Planes, porn and racism: Travel's biggest Twitter fails

Melissa Bachman with the lion she killed in Africa.
Melissa Bachman with the lion she killed in Africa. Photo: Twitter

Twitter can be a minefield for travellers and the travel industry. One reckless press of the ‘Tweet’ button could invoke a worldwide firestorm on social media, as a US airline and a Dutch teenager discovered this week. Here are ten of the best examples of travel Twitter fails.

US Airways ‘planegina’ tweet causes turbulence

US Airways topped the list of worst Twitter gaffes ever this week after a pornographic picture was posted to their Twitter account and stayed there for at least an hour. It was the kind of obscenity that once seen makes you want to gouge out your eyes with a spoon.

A photo posted on Twitter by Ryanair during Michael O'Leary's Q&A shows the budget airline CEO dressed as a leprechaun.
A photo posted on Twitter by Ryanair during Michael O'Leary's Q&A shows the budget airline CEO dressed as a leprechaun. 

The post was made in response to a customer complaint about a delayed flight from an airport in North Carolina. Perhaps next time, the passenger will call instead.

US Airways offered this explanation: "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. Unfortunately the image was inadvertently included in a response to a customer.”

The photo was originally posted by a user who is apparently a friend of the Dutch teen arrested for trolling American Airlines with a fake terrorism threat, Gawker reported.

Ex-PR executive Justine Sacco and that tweet.
Ex-PR executive Justine Sacco and that tweet. 

It was the Twitterverse comedian’s wet dream, and they all took to the interwebs to give it their best shot, which saw US Airways trend for the second time in recent history.

The first was back in 2009 after a man took an image from a Manhattan ferry on its way to rescue passengers from a semi-submerged US Airways plane (http://twitpic.com/135xa) in the Hudson River, forced to make an emergency landing after it struck a flock of geese.

”There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.” Indeed.

A screenshot taken of Luton's Twitter account with the offending image of a plane crash.
A screenshot taken of Luton's Twitter account with the offending image of a plane crash. 

Tables turn on thrill killer

Melissa Bachman! She shoots things! Big things! With a big gun! And boy is she proud of it, but never more so than after she shot her first African lion, and could not wait to post the results of her kill on social media. “What a hunt!” the US television host exclaimed, beaming over the body of a majestic and very much dead male lion, while the Twitter audience reacted like she’d just slain the heroic Aslan. As a barrage of hatred continued to pour in months later from around the world, Ms Bachman wisely chose to lock her Twitter account so her latest trophy kills were kept out of view of the public eye.

Racist PR whiz illustrates how it shouldn’t be done

A photo of Leigh Van Bryan, centre, posted on his Twitter account, before he was arrested at LAX.
A photo of Leigh Van Bryan, centre, posted on his Twitter account, before he was arrested at LAX. 

Also heading on a trip to Africa, PR exec Justine Sacco donned funny cap and bravely tweeted something that would see her rise from obscurity into household name all in the space of a long haul flight. “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding! I’m white!” The Twitter handle #HasJustineLandedYet trended while the exec was blissfully unaware in the air. It was only a matter of time for Sacco, who had a history of inappropriate tweets, such as: “I had a sex dream about an autistic kid last night. #fml” Cheers for the share, Justine! Thankfully, Sacco was fired from her PR job and retired her Twitter account directly after the incident.

Anybody home?

A disgruntled British Airways passenger decided a paid, promoted tweet was the best form of revenge after British Airways lost his luggage and calls to customer service went nowhere. Frustrated Hasan Syed paid $US1000 to say “Don’t fly with @British Airways. They can’t keep track of your luggage.” The tweet was seen by 76,000 users before BA’s social media team responded, ten hours later – when their office reopened during business hours, because that’s the only time things go wrong. Right!

Hasan Syed's promoted tweet about British Airways.
Hasan Syed's promoted tweet about British Airways. 

Busted - American Airlines Twitterbot does not compute

Following the merger of US Airways and American Airlines, it was decided the easiest way to combat social media would be to set up one automated response, rather than manning it with real people solving actual problems. An eagle-eyed Twitter user named Ross Sheingold noticed that all responses were exactly the same and found this example from user @murphmarkd: “Congrats to @americanair and @usaairways on creating the largest, s----iest airline in the world.” The airline’s response: “Thanks for your support! We look forward to a bright future as the #newAmerican”.

You’ve got to fight for your right to party

An English woman and an Irish man planned a Hollywood holiday from London but got more than they bargained for. Before departure, they clearly took leave of their senses and joked on Twitter that they were going to "destroy America" and "dig up Marilyn Monroe".

Because the US Department of Homeland Security enjoy jokes about threats to their country so much, the two were greeted at LAX and given the red carpet treatment.

They were taken to some very special accommodation which they shared with their new friends, members of a Mexican drug cartel, for an extremely short stay of 12 hours, before being escorted back to the airport, shunted onto a plane and ejected back to where they came from.

“They asked why we wanted to destroy America and we tried to explain it meant to get trashed and party," Emily Bunting, 24, told a British newspaper, aghast.

Leigh Van Bryan, 26, said the other tweet about digging up the body of Marilyn Monroe was a quote from the animated sitcom Family Guy. “It’s from an American show,” Bunting reiterated.

Bomb tweet bombs

Perhaps a better choice of words may have prevented peeved traveller Paul Chambers, 28, of Northern Ireland, from finding himself in deep, scalding hot, High Court water. His local airport, Robin Hood, near Doncaster, UK, was forced to close after heavy snowfall.

He took to Twitter with "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your s--- together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!" Because, you know, bomb threats from Northern Irishmen are generally taken pretty seriously in the UK.

Although a High Court appeal was won, he may want to save the Twitter humour for the professionals such as Stephen Fry, who supported Mr Chambers’ case. Fry tweeted that the ruling was “complete vindication and victory” for Mr Chambers.

Fatalities not funny, Luton

London’s Luton Airport thought it would be amusing to post a picture of a plane accident in an attempt at self-promotion. “Because we are such a super airport … this is what we prevent you from when it snows …. Weeee :)”. Errr, apart from possibly being guilty of having a primary school student at the helm of their Twitter account, the picture they posted was a real-life accident that killed a six-year-old car passenger.

Ryanair CEO’s popularity nosedives

Inevitably, Ryanair regretted the decision to bring CEO Michael O’Leary in to man their Twitter account for a live Q&A to improve the public image of the airline.

Following a few early hiccups – he initially forgot to use the designated hashtag  #grillMOL in his early replies – Mr O'Leary fielded dozens of questions for over an hour while hilariously dressed as a leprechaun.

O’Leary responded with farcical, crude messages, in what was largely considered a public relations disaster: “Nice pic. Phwoaaarr! MOL” and “Just found out what hashtags are. Learning on da job! Always compliment ladies pics.”

The questions asked ranged from offensive to amusing – “Is it true that you intend to remove at least one engine from all your aircraft to save fuel?” and “Does anyone in your organisation have any experience of running an airline?” to “How much will Michael charge per reply? And are you charging me to send this tweet?”

Qantas hashtag hijacked

In another PR disaster, this time involving Qantas, an invitation for users to share their “dream inflight experience” over Twitter backfired thanks to extremely poor timing – the airline launched the campaign in the middle of a bitter industrial dispute with unions, soon after CEO Alan Joyce had grounded the airline’s fleet worldwide, stranding passengers. Users hijacked the hashtag #qantasluxury with jokes at the airline’s expense.

ABC radio's PM presenter Mark Colvin, @Colvinius said: "Getting from A to B without the plane being grounded or an engine catching fire. #qantasluxury".

Australians were sending out 51 tweets a minute on the trending hashtag, making fun of the idea of #qantasluxury. Who wouldn’t? Especially when a pair of luxury Qantas PJs were up for grabs.

@lehmo23

#virginluxury getting an exit row

#tigerluxury getting a biscuit

#qantasluxury getting a pilot, a plane, engineers and baggage handlers

A parody of Downfall, the final days of Adolf Hitler, summed up the disaster, with a despondent Hitler hoping for a “new funny cat video”.

The red-faced PR team later admitted it was “not the response it was expecting”.

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