Social Media #struggle: United & THE INCIDENT

On April 9th, a United Airlines flight choose to seat four employees last minute and in turn ‘re-accommodate’ four passengers. At this point, the passengers had already been checked-in and seated. As per protocol, they offered a $400 compensation, hotel for the night, and flight the next afternoon for any volunteer willing to leave the plane. When no one accepted this offer, United representatives upped the compensation offer to $800 but still received no takers.

At this point United decided to have a ‘computer algorithm’ randomly select four passengers to the leave the plane. One couple that was chosen begrudgingly left the plane but the third passenger selected didn’t want to get off the plane.

A man refused to leave the plane, claiming to be a doctor who needed to see patients in the morning. A security officer was called to escort him off the plane and escalated to manhandling the passenger by wrestling him out of his seat and dragging him down the aisle off the plane. During this process, the man’s head was smashed against an armrest and further bloodied.


What made this incident different than a possibly similar incident in the past was the availability of phone cameras and social media. No less than two passengers sitting nearby recorded the entire incident on their cameras and then posted to social medias. The virality of the incident and videos could not have existed 10 years ago. The video in question was shared on social media and led to a plethora of memes of sites such as Reddit, Imgur, and Tumblr. Even traditional media jumped on the United meme bandwagon to gain views from the viral subject.

The excess of evidence of the mishandling of the situation led to outrage at the canned PR jargon that the CEO of United spewed out in response.

Chapter 3: Click here to hear more about United’s response and the backlash that ensued.

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