· Around 1am EST, US Airways' twitter account replied to a routine customer complaint regarding a delayed flight:
@USAirways Unhappy that 1787 sat for an hour on tarmac in CLT because overweight, resulting in over hour late arrival in PDX...— Elle (@ElleRafter) April 14, 2014
@ellerafter We truly dislike delays too and are very sorry your flight was affected.— US Airways (@USAirways) April 14, 2014
· Then, just after 2:30pm EST, the customer followed up to complain about US Airways' responsiveness:
@USAirways yeah, you seem so very sorry. So sorry, in fact, that you couldn't be bothered to address my other tweets.— Elle (@ElleRafter) April 14, 2014
· This is where the situation went drastically south, as US Airways tweeted innocuous text ("We welcome feedback, Elle. If your travel is complete, you can detail it here for review and follow-up:") accompanied by the graphic photo of a small Boeing 777 airplane model stuck in the vagina of a spread-eagled, fully nude woman. The image is available elsewhere on the internet, but before you click any link be warned that it is incredibly graphic.
· The tweet with image remained live on Twitter for nearly an hour before US Airways deleted it and promised to investigate. During the interval, the jokes began flying, and the detail that the model airplane was of the same type (a Boeing 777) as the lost Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 didn't escape tweeters, nor did the fact that US Airways doesn't even operate 777s (yet, until their merger with American Airlines is complete).
· Around 5pm EST, a spokesperson for the airline began emailing news agencies with an apology and sorta-explanation, saying:
We apologize for the inappropriate image we recently shared in a Twitter response. 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. We immediately realized the error and removed our tweet. We deeply regret the mistake and we are currently reviewing our processes to prevent such errors in the future.
· Now, you can almost hear the emergency meetings of brand social media managers, as they discuss what there is to be learned from the embarrassing gaffe. At the very least, it's a lesson to be careful what you copy-and-paste.
[Images: Twitter screenshots]