Former PM's private details exposed after sharing baggage tag online

Tony Abbott learns how a single Instagram post of a boarding pass or baggage tag can reveal plenty of private information.

By Chris C., September 18 2020
Former PM's private details exposed after sharing baggage tag online

While many Australians relish the chance to share their holidays – and sometimes, even business trips – on social media, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has received a personal lesson in the value of not exposing your airline booking reference in the process.

Back in March, Abbott travelled from Tokyo to Sydney with Qantas: snapping and posting a photo of his boarding pass on Instagram, alongside a receipt for his checked luggage.

While Abbott did mask his VIP-tier Chairman’s Lounge frequent flyer details from view, he neglected to take the same precaution with the six-character Qantas booking reference which appeared in plain text on the accompanying baggage receipt.

Abbott's boarding pass barcode was also visible in the image, through which a booking reference number can also be obtained in seconds using a barcode reader app or website.

The photograph has since been deleted from Abbott’s Instagram account, but not before tech-savvy social media user Alex Hope took the opportunity to retrieve Abbott's booking via the Qantas website.

What Abbott accidentally revealed

Paired with the traveller’s surname, that six-character code unmasked a raft of private information: including his date of birth, passport number, passport expiry date, personal mobile number, email address, frequent flyer number, and other flights booked under the same ticket.

The former PM’s fondness for a “window seat in the last row of business class”, a message notated onto the booking as a ‘special service request’, was also uncovered by Hope, through a simple examination of the HTML source code that produced the relevant Qantas ‘manage my booking’ page.

Thankfully, rather than indulging in identity theft or sharing all the details, Hope chose to alert Qantas, the Australian Government, and Abbott of the issue.

Qantas rolls out a fix

Qantas has since worked with its booking technology provider Amadeus to limit the ease of accessing some private information via the airline’s ‘manage my booking’ pages, although a surname and a six-character booking reference remains all you need to access an itinerary on the Qantas website.

This includes calling up personal information such as a traveller’s full name, email address, phone number, frequent flyer details, company information (on business bookings), meal preferences (which may indicate religion), and more, along with the ability to change seat assignments – and indeed, change or even cancel flights.

At the end of the day, whether you’re a former Prime Minister or a lesser-known business traveller, Executive Traveller’s long-standing advice remains: do not share your boarding pass barcode (or your booking reference) online – you never know who is browsing, and what they’ll do with the information you're granting them access to.

Also read: What that barcode on your boarding pass reveals about you

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 169

Aha! ...and a tale to recall. Some years back I was in QF First Lounge in LAX when a celeb, sitting next to me, did the same thing. I felt like saying, 'not a good idea, love', but didn't. When we landed, though, it was another story. Cheers.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1025

In a better time, I've seen people doing this quite often. From people in the lounge taking photos of their boarding passes, to friends overseas posting about trips on twitter.

Whenever I've seen a boarding pass posted online, I've groaned to myself and have sometimes replied to them that they should delete the photo.

Something like "nice boarding pass. With the info on that pass, I, and everyone else seeing your photo, now have access to your booking details and all personal information contained within." often does the trick of getting them to remove photos of boarding passes.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 469

I think the most interesting part of this story was that Abbott phoned the guy back and wanted to learn about what info can be retrieved from the BP and how people do it!


09 May 2020

Total posts 562

I also loved that part of the story.

He might not be the politician or PM many people want or liked, but this showed some human curiosity and blokeness like the “dad” that he still is (hence the dad jokes that didn’t translate very well to political and government circumstances.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2013

Total posts 53

I'm hugely thankful and very glad I didn't have a "dad" like Abbott.


23 Feb 2017

Total posts 16

How do I set my preferences to avoid 3C and 3D when flying Qantas domestic? RC

Etihad - Etihad Guest

06 Apr 2012

Total posts 123

I wonder if Tony paid the extra $24.52 on the booking to make his flight carbon neutral ?

11 Jul 2020

Total posts 75

Obviously he isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, sharing his baggage tag online. 

Maybe he never got the brief on cyber security when he was a member of parliament.

20 Sep 2020

Total posts 1

I can confirm he likes "window seat, last row of business". A few years ago I was returning home after an interstate hospital stay and decided to choose a biz fare for the extra room and etc. Having selected 3A online and been issued my boarding pass, I was sitting in the lounge, after arriving in plenty of time to allow for my state of convalescence. 

I was paged to the desk whereupon I was given another boarding pass with 2A and told "we found you a better seat". Obviously, I didnt want a 'better seat', I wanted the one I chose (for a reason) and paid for!

Just before pushback, TA boarded with another bloke and took up their seats behind me in 3A/3C where the crew fussed over him like he was someone special 😆 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Sep 2014

Total posts 7

Surely the meal preference was raw onions, no?

12 Dec 2018

Total posts 21

One of the VERY few times I've been upgraded domestically to Business (in almost 15 years of flying) I was sat next to Julie Bishop.  Very nice lady I must say.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2013

Total posts 53

You really should look into her actions in public life a bit more deeply.


17 Jan 2018

Total posts 84

Please dont let TA go to UK. They have enough problems of their own without his wisdom and expertise. Make him Governor General of Prison Island instead where he can do less damage!

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