Kate Hanni, the Northern California woman so angered by a prolonged sit on an American Airlines flight that she founded a consumer movement, has accused Delta Air Lines and an aviation consulting company of hacking into her email and computer.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Houston, Hanni is seeking at least $1 million in actual damages and $10 million in exemplary damages from Delta and Metron Aviation, a company hired by the Federal Aviation Administration to look at ground delays for airline flights.
"The allegation that we would hack an individual's e-mail is absurd," Delta spokesman Trebor Banstettor said. Other media are reporting Metron's denials, including the Houston Chronicle.
According to the lawsuit filed in a Houston federal district court, Hanni says she "had her privacy invaded when her AOL e-mail account and personal files on her computer were hacked, copied and then corrupted. Specifically, private e-mails and sensitive files were obtained by Delta Air Lines, Inc. ("Delta") and subsequently used to sabotage Flyersrights' efforts to pass the "Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights of 2009" through Congress."
Hanni was flying from San Francisco on Dec. 29, 2006, when her Dallas-bound flight was diverted to Austin, where she and others on her and other American Airlines flight sat and sat and sat -- in the case of her flight, more than eight hours.
She started a group now known as Flyersrights.com, which is pushing consumer protections to force airlines to give passengers the option to get off an airplane that has sat on the ground for three hours.
Metron was hired by the FAA to look at what causes ground delays and how extensive the problem was. His findings found that Delta -- when you include Northwest Airlines and Delta's various commuter partners -- had 22 percent of the ground delays that last two hours or more, worst among U.S. airline groups. Second was American and American Eagle with 20.4 percent and third was Continental Airlines and partners with 19.2 percent.
Leading the Metron team was a guy named Frederick J. Foreman. One exhibit in Tuesday's lawsuit was a sworn affidavit from Foreman, and the Sept. 29 statement forms the core on Hanni's lawsuit:
"On Friday, September 25, 2009 at approximately 10:00 AM, I was escorted by two (2) Metron Aviation, Inc. employees into the office of Mr. James Gaughan, Senior Vice-President and General Manager. Mr. Gaughan asked me to go over the chronology of my interaction with the media. I told him my interaction with the media as I remembered it. He told me that what I told him was not consistent with information that he had. I responded by asking what are you talking about? He immediately said that I had contact with Ms. Kate Hanni on Thursday, September 24, 2009. I said yes I did but Kate Hanni is not the media so that my statements about the chronology of events are correct. Mr. Gaughan proceeded to show me on his computer monitor what appeared to be hacked and stolen email communications within the last six (6) months or more between Kate Hanni and me, me and Gary Stoller of USA Today, me and Susan Stellin, a freelance reporter, and Kate Hanni and a number of people concerning the Passenger Bill of Rights, excessive surface delays, and other private communications. It was clear that they had email transactions from both of my private email accounts: Hotmail (email@example.com) and Yahoo (firstname.lastname@example.org). It was also clear that these emails were from Kate Hanni's private and personal email account (email@example.com), as well as from Gary Stoller's (firstname.lastname@example.org) private USA Today account, and Susan Stellin's (email@example.com) private and personal email account. There were no emails communications from Metron Aviation's email system only communications from information that I gave her as fuel for getting the Passenger Bill of Rights passed in Congress. He said that Delta Airlines sent this information to them. I took this to mean that Delta Airlines and Metron Aviation both had a copy of these hacked and stolen email communications. Mr. Gaughan said that Delta was mad and upset that one of Metron Aviation's employees had provided Kate Hanni with this kind of information. He said that I had put Metron Aviation in a precarious situation with Delta Airlines and that at a minimum I had not been a good employee by doing this. I tried to explain to him that what I sent to Kate Hanni on 9-25-2009 could be obtained by anyone by simply analyzing the public information that is available online and provided by the Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation and Statistics, but to no avail. Based on these hacked and stolen email communications, James Gaughan of Metron Aviation, Inc. decided to terminate my employment. The two (2) Metron Aviation escorts took me to my desk where I got my personal belongings and then they escorted me out of the building at approximately 12:15 PM."