EasyJet was criticized for making passengers fly in backless seats -- except it didn't

Rob Picheta, CNNUpdated 6th August 2019
(CNN) — Long queues. Screaming babies. Terrible food. Air travel can be stressful enough -- but a picture posted from a flight from London seemingly showed the journey from hell.
"#easyjet beats @Ryanair to have backless seats," Twitter user Matthew Harris quipped, alongside a photo showing a passenger sitting on a seat with no backing. "How can this be allowed," he added.
But there was one problem -- it wasn't. Budget airline EasyJet told CNN that no passengers were assigned to the broken seats and the person pictured had not been permitted to sit or travel there -- which the user who posted the photo admitted three hours later.
"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," the company added in a statement.
By then, however, the image had gone viral -- receiving more than 6,000 retweets and prompting a number of users to attack the carrier.
"Wow. Did Easyjet let the flight take off like this or did the damage happen in flight?" one asked. "A lot of people are gonna get fired today. Also that woman should get a lot of free airline tickets (preferably for airplanes that are in one piece)," another said.
The image was also reported on by a number of British news sites, including The Sun, Mail Online and The Mirror, which led its homepage with the story on Tuesday afternoon.
Much of the online wrath was also directed at the airline's clumsy response to the photo.
"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," a customer service employee for the airline wrote.
"Absolutely not. This is a real photo of a plane currently decending (sic) to Geneva," Harris replied. "Are you implying that if the photograph isn't removed you won't investigate this?," another user added.
But while the request for the photo to be deleted was something of a PR gaffe, it appeared not to be part of a broader conspiracy.
Harris clarified in another tweet hours later: "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. My partner took the photo."
So, if you were worried about cost-cutting at airlines going too far, you can (literally) sit back and relax.
Perhaps the most level-headed take on the entire affair came from one user, who apparently detected that something didn't add up with the initial photo. "The passengers behind have clearly paid for extra leg room," they wrote. "Now scoot over so they can put their feet up."