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USA Today

Fliers' Rights Advocate Claims Delta Obtained Hacked E-mails

The woman behind the three-year campaign to get Congress to enact an airline passenger bill of rights alleged Tuesday in a federal lawsuit that Delta Air Lines obtained hacked e-mails from her computer in an effort to discredit her and derail the proposed legislation.


Kate Hanni — whose experience during a nine-hour ground delay in December 2006 led her to launch — says in the lawsuit that Delta and consulting firm Metron Aviation "conspired to hack or obtain hacked information from plaintiff's computer and AOL account."


The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Houston, seeks at least $11 million in actual and punitive damages from Delta and Dulles, Va.-based Metron.


Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said, "The allegation that we would hack an individual's e-mail is absurd." He declined to comment further.


Hanni's zeal in advocating for a passenger bill of rights, and her ability to gain the attention of the media, the public and influential members of Congress, has made her an object of concern among airline industry officials.


Her lawsuit hinges on an affidavit from a Metron Aviation analyst who was fired two weeks ago. In the affidavit, Frederick Foreman says Delta officials were upset that he was providing Hanni with data regarding lengthy airline ground delays.


Delta is a Metron client, as are five other U.S. passenger airlines, including American, the airline on which Hanni was stuck for nine hours in Austin. Hanni's lawsuit against American stemming from that incident was dismissed in April.


Foreman said in the affidavit that his supervisor told him of Delta's displeasure and showed him e-mails sent by someone at Delta that contained copies of Hanni's e-mail messages.


Until his dismissal, Foreman worked for Metron for 10 months on a variety of projects, including a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration, in which he led a team of analysts looking into tarmac delays.


Metron spokesman Mike Gundling said: "Any allegations that suggest Metron Aviation has behaved illegally or improperly in this matter are completely baseless and without merit."

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