Turbulent Tweets Rock American, US Airways

The social media skies have been anything but friendly for American Airlines Group and its recent merger partner, US Airways. On Sunday, a tweet from “Sarah @QueenDemetriax” said: “@americanAir hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.” 

Within six minutes, Terry Maxon writes in the Dallas Morning News’ “The Airline Biz” blog, American responded with: “@queendemetriax_ Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.”



Then, on Monday, US Airways inadvertently included a link to a picture of a naked woman and a toy airplane in response to a complaint about a flight delay by a customer named Elle Rafter.

“Accompanying this message, however, was surely the most stunningly lewd tweet ever sent by a brand,” writes CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk. “I won't link you to it, as I've heard you're extremely good at finding these things very quickly.”

Back to the first incident, it turned out that Sarah is a 14-year-old Dutch girl from Rotterdam who quickly sent out “a flurry of messages … expressing her regret” such as “omfg I was kidding…”; “I’m so sorry I’m scared now…”; “I was joking and it was my friend not me, take her IP address not mine…”; “and I’m not from Afghanistan,” according to a story by Adam Withnall in The Independent cited byMaxon. 

She turned herself in to Dutch authorities last night and was “charged with ‘posting a false or alarming announcement’ under Dutch law, but the consequences of the accusation remain unclear,” according to CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz.

“She will be questioned for the next couple of hours and after that she might be sent home during the investigation,” Wessel Stolle, a Rotterdam police spokesman, told Abdelaziz. “We do not know yet. That will have to come out of the investigation.”

Last October, the Volkskrant reported that some 35,000 threatening tweets are sent in the Netherlands and 200 are so serious that the police take a closer look, according to a story in DutchNews.nl.

“Someone is arrested or given a warning about a threat made via social media almost on a daily basis, Martine Vis, interim Rotterdam police chief and responsible for social media within the national force, told the paper.”

Despite [Sarah’s] arrest, others didn't get the message.

"Another Twitter user sent a threat to Southwest Airlines,” David Boroff reported in the New York Daily News. It, too, forwarded the user’s information “to the appropriate authorities,” leading the original tweeter to protest that “it was a joke.”

But that’s not all, according to TheDailyDot’s Kevin Collier. “Fresh off the revelation that yes, anyone can tweet a bomb threat to an airline and yes, it will piss off authorities, copycat tweeters are now pranking them in droves.” Collier cites several other threats, concluding, “The next teen trend, presumably, is hopping on TSA watchlists for life.”

As for the gaffe by US Airways, “it's not the first corporate Twitter blunder, but it might be one of the most obscene,” writes Katie Lobosco on CNNMoney. It “was replying to a customer who was complaining about service on Twitter. The company's response said it welcomes feedback and the link should have led to a web page where customers can submit complaints on its website,” Lobosco explains. 

Within the hour, US Airways had apologized for the “inappropriate image recently shared as a link,” removed the tweet and said it was “investigating.” 

Subsequently, “our investigation has determined that the image was initially posted to our Twitter feed by another user. We captured the tweet to flag it as inappropriate,” US Airways spokesman Matt Miller told Ben Mutzabaugh on USA Today’s “Today in the Sky” blog. “Unfortunately, the image was inadvertently included in a response to a customer.” 

“At this point, many brands use sophisticated technologies to prevent this kind of mishap,” points outAd Age’s Cotton Delo.

Then there’s the old–fashioned way.

Sprinklr CEO Ragy Thomas observed that brands typically catch mistakes like this before they go live with an approval process that includes at least one other set of eyes on every tweet before they are published,” Delo continues.

As we are reminded daily, that second set of eyes is indeed the best insurance for a smooth flight.

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