June 15, 2024

Business Owner ‘Hesitant’ to Post After Viral Airplane Seat Debacle

  • In July, a woman went viral after refusing to switch to a middle seat so a mother could be next to her kids.
  • Tammy Nelson said a vast majority of TikTok commenters supported her decision.
  • But a subsequent wave of backlash to her and her business has made her more wary of sharing personal accounts.

A small business owner at the center of a viral airplane seat-switching scandal on TikTok said she received support from the vast majority of the 4 million viewers who watched her video from July 10, but subsequent press attention resulted in a bump of backlash for her nascent jewelry business. 

Tammy Nelson — the founder of CONQUERing, which vends rings inspired by fidget spinners that serve as anxiety-coping tools — told Insider she was boarding a Delta flight from Cincinnati to California at the time, and noticed a woman sitting in her window seat. 

“I’ll never forget what she said,” Nelson recounted. “She said, ‘Oh, you wanna sit here?'”

The woman explained that she wanted to be next to her two children, a boy Nelson estimated was 15 and a girl that looked to be about 11. She asked if Nelson would take her middle seat in the next row back. 

@myconquering Having had only 90 minutes of sleep the night before and knowing I had to give a presentation to 500 people, I desperately needed some sleep, so I did not agree to switch seats. 🤷‍♀️ Before anyone comes after me… the kids looked like they were about 11 and 15 years old. And the mom was in arms-reach of both of them from the middle seat in the row behind us. The mom proceeded to complain for at least 15 minutes to the person next to her loud enough for me to hear. But the woman actually defended me – several times. It was so kind and I appreciated it so much because I was feeling really guilty. 🤦‍♀️ ##airplaneseat##seatswitching##airplanekarens ♬ original sound – MyCONQUERing

Nelson said she would have gladly switched if it was another window seat, but she politely declined, explaining that the window helped with her motion sickness and that she needed to rest, having had only 90 minutes of sleep the night before.

“She was not very happy,” Nelson said of the woman. “She just kind of kept mumbling under her breath.”

The woman complained to her new seatmate, but Nelson said she was pleasantly surprised when the stranger seated in the window behind her came to her defense. The stranger “diffused the whole situation,” Nelson said, by empathizing with the mother but also gently noting that she herself had paid extra for a window seat – and that perhaps Nelson had, too. 

As they disembarked, Nelson thanked the stranger for defending her, as she’d been “feeling guilty.” 

“I’m a mom too. I have three kids, so I know what it’s like to travel with kids,” she said. “But I also plan ahead for it… And in my opinion, it’s not that big of a deal, especially if they’re older.”

Wading into viral minefields can be a mixed bag for business, she learned

TikTok is an integral marketing tool for her business, Nelson said, but the whole incident has taught her to be more careful about what she shares in the future. 

While she has occasionally intermixed marketing videos with day-in-the-life content “to keep engaged with my followers,” she said she will be more careful in the future so she doesn’t become the source of contentious viral debates, like with airplane seat-switching.

To be fair, Nelson said she had no idea it was such a hot topic, and that 95% to 99% of her TikTok comments were “overwhelmingly supportive.” But when press outlets picked up the story, some took her quotes out of context, she said, suggesting she’d called the mother “entitled,” or using a screengrab from her video next to a stock image of a toddler gazing out of a plane window. 

A small wave of backlash ensued — and came for her jewelry business.

“All of a sudden, we were getting DMs on our social media channels. We were getting messages into our website,” she said. “People went on Google and started giving us a whole bunch of one-star ratings, even though they weren’t customers.”

On Google, CONQUERing had a perfect five-star rating, she said, until a string of roughly 15 to 20 one-star reviews sunk it down to “the low threes.” (It’s now back up to 4.6 after Nelson asked followers to help combat the backlash.)

The adverse reaction was, fortunately, short-lived. And there were also benefits to all the viral attention she got. “July was a very good month,” Nelson said, adding that her brand also launched several new products last month. “It’s hard to say it was specifically this, but we definitely had an increase in traffic.”

Nevertheless, she said she wouldn’t choose for such a blowup to happen again. And she’s become more “hesitant” to post personal content in the future — even as she acknowledged how important it is for companies to connect to customers on a human level.

“This seemingly benign thing became so big,” she said. “I will most likely stick mostly to jewelry from here on out.”

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