The airline has received a barrage of criticism on social media today (6 August) after Matthew Harris shared the image on Twitter.
One has to wonder how safe the rest of the plane was. This was her seat. The lady was moved to a spare seat once the flight was fully boarded. Not sure what would have happened if the flight was full.— Matthew Harris (@mattiasharris) August 6, 2019
My partner took the photo.
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Among the people to comment were journalists asking Harris for more information:
Hi Matthew, Adam here from Sky News. Can you add some context here? Who took the photo? Thanks— Adam Parker (@adamparkersky) August 6, 2019
In its response, Easyjet asked for the picture to be removed:
Hi Matthew, thanks for bringing this to our attention, before we can investigate this could I ask you to remove the photograph & then DM us more info regarding this, so we can best assist you. Ross https://t.co/Qq2zhBAizh— easyJet (@easyJet) August 6, 2019
This request itself was criticised by members of the public:
Remove the photo? Why? He is under no obligation to and you're trying to protect your own backs even though you're wrong.— Luke Richards (@LukeRxchards) August 6, 2019
EasyJet later tweeted this update:
I have the following update: No passengers were permitted to sit in these seats as they were inoperative awaiting repair. Safety is our highest priority and easyJet operates its fleet of aircraft in strict compliance with all safety guidelines. - Dan— easyJet (@easyJet) August 6, 2019
Asked by PRWeek, several comms professionals criticised easyJet's approach.
Jules Ugo, MD at travel and tourism PR specialist Lotus, said: "It is totally understandable that brands need to protect themselves against fake news and misinformation. However, asking for a tweet to be removed and not explaining why comes across as controlling, bullying and as if the brand is trying to hide possible negative content from customers. This is what has led to the uproar in the easyJet case.
"If they had been clear that they were asking it to be removed whilst they clarified its legitimacy, there would have been more consumer sympathy and understanding.
"Better still to have responded saying they were investigating whilst not asking for it to be removed.
"The twitter activity shows just how powerful and damaging consumer reaction via social media can be and yet again raises the question to all brands about how they can ensure content posted by members of the public is true and accurate."
James Brooke, MD at Rooster PR, said: "If an airline’s safety is ever put to question, the response has to be quick, informative and above all; transparent. Any hint of a cover up and your credibility immediately diminishes. Once the photo is out there – posed or not – the first response should always come with reassurance.
"EasyJet’s response should have been a clear rebuttal of any concern that a seat in this condition would ever be in use for passengers, outlining the series of engineering and security checks that take place to ensure the safety of every passenger on board. Investigating the specific circumstances of the photo in question should of course follow, but asking to take down the photo is only ever going to spark fury and suspicion."
Other PR professionals responded on Twitter:
It's absolutely not acceptable. They should have asked the person to DM them the details ASAP to understand the situation and assist. By asking them to remove the image first and then offering assistance, they're making themselves look a bit guilty.— Michele Moore Duhen (@Michele_Moore) August 6, 2019
EasyJet has broken a cardinal rule of social media by trying to censor user content. The result is that rather than taking control it has well and truly lost control. Something that should have been a non-issue has left EasyJet with egg on its face.— Gillian Edwards (@GillianEdw) August 6, 2019
This smells of compliance heavy-handedness, forgetting the optics of the request. Get straight in touch, explain (on the phone) why it might be best to take the image down for now (privacy etc.) but assure action being taken and thank the poster.— Chris Blackwood (@Blackwood_C) August 6, 2019
In every possible way, in every possible scenario.... no https://t.co/fTeFHNPClN— ?????????????? (@vassrbex) August 6, 2019
Ah, yikes. At the very least they should've given a good reason why they wanted it removed. Maybe their main concern was that you can see some passengers' faces in that pic. Unless OP got permission from everyone in that shot to post that pic, that's a bit of a no-go, too, imho.— Annie (@AnnieDAFG) August 6, 2019
Finally, it didn't take long for opportunist brands to get newsjacking: