Video of Asian Doctor Ejected from United flight goes Viral in China (Updated April 12 0945GMT)
United's problems stemming from the violent removal of a revenue passenger from a domestic flight has just gone from bad to - very bad.
Reports from China say the video of the man being dragged kicking and screaming off an over-booked flight has gone viral in United's most important foreign market.
According to Rob Schmitz, NPR's Shanghai correspondent, the video had been viewed on the popular Chinese portal Weibo 120 million times by 3pm local time, and then 30 minutes later by 130m people. By now some 200m people have watched the disturbing video.
Also on Tuesday, the stock of United Continental Holdings, the airline’s parent company, which fell more than 4% on Tuesday before recovering somewhat to close at $70.71, down 81 cents, or 1.1%. That decline is the equivalent of a $255-million cut from the company’s market value.
Schmitz reports that the video has generated "tens of thousands of very angry comments" and many suggest the decision to remove the man - a practicing physician - was motivated by race.
Said one Chinese web user: "Is this an example of America's so-called human rights?" Another: "Does he deserve this because of his skin colour?"
And in a direct broadside for the beleaguered airline: "Lets all boycott United Airlines."
Comments like these are very damaging for United as China is its most important overseas market. It is the world's second-largest aviation market and the airline claims it operates more China routes than an other US airline.
Says Schmitz: "United has a very real PR disaster here in China, and that won't be easy to manage.
"An incident like this threatens United's market share."
As previously reported, United Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After asking for passengers to volunteer to give up their seats and being dismayed that not enough were willing to do so, the airline’s employees decided to forcibly eject at least one passenger from the flight.
When the man refused to give up his seat because he had to go to work the next day, police were called and physically dragged him down the aisle and forced him off of the plane. According to some reports the man was bloodied.
United has been widely criticized for giving a lacklustre response to an incident that has disgusted many travellers. NPR quoted the airline as saying that the passenger was being disruptive and belligerent."