Passenger ‘Rights’ Advocate Sues Delta, Alleges Email Hacking

(BUSINESS)   Kate Hanni, the Californian who has been lobbying Congress for an airline passengers’ “bill of rights” for two years, is accusing Delta Air Lines (DAL) and an aviation consulting firm of hacking into her email and personal computer. Hanni made the allegations in a lawsuit she filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Houston that seeks $11 million.

Hanni’s PC and America Online email account were both accessed illegally this summer, with AOL and Microsoft support technicians confirming the breaches, her attorney, Jason Gibson, said in an interview. Hanni discovered the hacking in August, with thousands of emails dating to June 2008 involved in the breach. Some emails were stolen and other work materials on Hanni’s computer were damaged, he said. “We don’t want any spoliation or destruction of evidence,” Gibson said, explaining one reason Hanni filed the suit, along with the chance to collect evidence through discovery.

Through a spokesman, Delta denied that it was involved in any hacking. “Obviously, the idea that Delta would hack into someone’s email is clearly without merit,” spokesman Trebor Banstetter wrote in an email. He declined further comment.

A Dulles, (Va.)-based consulting firm, Metron Aviation, is also named as a defendant in the suit. Gibson says Hanni and a former Metron employee were communicating via e-mail about research she was collecting for her work regarding airport and airline delays. According to the lawsuit, Metron confronted that employee in September and said Delta – a client of the firm – was angry that he had been working with Hanni. In that discussion, the employee was shown copies of his emails with Hanni that had been sent from a Delta email account, Gibson says. The former Metron worker plans to file a separate wrongful termination lawsuit in Virginia, Gibson said.

“Any allegations that suggest Metron Aviation has behaved illegally or improperly in this matter are completely baseless and without merit,” Metron spokesman Mike Grundling said in an e-mail.

Delta and other members of the Airline Transport Association do not support the tarmac delay measure(s) pending in Congress and have been lobbying to defeat them. The bill would require airlines to deplane passengers after a three-hour delay unless the pilot was reasonably certain the flight would depart in the next 30 minutes. Currently, airlines are not bound by law on how long planes can wait on weather and other delays.

Hanni was stuck on an American Airlines flight in Austin in December 2006, and foundedFlyersRights, turning her delay experience into a campaign to obtain a federal law outlining how long passengers may be kept on delayed flights. The current legislation in Congress is attached to a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration and has already passed a Senate subcommittee. It is expected to reach a debate in the full chamber this year.

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