Great moments in airline confirmation codes

BoingBoing reader Pete Mortensen says,

My co-worker Isabel O'Meara booked a flight on Southwest a week ago and ended up with the most inappropriate confirmation code ever.
It's CUNNTT. Swear to god. I've seen it in person. And she just blogged it, with a scan of the receipt in question here. Amazing customer service. Amazing.


Reader comment: Glenn Fleishman says,

The CUNNTT code reminded me of an anecdote from Nathaniel Borenstein's wonderful, out-of-print book Programming As If People Mattered. In it (I paraphrase from memory), he notes how a system that he was working on that generated random sequences of letters for some file data was producing dirty words that some executives were unhappy with. A group of developers are in a conference room, thinking about generating lists of dirty words and so forth when a snot-nosed intern says, "drop the vowels, use base 30 [10 numbers plus 20 letters], and you're all set."

Rizo says,

I used to work for a game company that made kids games for Nintendo DS. We had a cheat code system that used alpha-numeric characters, and these codes would randomly generate after each level you passed. The publisher complained that it was possible to get cuss words as codes at times.

We did the math and figured that the chances of getting a cuss word was about one in one BILLION, but in the eyes of the publisher this was too risky. So, we ended up replacing all vowels with happy faces and such. It wasn't a big deal, but it just amazed me how sensitive the game industry has gotten since the coffee-mod fiasco.

Ríona MacNamara says,

Unfortunately you can't see it clearly, but Cancun's airport code is CUN, and this is a photo of an airport vehicle painted with the code CUNT5: Link.

Keith Blackwell says,

Back in the day… early 90's, before the interwebs was really popular, I was
a travel agent, using Sabre, which is/was (I'm not sure now) American
Airlines' reservation system. Those confirmation codes are more commonly
known, in the industry, as record locators.
Pretty much anyone on the system could retrieve anybody's record by record
locator. When I was bored, I would pull up random record locators, by typing
in words of the correct length (I believe they were 6 or 8 chars long) Doing
this, I found a number of records in which American Airlines employees would
chat in the comments fields. I joined them and made some friends that way.
The way it works is you would add some comments to the bottom of a record.
Then you save the record, and others would add their comments.
Unfortunately, if you put your comments in there, but someone else saved
before you did, you would lose your changes and get a "SIMULTANEOUS CHANGES"
alert. You would then reload it to see whatever changes someone else had
added. It was kind of like having a shared text file. I also found a number
of records where the American Airlines employees recorded the bizarre
behavior of passengers and stuff. It was a good, fun way to kill time before
the advent of email and internet. Back in the olde tyme Fax era.

Mike Ransom says,

I work as a programmer on an airline reservation
system. There is a "dirty words" list that
automatically blocks most of those insulting "PNR
locators" whick contain rude words. It's obvious why
this one got by, since the bad word is misspelled.

Gary says,

Your post reminded me of the Yamaha RY9 drum machine:

It had a simple display, only five characters available for text descriptions of
sounds, patterns etc. Some of the sounds were for simple metronome like duties
and were called Count1, Count2 etc. I think you can guess which letter Yamaha
in their infinite wisdom dropped…

Just google'd it, the manual (with sounds listed in the appendix) is available
here: PDF Link.

David Lindsey says,

Maybe not as good as that, but I had an AOL cd once which had the
activation code: "cloaca-market". They used to use (they may still)
word pairs pull from the dictionary, apparently.

Kim Moser says,

Back in 2003 I made a reservation over the phone with a very friendly Delta Airlines reservation agent who had a strong Jamaican accent. I give her my details, reserved a flight, and she read me my confirmation number very clearly: "RNIGGR." Needless to say, I didn't repeat it for confirmation.

Vern Stoltz says,

Back in 1988, I was taking a System Admin course for Prime Computers (remember them?)

The lady who sat next to me was a very outspoken, funny, and very fat woman. At one point the instructor was showing us the automatic password generator – he walked out the room for a moment, and us students were amusing ourselves, generating random words.

At one point, the woman next to me started laughing hysterically. I looked over, and saw the password that had been generated for her.

The password was 'FAT'

She composed herself to normal, and had lots of fun complaining to the the instructor about how their computers had personally insulted her.

Paul TS Lee says,

Your post reminded me of a the hoops we had to go through to deal with obscene/naughty words in the spell checker of a now defunct word processor app.

There were two real-world scenarios our team heard about: First, a high school principal who misspelled "high school principal" in a school newsletter and got the suggestion "asshole principal"; second, a young girl named Ashley, whose own name was not in our dictionary and so the spell checker suggested "Asshole". Both the principal and Ashley's parents sent irate comments to our support staff.

As we were working on a major rev of the product, we decided to tackle this issue. The first first solution was to just remove all the "bad" words from the main dictionaries. Of course, this meant that a document with correctly spelled obscene words (we envisioned Norman Mailer using our product) would have all of those flagged, which was deemed a poor alternative result, not to mention potentially forcing our users to fill their custom dictionaries with all those words. After much thought and debated, we finally decided on tweaking the spell checker code so that we could give it a list of words that it would never offer as suggestions. Therefore, the spell checker would properly ignore "asshole" as being correctly spelled, while "ashole/asshol/Ashley" would be flagged as as misspellings, but the suggestions would never include "asshole" itself.

After congratulating ourselves on solving the problem, we suddenly realized that we had to create the "correctly spelled obscenity" list, which were sent around the internal email system for review for completeness, appropriateness and much amusement. We had to decide whether words like "asswipe" or "shitfaced" should be included, or does the program only know the hyphenated versions. We had to deal with transatlantic slang: "fanny" and "bloody" in the UK vs. "fag" and "pissed" in the US. Then, our poor, internationalization team had to create localized lists of "bad" words for the 14 Roman based languages (including the two main variants each of Portuguese and Spanish).

I wonder if the airlines people didn't have an inkling of the how much work it'd take to avoid generating "CUNNTT" and decided that it was much easier (and cheaper) to apologize to offended passengers (and maybe offer a voucher).