Of course it didn't escape my attention that this was a United Airlines flight. Joe and I just flew from Chicago to Tokyo on United a couple weeks ago on a Boeing 747, just like this plane. Reading the article, I saw that in fact we shared the same flight number, UA881. USA Today published the plane's registration number, so I dug up the print-outs of our flight information and sure enough, it was the exact same plane.
This incident happened April 18, a week before Joe and I took our flight on the plane.
While scary, I can't say that it's entirely shocking. Our experience flying United left me with the impression that the airline was cutting corners. The flat screen TVs in United's terminals had horrible black blotches all over the screens and clearly needed to be replaced. The food portions we were served were ridiculously small. And my seat tray was broken on both flights. On the flight to the U.S., I had to push really hard on the tray when I was putting it up in order to get the latch to slide over it and hold it up. I'm pretty sure the guy sitting in front of me switched seats because I was pushing him forward so hard repeatedly. On the flight back to Japan, when I unlatched the tray the whole thing dropped forward so hard and fast it knocked the coffee in my hand all over my shirt. Nice way to start the flight. I remember commenting to Joe at that point that if they weren't maintaining these small things, I wondered if they were maintaining the rest of the plane the way they were supposed to.
I wish the media would follow this story and tell us how this leak happened. I'd love to know if it was due to shoddy maintenance.