United Airlines breaks guy’s guitar and heart (video)

This has to be the best complaint letter ever.

Singer-songwriter Dave Carroll from band Sons of Maxwell flew from Halifax, Canada to Omaha, Nebraska in March 2008. He tells the full story on his site but in summary, he says he was on the tarmac when he witnessed baggage handlers throwing his guitar case around. When he arrived in Omaha, he found his $3,500 Taylor guitar was broken. After giving him the run-around for more than a year, United finally refused to pay him compensation. He rejected their offer of $1,200 in flight vouchers and vowed to write three songs about his experience and offer them for free download online. This is the first one – and it’s a great track. His goal is to get a million hits in one year. It also seems like the experience of writing the songs was quite a cathartic one, as he says:

United has demonstrated they know how to keep their airline in the forefront of their customer’s minds and I wanted this project to expand upon that satirically. I’ve been done “being angry” for quite some time and, if anything, I should thank United. They’ve given me a creative outlet that has brought people together from around the world. We had a pile of laughs making the recording and the video while the images are spinning on how to make “United: Song 2” even better than the first. So, thanks United! If my guitar had to be smashed due to extreme negligence I’m glad it was you that did it. Now sit back and enjoy the show.

It’s often the case that companies act as bastards to their customers until they are contacted by the media – you see it all the time when people write in with complaints to the money sections of newspapers and the problems are mysteriously resolved with one phone call to the public relations department. The only problem is that the newspapers don’t have the space or time to act on every complaint. This is possibly the social media equivalent.

About a day ago, people such as @Kelly_MacD started tweeting links to the song and referencing @UnitedAirlines, the airline’s Twitter account.

She wrote:

psssst…@UnitedAirlines breaks guitars! And they don’t even care! http://tiny.cc/IMtJx

I don’t know if @Kelly_MacD was the first to tweet the link to the song, but she was likely the first to reference @UnitedAirlines, meaning that the marketing people who run the airline’s Twitter account would see it and hopefully take notice. And, take notice they did.

Almost immediately they responded:

@Kelly_MacD This has struck a chord w/ us and we’ve contacted him directly to make it right.

About three hours after that, they said:

@Kelly_MacD The word you hear is wrong. We have called him and the person who answered his phone scheduled a call for tomorrow morning.

That was 21 hours ago. Presumably the call would have happened by now, but I don’t know because United’s Twitter account has gone quiet. As of now, their last tweet was 20 hours ago.

Meanwhile, the video has had 137,986 page views since going live on 6 July. It’s rated five stars with 4,674 ratings so far. It’s currently number six on the Viral Video Chart (which tracks the most blogged-about videos, according to the embedded videos and links on approximately two million blogs). It’s getting some juice from StumbleUpon, climbing up the Digg charts, and getting retweeted all over Twitter. No matter what United does now, this ain’t going away.

I hope United does the right thing and compensates the guy for his guitar. I also think this is the best damage limitation move they can make at this stage. I also hope he doesn’t back down and pull the song, or not carry through with the next two songs. You shouldn’t have to do this in order to get fair compensation when an airline breaks things through negligence!

I’ve got a feeling this won’t do Dave Carroll or Sons of Maxwell’s careers any harm whatsoever. United Airlines, not so much.

But let’s face it. No one flies United Airlines because of their premium reputation and excellent customer service. US airlines in general have a pretty poor reputation, something I’m going to have to get accustomed to once I live there (unless I manage to avoid flying entirely, which could be difficult in such a huge country). This adds to the picture, but will no doubt blow over eventually.

Meanwhile, my flight to the US is pending. I’m awfully glad I’m not flying United and I don’t have a precious guitar in my hold luggage!

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