Why United was right to throw a passenger off a plane

IMG_0004.PNGWe all get a little over excited when we’re on holiday. And, thanks to social media, we’re able to spill this excitement onto our friends’ news feeds by checking in on Facebook at the airport or hashtagging #ComeFlyWithMe on Twitter from the time we leave the house to the moment we land at our destination.

But, there’s an unwritten rule about holiday spamming. If you must gloat, then you have to use your precious status updates for good i.e don’t threaten to disable the aircraft’s oxygen masks while waiting for the plane to taxi down the runway. Do you hear me Chris Roberts?

Well, we all make mistakes. None more so than United Airlines – the company which threw Chris off its flight at the weekend.

During the 2012 Olympics, United shamelessly mishandled a PR disaster by deleting comments from disgruntled stakeholders from its social media channels. And, a few years before that, it took no responsibility for allegedly mistreating a passenger’s guitar. So, how did the customer hit back? It filmed a music video – aptly titled ‘United Breaks Guitars’ – which generated its own Twitter handle and has since been viewed 14m times.

But, having said this, time can be a great healer and we have to hand United its dues for dealing with this weekend’s incident in a professional and timely manner.

Here’s what it got right:

Social media monitoring

Chris didn’t mention @United in his tweet; he only referenced the aircraft number which proves that between the airline company, airport and other invested parties, someone is out there monitoring what the world is saying before take-off. And, more importantly, responding.

Chris Robert's tweet to United

Putting things into context

Making any inappropriate suggestions at an airport isn’t wise. Which is why United did so well to put two and two together and make four. As Chris is the founder of a cyber security firm which seeks to find faults in IT systems, he definitely knows what he’s talking about and technically knew the type of response his tweet would provoke.

If Chris Roberts had been a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker, perhaps United wouldn’t have been so concerned.


After identifying the potential risk, United quickly removed Chris from the flight and issued a clear reactive statement highlighting that, because of his previous claims, and in the best interests of customers and crew, he would not be flying with them. It also used the opportunity to reassure people that it’s confident its systems cannot be hacked.

In light of the air industry having a vulnerable reputation following the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and Germanwings Flight 9525, it’s right to be cautious and companies in this industry simply can’t afford to dither.

However, some would argue that all the airline has done is give Chris a platform to PR his business. With an article on BBC News, the Huffington PostGeek and countless other websites, he’s potentially laughing all the way out of the airport and to the bank.

In addition to this, the airline also failed to use its social media channels to address the situation – something which could have worked in its favour, encouraging its 649,000 Twitter followers to support its decision. But, hey. Maybe it didn’t want to fight fire with fire and you can’t argue with that.

What do you think? Are we united in our thoughts, or do you think the cabin pressure got too much for this airline?

Chris Roberts didn't make it off the ground

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