Monday, April 25, 2016
United Outsources Security Questions To Pod People
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 27, 2016] ©2016
Recently United Airlines notified both my husband Olof and me that we would have to strengthen our passwords on our mileage accounts and select new security questions.
Olof and I hate security questions. For virtually all of our accounts – financial, travel, etc. – we try to use a single account so we can have security questions that we would both know the answer to. City where we were married (La Jolla) is always a good choice, although this is actually both of our second marriages so even that one has potential for confusion. We always go for Olof’s first pet. City where you were born has at least a 50% chance of being correct. We never use grandmother’s maiden name since neither of us can remember our own much less the other person’s.
But with this new system, United has outdone (undone?) itself. We were each offered 15 security questions and were required to pick five of them and select answers from a pull-down menu that was alleged to provide pretty much any option one might choose. It goes without saying that if either of us, but especially Olof, has to prove identity to United with the answer to any of these questions, he’ll have to take the bus back from Chicago.
There was not one single question of the 15 that we would both know the answer to. That is because United outsourced this project to pod people from a parallel galaxy who have not visited Earth in any recent time-space continuum.
To be accurate, there WAS one question that I knew we’d both know the answer to without a single doubt: What is your favorite pizza topping? Woo-hoo! Anchovies! But is anchovies one of the options? Nope! WHATS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?? Something called Za’atar is an option, as is mashed potatoes. On a pizza? Even something called giardiniera. Sounds like an intestinal disease you get from camping.
Another question is “favorite subject in school?” What age? In elementary school I might have gone for “recess” (not an option, although “penmanship” is. Penmanship is anybody’s favorite subject in school?)
First major city that you visited: I was born in Boston and grew up in a suburb of New York City. Do either of those count as visits? “Major city” seems to be up to some debate as well: the extensive list includes Guangzhou, Lahore, Reykjavik, Jakarta - and Fresno.
What is your favorite sea animal? To eat? The list includes oysters, manatees, sea cucumbers, and sting rays. Hard to imagine that anyone’s favorite sea animal (food or otherwise) is a sting ray.
What is your favorite breed of dog? There are 57 (yes) choices before you even finish the C’s. English bulldog isn’t there but bulldog is. News flash, United pod people: English, French and American bulldogs are very different breeds!
What was the make of your first car? Like dogs, a long list which included Bugati, Armstrong-Siddeley, Bentley, DeTomso, Lamborghini, SsangYong – but no Yugo. We’re talking FIRST CAR here folks. I would aver that far more people had Yugos as first cars than Lamborghinis.
Favorite type of movie: Olof loves those icky Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies so maybe “fantasy” for him. I’d opt for “anything without car chases or special effects” (not a choice). I’d never dare select “romantic comedy” because Olof would sooner forfeit his plane ticket than opt for that.
What is your favorite type of reading? For Olof, computer books or technical books which really should be an answer but isn’t. The closest is “professional development” but he likes technical books for their own inexplicable sake. I would have selected memoirs if that were a choice, but I’ll concede that biography is close enough.
What musical instrument do you play? Olof used to play the guitar but hasn’t in decades. My answer, “I am terminally tone deaf and do not play a musical instrument” is not an answer, although nose flute, didgeridoo, shamisen, tambourine, sousaphone, and sitar are all choices.
There were slight variations in the options on our lists: Olof got What was your least favorite fruit or vegetable as a child? while the question on my mileage account was What was your most favorite fruit or vegetable as a child? Answer to both: Seriously, we’d remember?
What is your favorite warm weather sport? Drinking pina coladas on the beach? Not an option, but “disc golf” (what the heck is that?) and “biathlon” are.
What is the month of your best friend’s birthday? OK, at least there’s only 12 choices instead of 2,000 dog breeds or car makes. But do either of us have a single best friend anymore?
So here’s OUR question for United: How many fails do they give you before your ticket is cancelled and you’re assumed to be a site-hacking terrorist? Inquiring minds want to know.