A researcher who specializes in the security of commercial airplanes was barred from a United Airlines flight Saturday, three days after he tweeted a poorly advised joke about hacking a key communications system of the plane he was in while it was in mid flight.
Chris Roberts was detained by FBI agents on Wednesday as he was deplaning his United flight, which had just flown from Denver to Syracuse, New York. While on board the flight, he tweeted a joke about taking control of the plane's engine-indicating and crew-alerting system, which provides flight crews with information in real-time about an aircraft's functioning, including temperatures of various equipment, fuel flow and quantity, and oil pressure. In the tweet, Roberts jested: "Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? 'PASS OXYGEN ON' Anyone ? :)" FBI agents questioned Roberts for four hours and confiscated his iPad, MacBook Pro, and storage devices.
Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? “PASS OXYGEN ON” Anyone ? :)
— Chris Roberts (@Sidragon1) April 15, 2015
On Saturday night, Roberts faced more fallout, this time from the airline itself. Shortly after passing TSA screening and arriving at the gate to board a San Francisco-bound flight, members of United Corporate Security were there to stop him from getting on the plane. They told him United officials would inform him by mail of the reason within the next two weeks. Roberts was able to book last-minute travel on a Southwest flight and arrived in San Francisco late Saturday night, three days ahead of a presentation he's scheduled to present at next week's RSA security conference.