generated?

    1. The airlines use dos based programs as in the very first program invented. Yeah not happening. Plus do you know how hard it would be for a programmer to do that on a dos system? Not to mention would the cost be passed along to the consumers especially if it means, goodness forbid, updating ancient programs they use?
      correction *programs were invented as early as 1800’s just not avaliable to anyone thanks EdB 😉

      1. “The airlines use dos based programs as in the very first program invented.”

        Are you meaning the DOS like on the first IBM PC? If so, that was far from the very first program invented. DOS was released with the IBM PC in 1981. Programmable computers have been around a longer than that.

        1. Before sabre airlines did it manually. No they aren’t using zuse(sp) or even the 40’s eniac. Computer’s weren’t even mainstreamed and avaliable until what the late 70’s yes they were invented in the 1800’s technically with programs but the first computer sold was to the government in 1951, so no, they are just using the first “mainstream” one. The first ibm computer that was made “avaliable” for personal use was in 1981 I think. Point being it’s time for an upgrade but yes technically your correct they did have programs avaliable before then just not avaliable for retail. I think :-/

          1. Huh? I only asked for clarification on what was meant by “dos based programs as in the very first program invented. ”

            Dos was by no means the first program invented or even the base for the first airline ticketing system.

          2. they use sabre they have only ever used sabre before sabre they did it all manually. 1936 was the first “programmable” computer however please let me know if that is not correct. I should have reworded the intial comment, my apologies, and i did add a correction. All I meant that while they did have a electromechanical rsv system in place around 1946 that the first use of an actual computer via airlines was around 1962 i think.
            Listen I just meant that they need to update their systems and reprogramming it may not be as easy as some think. Your right and I do apologize didn’t mean to downplay all the work that lead up the use of such technology we are able to enjoy today! 🙂

        2. I wasn’t counting computer inventions that required multiple people to operate that was unavailable to the public in the 1800’s but, yes technically your correct! 🙂

        3. Lesbrooke  

          • an hour ago

          Before sabre airlines did it manually. No they aren’t using zuse(sp) or even the 40’s eniac. Computer’s weren’t even mainstreamed and avaliable until what the late 70’s yes they were invented in the 1800’s technically with programs but the first computer sold was to the government in 1951, so no, they are just using the first “mainstream” one. The first ibm computer that was made “avaliable” for personal use was in 1981 I think. Point being it’s time for an upgrade but yes technically your correct they did have programs avaliable before then just not avaliable for retail. I think :-/

        4. I wasn’t counting computer inventions that required multiple people to operate that was unavailable to the public in the 1800’s but, yes technically your correct! 🙂

      2. I wrote many programs long before DOS was a twinkle in Bill Gate’s eyes. And I really doubt Sabre or whoever runs the computers uses DOS or even Windows. I would think it is mostly an old COBOL system or a modern Unix based one.

        1. Yes your correct it’s not dos based. Scheduling has dos but solely for crew scheduling purposes.
          However “modern” is not exactly there yet! 🙂

  9. Wow just wow. These are nothing but a combination of six letters and numbers that represents your PNR “number” or RLOC generated by an ancient mainframe computer.
    So what happens when someone wants to fly from Fukuoka, Japan to Oshawa, Canada; are we going to ban printing FUK YOO on the boading pass?

          1. The snow turned to freezing rain and pushing wet snow with a shovel is back breaking work. So I went to CVS and asked for something to soothe my back. The clerk gave me some BEN-GAY. I am offended.

      1. *Elliott points are non transferrable and expire immediately upon reward. No impiled or express warranty exists from the guaranteed failure of attempting to redeem points. Elliott points have no cash value and are designed for decorative purposes only.


  10. Suppose the TSA decided to change their name to FEDERAL

    New Logo FATASS.

  11. Every passenger name record in a database is identified by an extremely long number called a GUID, which is guarantied to be unique in its stated “universe”, such as all the PNRs that a given airline has ever issued. The locator code on your receipt is a hash, or shorthand version of your GUID. Must programs that derive hash values eliminate all vowels, precisely to avoid situations like the OP’s. Who would complain about a locator code of H8GXYS ? In any case, no human hand was involved in deriving that locator code.

    If the OP needs to complain to anyone, it would be the el cheapo software contractor who couldn’t be bothered to implement a common algorithm for deriving hash codes.

      1. I agree. That reminds me of an episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullsh*t program they had on cultural de-sensitivity. Instead of teaching everyone to be sensitive to every possible way to offend someone, people should learn not to be so sensitive.

        1. It comes from the same place where ‘everyone is a winner’. Not everything in life is positive and if you don’t learn to roll with some of the punches, you are going to be an unhappy person.

  12. Yes I am offended. However it isn’t something I’d make a big scene over. What I would do is point it out and suggest corporate be informed.

    Just as with license plates where offensive combinations are removed it should be trivial to program the airline ticketing systems to not use certain combinations.

    1. You know what really offends me – it is when airlines do not clean their bathrooms on long flights. Nothing worse that seeing footprints on the toilet seat after some Mainland Chinese thinks they have to squat of a western styled commode.

      1. There is an intensive English language learning lab on the same floor as where I occasionally work. Maintenance had to print out and post in every stall a little cartoon showing a person squatting on a toilet seat and a slash through it to show NO! since the toilet seats were breaking all the time.

      2. It offends me when adult’s don’t flush the lav toilet :-0 and going barefoot to the lav folks that’s not water on the floor in there just saying

        1. I am a new fan of Korean Air.

          Due to the Mainland Chinese Travel Invasion of America (not to mention the Cash Buying Spree for Real Estate), I am having a harder time finding cheap seats on Cathay Pacific. So I tried flying Korean Air.
          Boy, what a pleasant surprise! They actually clean the toilets regularly . And when you get to Incheon airport, it is so clean that you can take your shoes off and walk around the gate area with just your socks on.

    2. Not the same thing. When someone picks an offensive license plate, they’re doing it intentionally. This was a random mishmash of letters and numbers that had no malicious intent behind them. Intent counts in the law (that’s why we have varying degrees of murder), so it counts here.

      1. Believe it or not some states number/letter sequences can and have produced offensive combinations. Usually steps are in place to prevent that.

        1. My friend has a license plate starting with CSA randomly generated by our state BMV. I’m offended because he’s managed to time travel from the 1860’s to spread anti abolitionist ideas supporting the Confederates States of America. I swear his grand conspiracy is to break apart our grand union of 50 states.

          You my friend need to lighten up. Not everything in life has malicious intent.

          1. Geeeeee . . . you sound a bit annoyed! All it took to annoy you was to note that I did find it offensive but ALSO that I would not make a big deal out of it. I then observed that it is trivial to program computer systems to avoid this sort of thing. Honestly . . . it seems some of those replying to me are more bent out of shape than I am . . . which is to say not at all.


          2. Annoyed? You haven’t heard of SATIRE and PATRONIZING. I was inversely making fun of your post in jest. You being offended by trivial matters in life makes me wonder if you have no other problems at all?

          3. Well as with most things on the ‘net’ satire does not often easily translate through the screen. As for PATRONIZING . . . ummmmmm that’s a bit rude doncha think?

            Anyway . . . as a lesbian I don’t find H8GAYS amusing accidental or not . . . to me it is not a trivial accident of random letters and numbers. The hate that has been directed toward Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, and Transgender, folk has been far more than trivial to those of us who are LGBT. For some of us it has been deadly. Sooooo no . . . not trivial, not trivial at all.

          4. You’d havemy full sympathy if this were intentional. It was neither intentional or nefarious. Case closed.

            P.S. the fact my friend has CSA and he traveled back from the 1860s doesn’t strike you as satire?

          5. Heh . . . if you read what I originally posted, I said, “However it isn’t something I’d make a big scene over.” My real point is this . . . airlines and companies can do themselves a world of good, public relations wise, if they would program to avoid these unfortunate combinations. Sometimes a little foresight goes a long way in generating goodwill or protecting the company image. It is so trivial to write programing to deal with these it is almost dumb not to.

            That, however, gets at what the real issue at hand here may well be . . . corporations no longer pay much heed to these little things that in the long run can add up to happier consumers. They just do not care anymore.

          6. Oh so shall airports start renaming offensive abbreviations for the airport too? Maybe it is exactly what it is nothing more unless someone is looking for compensation. Do you realize how hard it would be for a computer programmer to do that considering the airlines are still on dos based systems? You really want the cost of that passed down to consumers?
            Another thing, as someone already commented the , mass amount of $it would cost, and yes it’d be a huge amount, personally I would feel better if they spend the big bucks on safety measures such as maintance etc. On a trivial note they could start paying their fo’s a livable wage before launching a campaign to make their computer algorithms politically correct. Maybe I’m the only one that thinks that a pilot flying the aircraft should make more than 18-21k a year, so sure why not launch a million dollar campaign to have politically correct codes by politically correct programing! Or even better see it for exactly what it is a randomly generated mathematical algorithm code nothing more. I’ve never seen outrage over an airport code and some are pretty out there but then again I don’t tend to get offended by computer codes. It is human behavior or words produced by HUMANS I mean we are ddebating whether or not an actual computer is politically incorrect. A computer!

          7. I use a version of the same system the airlines use, and I promise you, nothing about it is simple. It is quite archaic. I hate the thing with a passion, but would much rather have the airline’s money be spent on maintenance of the aircraft than updating the wretched system. If/when they ever do an overhaul, it would be much easier to just have a number locator than to try to filter out any combination of letters and numbers that might offend. For one thing, some words come into play over time. When this system was created (in what seems like 1206), the word gay was used primarily (maybe even exclusively) to describe happiness. It is sad that anyone would hate happiness, but still. Also, reading H8 as “hate” is a semi-new thing. . .30 years ago or so no one would have noticed that, so who knows what will be offensive next year. Even certain names might annoy or offend someone-like record locator BEIBER or such.

          8. Any it person /programmer will tell you it would be far from easy esp considering the program they use while it may have had an update or 2 it’s ancient in technology time plus it’d be extremely expensive. Also, had it not been for the invention of texting no one would know what H8 meant.
            This is a situation where it is exactly what it is a mathematical algorithm nothing more.

      2. What about offensive airport codes shall states start renaming their abrivations too so no one is offended?
        It’s a mathematical algorithm nothing more no hidden meaning unless your looking for one and well cough cough COMPENSATION

      3. The state of California has been filtering out various letter/number combinations for years, whether it’s vanity plates and even the standard plates. I remember a news article on this years ago. There are of course certain magic words, but also certain brand names, like BVD.

    1. Well, there must be thousands of languages and dialects all over the world.
      Why are we only going to be sensitive to English reading and imagined meanings?
      When we were kids, my brothers and I used to laugh at the English to “xxxx” translations of many words.

      This is how absurd this request is.

  13. “I’m sure they removed many four-letter words that would be seen as offensive

    Perhaps one of the IT folks can confirm if this is true. I personally am skeptical. Just running the math. Limiting yourself to just numbers and letters, there are over 2 billion (36^6) possible combinations for record locators.

    Besides, who looks at record locators?

    1. I don’t know about the airline system, but.. It should be a fairly simple matter to setup ‘block’ characters. Very much the same way your spam filters work on email.. If the message has *GAY* in it, do not assign.. There’s a catch, though.

      I chalk this up to “You can’t think of everything”. As you said.. There’s a 1 in 2 billion chance that this particular code would come up.. “Possibly Offensive” codes.. There’s maybe.. What, 100 of those total? It’s frankly amazing that one of them came up.. And to be honest, I’d be surprised, especially if the change would have to happen at the code level, if an airline did anything about it.

      While, as I said, it should likely be a pretty easy fix.. How many times in the past year have we heard about an airlines systems going down and grounding all flights? If you were the IT guy in charge of that, and there was a 100 in 2 billion chance of an offensive word/phrase coming up… Would you take the chance on it? I’ve got some old AS/400 systems that I support.. There’s problems with them, but they’re running now. Those problems go into a pile that says “If the system totally goes down, we can look at these when we’re bringing it back up” But we aren’t touching it until then. I’ve wanted to put up crime scene tape around the servers to give them space so that noone even breathes on them.. That idea didn’t fly too well, but.. Mission critical IT systems fall into the “Don’t poke the bear” category.

      1. Yes but don’t forget variations. G4Y, Gay, G8Y, GA, etc. Can’t think of everything.

        Society is too politically correct. Mistakes happen and not all mistakes are nefarious.

        1. and if GOD comes up, the religious and anti-religious will both be in an uproar! PLEASE people – it was RANDOM! Get over yourselves!

      2. I was musing on the number of potentially offensive words. I’m going to opine it’s in the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. Justin pointed out that there are nonstandard variations of words. Additionally, there are innumerable “bad” words which would need to be blocked.

        I’m also thinking about the story of people using a three letter, five dollar word for stingy. These folks have been fired, reprimanded, and otherwise censured though the word carriers zero racial connotations nor could one reasonably be implied from the conversations. I guess a phonetic based filter would be needed as well.

        Then of course, the religion filter needs to come into play. You probably want to filter out anything that might offend people of faith.

        And the list continues…

        1. Key term there is “People Using”.. There’s a big difference between an automated system assigning something inappropriate and someone intentionally using that term.

          An example of the latter might be one of the many examples that has gone around lately about some server at a restaurant putting “fat chicks” in the POS system and then it printing on the receipt.

          1. The term in question was not an offensive word by any definition except to those without who don’t know the word. They’re not even derived from the same language, one’s from the Netherlands, while the offensive one is derived from Spanish.

            The point being that any filter, besides being ill-conceived, is a moving target as offensive words change frequently.

  14. Sometimes I think it’s not so much we want compensation for a perceived wrong as someone to simply acknowledge something happened and to feel like we have received a sincere apology – difficult in this day and age when email and FB complaints appear to be scanned by a computer or overseas worker and don’t even appear to address the issue – or offer a good explanation.

    I briefly worked in collections and billing for my university’s library. During our training we were taught to use “I” messages like, “I’m sorry, I know I would be upset if that happened to me.” Most of the time starting a conversation with an irate patron with a statement like that got people to calm down.

    I do remember in the old, old days Southwest did not an email address – if you wanted to contact them, you had to send a letter via snail mail. I was amazed when I received a personal letter a couple of weeks after I had sent them a letter with a complaint and a couple suggestions. Even though they didn’t solve my issue right away, I was very impressed they responded.

    I do think that someone could rather easily program the software for confirmations to avoid certain latter combinations like the DMV and license plates. (As an aside, a friend who has 2 kids who play hockey could not get ‘Puckmom’ as a plate because it was too close to something offensive.)

  15. The code as generated is offensive, but I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. In any case, an apology from the airline should suffice, along with programming the code generation software to not issue certain codes.

      1. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, as I said. That said, this particular code with H8 being used for “hate” has major potential to be offensive, especially since there are a lot of groups with short names that could fit after the H8.

        1. How about removing H8R or FU, or maybe just F. Maybe IAM and UR must go as well. You begin to see the pile of crap that you fall into.

          1. What about “offensive” airport codes printed all over everything are we gonna start hollering bigotry over those too? Ridiculous. So now randomly computer generated codes and abrivations all of a sudden have a “hidden” meaning and they need to spend asinine amounts of money to make these politically correct? Sadly, hundreds that voted yes it’s offensive, probably see no issue with expecting computers to be politically correct when there is nothing here it is simply what it is A CODE.

          2. I”ll do you one better.

            2003 – Los Angeles officials have asked that manufacturers, suppliers and contractors stop using the terms “master” and “slave” on computer equipment, saying such terms are unacceptable and offensive.

            The request — which has some suppliers furious and others busy re-labeling components — came after an unidentified worker spotted a videotape machine carrying devices labeled “master” and “slave” and filed a discrimination complaint with the county’s Office of Affirmative Action Compliance.

          3. Unbelievable. I’m all about everyone having rights and equality but come on at what point do you come to terms with who you are and just be. Just live life and be happy.
            What is going on when we are debating what an airline should do to make right something that was randomly generated by a mathematical algorithm? How about stand up against the many cases of real bigotry, human trafficking, etc or something that really is truly offensive but no let’s rage over an algorithm.

          4. Sing the song Carver. However, not to poke the bear, but it’s folks of your profession willing to litigate these cases. If lawyers imposed common sense into litigation, we’d be far better off. Instead, some lawyer figured there was a buck to be made off “Master” and “Slave”…. Fill in the rest.

          5. +1 Gut feeling tells me inaction on the part of the city might have led to legal action.

            Glad lawyers steered clear though whole case is laughablel

          6. I tried posting the link to snopes about this but I guess disqus was offended by something in the link and it is no longer even waiting to be moderated. No lawyers were involved in the making of that request. But one thing to note, the story did point out that the department involved was required to say something just because of the complaint. The person who sent the request out clarified that it was just a request and not a requirement.

          7. The Department head received mails stating that he was “stupid” and “should be fired”. He backpedaled furiously.

          8. Yeah. Just another example of trying to dictate something they have no authority over. Like the state that tried redefining PI to be 3.2

          9. Am I the only one looking over my shoulder for the Handicapper General to appear and stuff an alarm in my ear and clown nose on my face?

          10. Carver,

            Might as well stick to numerical algorithms. Wait, 43LL (Hell). 84LL5 (Balls). etc Hmm… Dirty minds prevail? Damn.

            Ok folks. we’re going to symbols.
            ORD = @ & ()
            LHR = (_ ! ! ( -)_

        2. H8 was not being “used for hate” it was a computer generated mathematical algorithm. If texting had never been invented h8 wouldn’t stand for “hate”. Although, in this case it’s not a text message again it’s an algorithm.

        3. H8 was not being “used for hate” it was a computer generated mathematical algorithm. If texting had never been invented h8 wouldn’t stand for “hate”. Although, in this case it’s not a text message again it’s an algorithm

          1. Sorry, but even if it was computer generated, there is an understanding that H8 can be interpreted as “hate” because so many people use that cutesy netspeak. So I disagree with you about this. Even if unintentional, certain words and phrases trigger hostility and I think that now that programmers realize that they can inadvertently come up at random if nothing is done, they have a responsibility to rewrite the algorithm to prevent them from being generated.

          2. You are not taking into account when that algorithm was created. It’s probably a good bet it was created before the “cutesy netspeak” was even created. Expecting programmers to anticipate what might be ofensi

          3. Damn browser on the phone messed up there.

            But expecting programmers to anticipate what will be offensive in the future is unreasonable. How was the author of the song “Deck the Halls” to know the meaning of the word gay was going to change?

          4. there was a store, can’t remember which one, that put out a sweater where they did just that; changing that word.

    1. “Certain codes?” Oh sure, programmers love vague, feelings-based instructions. Maybe we could form a committee to analyze which codes or could possibly be offensive to everybody, and then we could study how offensive those codes are when read or heard spoken aloud, using a focus group of airline travelers, agents, flight crew, baggage handlers, and non-traveling public. Then we could create an awareness package and roll out a website so people who get codes which are offensive but not currently in the list could report those offensive codes and receive an offensive code compensation form to fill out and submit. Those new offensive codes could be studied by the committee and then added to the hard-coded list.
      I’ll bet the FAA could be in charge and that the entire project would take three years and half a billion dollars.

      1. Some stand out more than others. If this guy were gay and had gotten that code, I can see why he’d be annoyed. It might well be worth it to do exactly like you suggest, but without the sarcasm.

        1. Oh so you wont complain when air fare goes up significantly due to the insane amount of money it would take to not only upgrade their systems but hire the programmers (they aren’t cheap and they shouldn’t be) it isn’t as easy as one might think.
          They can’t just go in a quick fix it in a few hours like installing a new update. However, I realize everyone is entitled to an opinion and I don’t mean to sound rude, I just have a hard time wrapping my mind around a algorithm being “prejudice”. I just can’t find any underlying meaning or threats in randomly generated codes.

  16. Amazing, almost 30 years ago my team specified a systems to print random, non-repeating bar code labels…. Although I would imagine some problems still might exist, we removed vowels from the algorithm, and added a Julian date acronym to allow repeats of the barcodes in the future… To ensure we didn’t use profanity.

  17. I think the reason people may feel more offended by perceived slights on airlines is twofold; 1. There is a lot of stress and hassle with security, baggage check, finding the terminal, uncomfortable seating, fear of flying, airport food, etc that prime passengers to be more irritable than they might be on an average day. And 2. Airfare is expensive. People feel they should be getting more than merely safe passage from point A to point B for the cost.
    That doesn’t mean they should be remunerated for every inconvenience, but it explains some of the complaining.

  18. It reminds me of the morbidly obese woman who was flying to Fresno who became incensed when she received her boarding pass showing the airline code for her destination. The airline really wasn’t making an editorial comment..
    Don’t sweat the petty things, don’t pet the sweaty things.

  19. Well I am offended by this:
    I receive complaints on an almost hourly basis from passengers who say that they’ve been treated rudely by flight attendants or dismissively by a call center employee, or whose special meal requests weren’t honored and who want to be compensated for it

    I want to be compensated. I want to be compensated. I want to be compensated. THAT is all this is about these days. So very sad! Do you have a warm house? Do you have food on the table? Do you have a job? Can you pay your bills? If you can afford to fly, then NOT getting your meal request (Note: it is a REQUEST, not a quarantee) seems pretty minor in my book. I appreciate those who help others, but these days, it doesn’t appear to be help, but money they want. Hard to take these people seriously.

    1. EVERYTIME a passenger mentions compensation a baby angel gets it’s wings.
      I’d like to be compensated during boarding and deplaning but it isn’t happening. Lol lol lol

  20. I cannot stop laughing. People are looking for ways to be offended in this politically correct country of ours. I am sorry you are offended by a random code or that you were addressed as Sir instead of Ma’am.

    No wonder airlines ignore customer complaints when they get such ridiculous letters.

    Maybe Chris would have been better off teaching readers about legitimate complaints.

  21. It’s really simple. If you are offended by everything then go to a Nanny state. If you think this is funny (yes we should consider that the random generation of codes resulted in this code being generated) then laugh at it and see the humorous side.

    Was this a deliberate state of affairs… no – how could it be?

    Let’s stop being so serious about this sort of stuff. WE really need to get to enjoy the results of the mis-intended consequences of our digital environment.

    And Merry Christmas to all.

  22. In all seriousness, I would have likely let this one slide. Next to no one sees the PNR numbers assigned to me. They should block such results but it isn’t certainly at the top of my list.

  23. If they just programmed out the H8 combo, quite a few people would not have the chance to be offended.

    About 999 people in the commonwealth of Kentucky are driving around with three numbers followed by FKY on their license plates. I drove with one on a road trip last Oct. and people did make remarks. I was quite amused.

  24. The blue is still here. Ugh. Can’t even read it. I tried refreshing, etc. Still here. Hope you are able to fix it soon.

    1. I have yet to see “the blue” a single time, on either my laptop or my iPad. I wonder if it has something to do with your ISP? Mine is AT&T.

      1. Neither have I, but I took TonyA’s advice about 6 months back and installed AdBlock as a Chrome extension. Life is soooo much better, at least internet life.

  25. @Christopher Elliott: I paused AdBlock (on Chrome) – on my 2nd level (regular AdBlock). It says that it was blocking 6 Ads. I paused Ghostery, which blocks all those trackers (2nd level) other than Disqus (so there are 9 being blocked). I paused my AdBlock on my 1st level (AdBlock Plus) and reloaded. McAfee immediately jumped in and said that there was malicious content on the site and stopped an audio track which played for about a second. 38 trackers now show up. AND – the screen was blue. I restored my AdBlock Plus and the problem went away, as well as 28 of the trackers.

    I can’t figure out how to make supper and figure out which ads AdBlock Plus is blocking at the same time, but maybe that will help you figure who is hijacking your site?

    1. Springboarding off Jeanne’s idea, I downloaded Chrome and Ad Block, after which I was able to identify the culprit as doubleverify.com

    1. I assume you don’t put your sexual preference underneath your passport number and date of birth…so what more would it matter if you were a gay man? Would the computer generated number no longer be random?

      1. @Cat Are you really saying that service staff don’t make all sorts of assumptions about customers? They certainly did, mostly to pass the time wheneverI have worked in customer facing roles..

        1. I did not say that service staff does not make assumptions as a form of mean entertainment.

          I said exactly what I meant, no more.

          The people who are responsible for generating that code never come face to face with the passenger.

          Please don’t add imaginary content to my post just to be argumentative.

  26. @backrop. Because I would assume I was being singled out as a Gay man for ridicule. This has happened to me since my sexual matuation, passport or no passport.

  27. *** How to stop those stupid ads ***

    If you are using Chrome, it is a good idea to launch it in incognito mode.
    You won’t have to do much history and cookie cleaning afterwards.

    I already changed my Chrome icon (shorcut) parameter Target to:
    “C:Program FilesGoogleChromeApplicationchrome.exe” -incognito
    so every time I launch Chrome it automatically does it in incognito mode.

    Then go to Chrome Web Store and get AdBlock.

    After you install it, you must allow it on incognito mode.
    Easiest way to do this is launch a normal (new) window.
    When you see the AdBlock hand (palm facing you) icon on top right of screen – right click on it – and select Manage.
    Then on the AdBlock section on Extensions, you will see a box labelled “allow on incognito mode”. Check it.
    You’re done.

  28. On military evaluations there is a space for placing the individuals body fat measurement. Since I was pregnant body fat is not measured but is assigned a code, M for medical, to explain why there are zeros’s for the number. Already feeling self conscience about my changing body you can imagine how it felt to see MOO written on my eval. I got a good laugh out of it. No reason to fault people for unintentional slights.

  29. @Cat if there was human interaction involved, people love to make guesses. All this debate has actually escalted this for me. If, in the U.S, a cde was issues that said “I hate N*” would their even be a debate going on to see if people have the ‘right’ to be offended?

  30. @Carver Clark Farrow. OK then colour me persuaded. But I would still recommend an IT project that prevent controversial letter/word combinations. Shouldn’t be too hard, I’d i magine.

    1. It’s been 20 years since I was a programmer. There are several problems that I perceive and someone who is current can tell me if I am just plain wrong.

      The first is that making changes to established software is a real PITA. Changing working established code, especially on a legacy system is to be undertaken with fear and trepidation. Holy water might not be a bad idea 🙂

      Colloquial language is fluid. Leet seems particularly so. New words seem to pop into language daily. An innocuous word combination today might change tomorrow.

      Many words are only offensive in the right combination. We’d have to remove H8, FU, and tons of letter combinations. But these words are only offensive when paired with certain other letter combinations. 1234H8 or 1234FU isn’t offensive.

      And I’d be curious to know what would be the computation cost of running every PNR through a offensive checking filter.

      I don’t see it happening.

      1. I’m so glad that you brought up the fluid nature of language. I attend many plays and find that language that was acceptable in say, the 1950’s, really isn’t acceptable now. Or even in the 1980’s, which is when a lot of this legacy software got written.

        I love to puzzle out vanity license plates to figure out what the meaning might be. Lack of a vowel or two doesn’t prevent people from conveying a message, so scratch that proposed remedy.

        In the case presented, the offensive combination was “H8GAYS”. A couple of people on this board posted their reactions as members of a targeted group, and I understand why they may be oversensitive to slights, real and imagined, because there are so many *real* slights. On the other side, a homophobe would be equally offended if he/she were to receive a IMGAY2 or some other ridiculous combination of letters and numbers.

        My point in writing is to say that real complaints are lost in the overwhelming noise created by people who are too easily offended.

        1. Gay use to mean Happy.
          Fag meant a cigarette

          Language is fluid, because people take benign words and twist their meaning. I say people, NOT machines.

          What we have the classic case of technology working properly and programmers unable to account for every algorithm generated. A nearly impossible task trying to account for dictionary words and “l33t speak”.

          G4Y, GAY, G8, GA, G8Y so on so forth

          1. And gay, in a slur manner, used to also mean “corny” or “cheesy”. Hmm, wonder where “corny” or “cheesy” originated from?

      2. Hello Carver. Hmmm, this stuff is probably written in COBOL or perhaps even C. A well written subroutine could be modified and placed into the random generator to check for offensive character combinations.

        But as you said, doing so is a challenge. A few gripes from me: Systems that use zero and Oh. So when I try to type the code in, I have to guess whether I type the letter O or zero. Alphanumerics are used to reduce the length of strings. By removing potentially offensive character sets, the length of the string increases. Even so, with a simple filter in place, probably 90% of remaining combinations should be acceptable so perhaps an extra digit?

          1. Unfortunately, have been thinking about it a lot recently, since one of the statistical analysis programs I’ve been running is very, very COBOL-like. I don’t think I’ve retained as many neurons as I need over the many, many years since I programmed in COBOL. 🙂

  31. OMG, what sensitivity of some travelers! Only in the USA would people complain about such things. For Miss Sachs a bit of advice: if that happens often…. Let your
    hair grow and put on some lipstick. How about the person who wasn’t greeted with a smile and wants not only a full refund, but 10,000 miles for PTSS due to a crushed ego. I’m glad Mr. H8 wasn’t traveling on a group fare with the Sam Houston Institute of Technology. 🙂

    1. Well I did get cussed out by an american over the sfo incident hence the aftermath of delays. “What to you mean they haven’t opened that runway yet it was a stupid crash landing big (expletive) deal you guys do your job and get us home” with the finger about 1/4″ from my face it goes without saying they were in fact AMERICAN…..
      Just keep moving forward the world is not out to get you is my motto works pretty well…. Smiles lol

  32. Offended by an algorithm? What an eye opening article. I feel like if an algorithm is the only thing you’ve got to complain about read some stories the NTSB just released of the passenger accounts of how their lives were forever changed that day when they crash landed in SFO then maybe this is not such a big deal. In fact maybe we should, myself included very much so, be more willing to not look for hidden meanings to find something about it to offend us when it simply is what it is?

  33. @Cat. Well someone’s being arguementative and it isn’t me. I suggest we leave it. If you read my post i didn’t say you said peple made things up. Your reading something into sokething that isn’t there.

  34. Anyone in customer service can tell you some people will never be happy regardless of how far you bend over to please them. It’s just the way of the world and as many have said, every perceived slight doesn’t deserve compensation.

  35. Did it take receiving the boarding pass before this was noticed? In my experience the “locator number” is prominently displayed on whatever confirmation is received after making the reservation.

    As for being offended, there are a lot of things I’ve seen done to avoid offending a certain customer base. Chinese often avoid the number 4 because of the pronunciation of the name. It’s a language where intonation is key, and it’s a similar (but not identical) sound to the word for death. I’ve been to casino-hotels without a 4th floor listed. A former coworker bought a house in a new development. Since they were also marketing this development to a Chinese clientele, they decided that no street number in the development would contain the digit 4.

  36. Fun code story: Recently, we had a new call system where we could make up our own numbers. I tried to use “8675309” and it was already in use.

    Apparently, this is a useful trick for many of those frequent shopper cards: Give 8675309. Apparently, SOMEONE has at least used that number in the system. You won’t have to fill out an application to use the discount!

  37. It has come to my attention that if it weren’t for the invention of text messaging would we even assume H8 meant hate? Assuming that it was anything other than an algorithm, hypothetically speaking, since it is in fact an algorithm.

  38. The real problem is that Americans have decided they have the right to not be offended in this country.

    You have many rights in the good old USA. The right to not be offended is not one of them.

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