United Outsources Security Questions to Pod People

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. Virtually all of our accounts - financial, travel, etc. - are joint so we have to find security questions that we would both know the answer to. City where we were married (San Diego) 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 and they usually give you more than one chance. 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 as 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 Topeka.

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 asks 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 NYC. 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. Just no warm fuzzies there.

What was the make of your first car? Another long list including 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.

Least favorite subject in school. Again, two of us. And what grade? School is a long time. Kindergarten? Junior High? College? BTW, "sign language" is one of the choices. Phonetics (the bane of my third grade life) was not.

Two of the questions seemed, curiously, versions of the same question: What musical instrument do you play? And What is your favorite musical instrument? 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 option, although nose flute, didgeridoo, shamisen, tambourine, sousaphone, and sitar are all answers on both lists. So right there, that's already two questions out of the 15 that are non-options for us.

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.

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 option on my mileage account had What was your most favorite fruit or vegetable as a child? Answer to both: Seriously, we'd remember?

What color was the house you grew up in? Both Olof and I had families who lived in the same house for our entire childhoods. But the house changed color in both cases.

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 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 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 whose best friend? Do we even have a single best friend anymore?

Favorite type of ice cream: Correct answer for me: all of the above. If Olof is looking down this extensive list he isn't going to pick any of them because he really isn't all that much of an ice cream guy.

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.