By Popular Demand: United Breaks Guitars

Okay, I give in.

Either I talk about this, or you guys are going to continue to pelt me unmercifully until I do!

No question that the number one item generating reader response in the email bag this week is the case of United Airlines and Dave Carroll’s smashed guitar.

It appears that Dave Carroll of the band Sons of Maxwell hopped a plane with his bandmates from Halifax to Omaha by way of Chicago last year. As the plane unloaded atn O’Hare, Dave happens to look out the window in time to witness the baggage handlers throwing around instrument cases, namely THEIR instrument cases, like beach balls.

He said something to the flight attendants on board — but was met, as he put it, with “disinterest and disregard.”

Fast forward to Omaha, and no, Dave is not surprised at all when he finds that the base of his 710 acoustic Taylor guitar is smashed when he retrieves it from baggage claim. However, the show must go on, and Dave makes do with a stand-in.

A week later Dave made a formal complaint to United, which he says was never acknowledged. Over the next several months, Dave says that he called, emailed, and generally tried to get attention paid to his situation, and the best he received was a denial based on the fact that he didn’t “complain in the right place, or at the right time.”

Having spent some $1200 to repair his guitar, Dave was still not a happy man. Nor was his guitar the beauty she used to be.

So Dave did what song writers do.

He sat down and wrote a song about the whole thing, “United Breaks Guitars.” Actually he wrote three songs. “United Breaks Guitars” is actually “Song One.” “Song Two” is supposed to be posted shortly.


The video of “Song One” was posted on YouTube this week and it has already generated about 1.5 million views. “Song Two” is apparently already written and the video is “underway.” “Song Three” is still in the creative process.

For those of you with really enquiring minds, or if you just want to see some cute shots of Dave (hey, he’s a doll — with a Canadian accent no less) you can read the long version of the story on his website.

The PR machine at United has ground itself into action over this. In an update video, Dave says that the airline has, belatedly, offered to hand over some bucks. Dave says in the video that he doesn’t want the money. But he does want United to take the money and give it to a charitable organization. And yes, then United needs to tell all of us just which organization that was.

In the meantime, he told the last person he dealt with at United, Ms. Irlweg, that he was going to write three songs, and that is what he still intends to do.

Can’t wait to see and hear song two — which apparently deals mainly with “Ms. Irlweg.”

A story like this warms my heart. For more than one reason. The main one being that it illustrates so clearly why old style methods of “command and control” management and/or PR just are not going to cut it anymore these days.

You can’t control the web. You can’t keep this guy from writing his songs. And an offer to compensate him at this point — not enough. The airline comes across as slow-footed and dim-witted.

It’s a PR nightmare — one that all companies, not just airlines, need to understand.

Enquiring minds want to know… I wonder if United made it even worse and “requested” that he not post any more songs — when they finally made him their “compensation” offer this week?”


1 thought on “By Popular Demand: United Breaks Guitars

  1. Airlinologist

    It is a big mistake for the customer service representatives, who handled the case of the damaged guitar, to think that they have the final word for the cases which might affect the image of United Airlines. They were supposed to refer the case to the Public Relations Department before it is too late.
    Unfortunately, airlines nowadays tend to hire untrained persons to handle the phone calls, enquires, and complaints of the passengers. Ms. Irlweg exacerbated the situation by ignoring the possibility of harming the image of United Airlines. Unknowingly, she did not think of Dave’s options. By keeping himself calm (but active) for about nine months, he deserves the current free-of-charge publicity.
    The story imposes a new practice whereby the Public Relations Department should have the upper hand for all complicated issues handled by customer service representatives.

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