In July, Christine Ieronimo was stuck on a sweltering United Airlines plane for seven hours.
She later discovered she was filmed in a viral TikTok showing her speaking up about what happened.
Ieronimo told Insider the virality was unexpected but she was glad she could shed light on the incident.
A passenger who was stuck on a sweltering plane before her flight was canceled told the airline staff she was unhappy with how she'd been treated. She had no idea a fellow passenger was filming her, and that it would eventually go viral.
On July 3, Christine Ieronimo, a critical care nurse and children's author based in Connecticut, was intending on traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to Rome, Italy, for a vacation with her family when they all ended up sitting on an unmoving United Airlines plane for seven hours.
Passengers aboard the plane said they were left without food or water as temperatures soared to 80 degrees Fahrenheit due to a problem with the air conditioning.
A spokesperson for United Airlines previously told Insider in a statement that the flight returned to the gate to "address a temperature issue" and was later canceled because the "crew eventually exceeded their legally permitted duty hours."
After the flight was canceled, passengers returned to the airport, where Ieronimo complained to airline staff about how passengers were treated, oblivious to the fact that she was being filmed, she told Insider.
After the family arrived home from their trip two weeks later, Ieronimo went back to work, where a colleague informed her that she had been captured in a viral video on TikTok about the situation which went on to spark online outrage.
Ieronimo said going viral unexpectedly brought feelings of fear, but that it has helped shine a light on the incident
The TikTok, posted on July 17, was filmed by a passenger named Christina Dragone and shows a crowd of travelers standing opposite a United Airlines staff member in the airport after the flight was canceled. Ieronomo was at the head of the group, expressing concerns about the way the situation was handled.
The clip blew up, receiving 2.5 million views, and Insider previously reported that the incident didn't reach the public eye until after posts were made about it on social media, passengers spoke to news outlets, and the US Department of Transportation said it would investigate the matter. United Airlines has now also said it will investigate.
Ieronomo told Insider she did not have a TikTok account prior to going viral, and was initially worried that being filmed could lead to backlash against her, depending on how the clip was received by viewers.
"I was afraid I was going to get vilified," she said.
Although it is relatively common for TikTokers to film others in public spaces where there is little expectation of privacy, Ieronimo said that being at the center of a viral TikTok put her in an unexpected situation.
"I'm not looking to be a TikTok star. I didn't ask to be videotaped. I wasn't asked to have it placed on TikTok, so it's been incredibly overwhelming, the attention that it has gotten," she said.
Dragone did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
Despite Ieronomo's concerns about backlash, comments on the TikTok have been largely supportive and viewers have applauded her for the way she advocated for other passengers.
Ieronimo told Insider that the virality has brought some positives in being able to shed light on what happened.
"It's like a double-edged sword, quite frankly. Do I want to be in the spotlight, do I want to be out there for people to comment and see me and my family? No. But do I want attention brought to the incident? Yes, I absolutely do," she said.
Ieronimo sought greater compensation from the airline, but said she was disappointed with the results
Ieronimo told Insider she witnessed several people stripping their shirts off due to the heat while a team was trying to fix the air conditioning on the tarmac. At one point during the hours-long incident, she said people were offered the chance to disembark, but most passengers chose not to since they were told the flight would be leaving soon.
Ieronimo told Insider that United Airlines refunded the cost of the family's original flight and also gave them a $400 voucher for future flights with the airline.
According to an email seen by Insider, the airline has now offered Ieronimo a check for a further $550.03 as reimbursement towards out-of-pocket hotel expenses the family incurred but said that it cannot reimburse the cost of the family's alternative flights with a different airline or prepaid hotel expenses under its policies.
In a statement to Insider via email, Ieronimo said she is disappointed with the outcome. She said rebooking flights cost the family more than $4,000 as they decided to go with a different airline. She also said she believes other passengers who incurred additional expenses deserve reimbursement, although it is unclear what expenses others might have incurred or whether they have been compensated by the airline.
Though the United has released a statement about the incident, Ieronimo added, "I still feel United owes its passengers acknowledgment of the horrible experience and a public apology."
United Airlines declined to respond to Insider's request for further comment.
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