In 2016, commercial airlines carried more than 3.8 billion passengers to destinations around the world, but not every airline gets its share of good press. United Airlines, in particular, has had its fair share of scandalous headlines, ranging from the unfortunate (passengers being unceremoniously and forcibly removed from flights) to the truly bizarre (denying entry to one passenger’s emotional support peacock). And while United may be garnering support from non-NRA members after the airline ended its partnership with the pro-guns group, their good PR move might not be enough to make passengers completely forget that one of United’s planes literally fell apart while in-flight earlier this month.
Talk about damage control.
United Airlines flight 1175, a Boeing 777 aircraft, was traveling from San Francisco to Honolulu when the cover for the plane’s right engine broke apart. According to passengers, the event created a loud bang and a high-pitched whine, followed by violent shaking. For the next hour or so, passengers watched pieces of metal break apart and fall into the Pacific Ocean below. Industrial sheet metal is the number one type used in manufacturing; for commercial aircraft, aluminum or aluminum alloys are typically used due to their flexibility and strength — but in this case, the material didn’t quite live up to expectations.
The flight’s two pilots, eight crew members, and 363 passengers prepared for the worst, bracing themselves for what might come. But some were able to face their fears with a sarcastic social media post or two. Google engineer Erik Haddad posted a tweet featuring a photo of the naked engine juxtaposed with the seat pocket safety brochure that read, “I don’t see anything about this in the manual.” While a typical engineer’s salary can vary widely, ranging from $50,000 to $150,000, it’s likely that the Haddad is well-paid for his quick thinking. Another engineer, Jeff Carter, took a more somber approach to documenting the events on-board, capturing the scene on his phone’s camera. The video was later posted to his Instagram account with the caption, “What a #united 777 full of people calmly preparing themselves for death might look like.”
Fortunately, the outcome was anything but grim. After 40 minutes of uncertainty, the pilots managed to land the plane safely in Hawaii. No one was injured, and various passengers commended the crew and pilots for keeping them updated. United Airlines echoed this sentiment in their official statement, saying: “Our pilots followed all necessary protocols to safely land the aircraft. The aircraft taxied to the gate and passengers deplaned normally.”
United Airlines is cooperating with investigations conducted by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Administration. They are also reaching out to all customers on-board the flight to refund every ticket.
This incident may have had a happy (albeit intense) ending, but whether or not it’ll convince more people to fly United is another story.