US Airways this afternoon sent out an explicit photo on Twitter as part of a response to a customer who complained on the social-media site.
The airline, based in Tempe until its December merger with American Airlines, has taken down the photo, which featured a woman with a model airplane in her vagina.
It issued this response on Twitter: "We apologize for an inappropriate image recently shared as a link in one of our responses. We've removed the tweet and are investigating."
The airline has 418,000 followers on Twitter and the image was retweeted by thousands after it was reported by Deadspin and BuzzFeed.
It appears that the airline may have included the photo in more than one tweet, according to reports. One of the tweets with the troubling photo was pretty standard: the airline was apologizing to a Portland customer (@ElleRafter) who complained about a tarmac delay on a flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Portland.
The airline's tweet: "We welcome feedback, Elle. If your travel is complete you can detail it here for review and followup.'' The link was to the offensive photo.
American spokesman John McDonald said the photo originated in a tweet sent to American Airlines' Twitter account and was immediately flagged internally. It ended up on US Airways' Twitter account by accident. The employee will not be disciplined, he said.
The airline apologized again in a statement e-mailed to reporters.
"Our investigation has determined that the image was sent to us by a 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."