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Customer Relations - United Breaks Guitars

A musician named Dave Carroll recently had difficulty with United Airlines.

United apparently damaged his treasured Taylor guitar ($3500) during a flight. Dave spent over 9 months trying to get United to pay for damages caused by baggage handlers to his custom Taylor guitar. During his final exchange with the United Customer Relations Manager, he stated that he was left with no choice other than to create a music video for youtube exposing their lack of cooperation. The Manager responded: "Good luck with that one, pal."

So he posted a retaliatory video on youtube. The video has since received over 12 million hits. United Airlines contacted the musician and attempted settlement in exchange for pulling the video. Naturally his response was: "Good luck with that one, pal."

Taylor Guitars sent the musician 2 new custom guitars in appreciation for the product recognition from the video that has led to a sharp increase in orders.

We began our week-long-tour of Nebraska by flying United Airlines from Halifax to Omaha, by way of Chicago‚Ķ. upon landing and waiting to deplane in order to make our connection a woman sitting behind me, not aware that we were musicians cried out:“My god they’re throwing guitars out there.”

Launched in July 2009, the first United Breaks Guitars Song became one of YouTube’s greatest hits and caused an instant media frenzy across all major global networks and sources (including the likes of CNN, the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone Magazine & the BBC to name a few).  

United Breaks Guitars – Song 1 Video 

  Dave takes a closer look at his dealings with Ms. Irlweg and the flawed policies that she was forced to uphold. Song 2 is an appeal to United to do the right thing because their policies are putting a real strain on what could be a terrific friendship between Ms. Irlweg and Dave.

United Breaks Guitars – Song 2 Video

The latest video acknowledges that Dave’s unfortunate experience with United has given his career an unexpected lift, and that he wishes United well with the changes that they say are coming, but that many people continue to face their own customer service nightmares. Catchy lyrics are delivered in a high energy, bluegrass tune featuring a premiere Canadian musician on fiddle and mandolin and a surprise dobra solo from a high profile Nashville recording artist.

United Breaks Guitars – Song 3 Video

 Dave Carroll speaker at convention - Lessons from United breaks guitars


Bob Taylor from Taylor Guitars responds



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"United Breaks Guitars" is a protest song by Canadian musician Dave Carroll and his band, Sons of Maxwell. It chronicles a real-life experience of how his guitar was broken during a trip on United Airlines in 2008, and the subsequent reaction from the airline. The song became an immediate YouTube and iTunes hit upon its release in July 2009 and a public relations embarrassment for the airline.


 Background of the incident 

Musician Dave Carroll said his guitar was broken while in the airline's custody. He alleged that he and fellow passengers saw baggage-handling crew throwing guitars on the tarmac in Chicago O'Hare on his flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Omaha, Nebraska. He arrived at his destination to discover that his $3,500 Taylor guitar had indeed suffered a broken neck (shown in his video).[1][2] Fox News questioned Carroll on why he checked the valuable guitar and Carroll explained that it is difficult to bring guitars onto flights as carry-on luggage.[3] In his song, he sang that he "alerted three employees who showed complete indifference towards me" when he raised the matter in Chicago. Carroll filed a claim with the airline, and was informed that he was ineligible for compensation because he had failed to make the claim within the company's stipulated "standard 24-hour timeframe".[4] 

 The song

A screenshot from the song's accompanying video
Carroll says that his fruitless negotiations with the airline for compensation lasted nine months.[5] Then, thinking what Michael Moore would have done, Carroll wrote a song and created a music video about his experience.[6] The lyrics include the verse "I should have flown with someone else, or gone by car, 'cause United breaks guitars."[7] Carroll, who has performed as a solo artist and as a member of the group Sons of Maxwell, wrote two sequel songs related to the events as well.[2] The second video, United Breaks Guitars: Song 2 was released on YouTube on August 18, 2009.[8] The song takes a humorous look at Carroll's dealings with "the unflappable" United customer service employee Ms. Irlweg, and targets the "flawed policies" that she was forced to uphold.[2] In March 2010, United Breaks Guitars: Song 3 was released. [9] The third and final song is a coda in which Carroll says while he is satisfied by the conclusion of this affair since it has greatly benefited his career, he warns United that they must improve customer service or risk losing all their customers. The song adopts a somewhat conciliatory approach noting that not all employees at United are "bad apples." The final line of the trilogy of songs is, "They say that you're [United] changing and I hope you do, 'Cause if you don't then who would fly with you?" [9]

The YouTube video was posted on July 6. It amassed 150,000 views within one day, prompting United to contact Carroll saying it hoped to right the wrong.[5] The video garnered over half a million hits by July 9,[7] 5 million by mid-August 2009,[4] and 10 million by February 2011.

Media reported the story of the song's instant success and the public relations humiliation for United Airlines.[1][6][10] Attempting to put a positive gloss on the incident and the song, a company spokesman called it "excellent". Rob Bradford, United's managing director of customer solutions, telephoned Carroll to apologize for the foul-up and to ask if the carrier could use the video internally for training.[7] United mentioned it hoped to learn from the incident, and to change its customer service policy as a result of the incident.[5]

Bob Taylor, owner of Taylor Guitars, immediately offered Carroll two guitars and other props for his second video.[10] The song hit number one on the iTunes Music Store the week following its release.[11] The Times reported that the belated compensation offer of $3,000 which was donated by United to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz as a "gesture of goodwill" failed to undo the damage done to its image.[12] In response to his protest's success, Carroll posted a video address thanking the public for their support while urging a more understanding and civil attitude towards Ms. Irlweg, who was just doing her job in accordance of mandated company policies in this affair.[13]

Since the incident, Carroll has been in great demand as a speaker on customer service. On one of his trips as a speaker, United Airlines lost his luggage.[11]

In December 2009, Time magazine named "United Breaks Guitars" #7 on its list of the Top 10 Viral Videos of 2009.[14]

In January 2012, Carroll and "United Breaks Guitars" were featured in the CBC/CNBC documentary Customer (Dis)Service


Stock price effect

The Times newspaper reported[15] that within 4 days of the video being posted online, United Airline's stock price fell 10%, costing stockholders about $180 million in value.

However, other analysts have questioned whether this price drop can be directly linked to the video; they note that some other airlines (American, Continental, Delta, and Southwest) also had drops in their stock price on that date, and that United stock had been on a roller coaster all that quarter, including some days with drops greater than 10% in value.[citation needed] Musician Dave Carroll himself has not made any statements regarding this stock price drop. Additionally, since the video was posted on July 6, the cumulative stock price drop was only 2% (from 3.34 to 3.26).


 See also


1.        ^ a b CNN newscast on incident, Youtube.com  

2.        ^ a b c CBS newscast 

3.        ^ "Fox News". Fox & Friends. July 9, 2009. FoxNews. http://video.foxnews.com/v/3935170/united-breaks-guitars.  

4.        ^ a  b Cosh, Colby (August 21, 2009). "A man and his guitar". National Post (The Financial Post).


5.        ^ a b c Broken guitar song gets airline's attention CBC News. Online, July 8, 2009. Retrieved July 8, 2009. 

6.        ^ a  b Jamieson, Alastair (July 23, 2009). "Musician behind anti-airline hit video 'United Breaks

 Guitars' pledges more songs". The Daily Telegraph (London). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/5892082/Musician-behind-anti-airline-hit-video-United-Breaks-Guitars-pledges-more-songs.html.  

7.        ^ a b c  Singer's revenge on United: A hit song United Press International July 9, 2009. 

8.        ^ Story behind United Breaks Guitars: Song 2 – DaveCarrollMusic[dead link] 

9.        ^ a  b "United Breaks Guitars: Song 3 – Dave Carroll". Davecarrollmusic.com. February 17, 2010.

 http://www.davecarrollmusic.com/2010/02/lead-story-one/. Retrieved April 30, 2010.  

10.     ^ a  b Tran, Mark (July 23, 2009). "Singer gets his revenge on United Airlines and soars to fame".

 The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/blog/2009/jul/23/youtube-united-breaks-guitars-video. Retrieved May 26, 2010.  

11.     ^ a  b McLean, Jesse (October 29, 2009). "United loses luggage of 'United Breaks Guitars' guy".

Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/article/717968--united-loses-luggage-of-united-breaks-guitars-guy.  

12.     ^ Ayers, Chris (July 22, 2009). "Revenge is best served cold – on YouTube". The Times (London). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/chris_ayres/article6722407.ece.  

13.     ^ Carroll, Dave. "United Breaks Guitars - A statement from Dave Carroll". Dave Carroll. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ay7hFIYQFnw. Retrieved 16 January 2012.  

14.     ^ Fletcher, Dan (December 8, 2009). "Top 10 Viral Videos – 7. United Breaks Guitars". TIME. http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1945379_1945171_1945170,00.html. "Fuming about mishandled baggage? Singing's the best revenge."  

15.     ^ Ayres, Chris (July 22, 2009). "Revenge is best served cold – on YouTube: How a broken guitar became a smash hit". The Sunday Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/chris_ayres/article6722407.ece. Retrieved July 7, 2010. 



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On March 31, 2008 Sons of Maxwell began our week-long-tour of Nebraska by flying United Airlines from Halifax to Omaha, by way of Chicago. On that first leg of the flight we were seated at the rear of the aircraft and upon landing and waiting to deplane in order to make our connection a woman sitting behind me, not aware that we were musicians cried out: “My god they’re throwing guitars out there.” Our bass player Mike looked out the window in time to see his bass being heaved without regard by the United baggage handlers. My $3500 710 Taylor had been thrown before his.

I immediately tried to communicate this to the flight attendant who cut me off saying: “Don’t talk to me. Talk to the lead agent outside.” I found the person she pointed to and that lady was an “acting” lead agent but refused to talk to me and disappeared into the crowd saying “I’m not the lead agent.” I spoke to a third employee at the gate and when I told her the baggage handlers were throwing expensive instruments outside she dismissed me saying “but hun, that’s why we make you sign the waiver.” I explained that I didn’t sign a waiver and that no waiver would excuse what was happening outside. She said to take it up with the ground crew in Omaha.

When I got to Omaha it was around 12:30 am. The plane was late arriving and there were no employees visible. Although I was told later that it wouldn’t have mattered, I should have taken my hard case out of the padded protective exterior case to examine the guitar at the airport but I didn’t. The guitar case looked ok and we were tired, went to the hotel and then to sleep for our early morning pick-up by the tour managers the next day. When they picked us up in the early morning we would not be back in Omaha for seven days. It was later that day at sound check that I discovered that the base of my Taylor had been smashed.

One week later I returned to Omaha for my return trip. I explained what had happened and the United agent in Omaha said I needed to start a claim at the airport where the trip began (Halifax). So here is what happened next.

When I got home to Halifax I was told that United doesn’t really have a presence there and that Air Canada is their partner. Every plane I flew on that day said “United” on the side but technically they have no presence there. So, Air Canada gave me a phone number to start my claim with United. When I called the number United said I had to return to the Halifax airport with the guitar to show the damage to someone and open a claim. When I returned to the Halifax airport I met with an Air Canada employee, because United has no presence there, and that person acknowledged the damage, opened a claim number but “denied” the claim because Air Canada would not be responsible for damage caused by United employees in Chicago (which still makes sense to me).

I took the claim number and called United back. They never seemed to be able find the claim number on several subsequent phone calls but at the last minute it would always surface. I spoke several times to what I believe were agents in India who, ironically were the most pleasant, and seemed genuinely sorry for what had happened. Three or four months later I got directed to the Chicago baggage offices of United and after several attempts to speak with someone was told to simply bring in the guitar for inspection… to Chicago… from Halifax, Canada.

When I explained that Halifax is far from Chicago someone then said my claim needed to go through Central Baggage in New York and they gave me a toll free phone number. I phoned that number and spoke to someone. She couldn’t understand why someone in Chicago thought she would be able to help me but she seemed to feel for me and asked me to fax her all the information. I did and a few weeks passed with no reply. I called back and the lady said she’d never received the fax. Then I asked her to look for it and surprisingly, there it was. When she found it she asked me to give her a couple of days and to call back. I did, and by the time I phoned again two days later, the number had been discontinued.

I had to start all over again with the same 1-800 # to India, where they were as sorry as ever for what happened, couldn’t find my claim at first, and told me I needed to bring the guitar into Chicago’s O’Hare for inspection. Six months had gone by and the guitar had now been repaired for $1200 to a state that it plays well but has lost much of what made it special. I spoke to a customer service manager in India who promised to forward a note to have someone in Chicago contact me. I received a letter a about a month later from Chicago with no name or contact info, saying someone would be contacting me about this.

Another month went by and I received an email from a Ms. Irlweg in Chicago I believe. It basically said she was sorry this happened and denied my claim. Some of her reasons were:

I didn’t report it to the United employees who weren’t present when we landed in Omaha

I didn’t report to the Omaha airport within 24 hours while I was driving to places that weren’t Omaha

It was an Air Canada issue

Air Canada already denied the claim (as I mentioned because Air Canada would not pay for United’s damages), but I’m still unsure as to why I needed to report it in Omaha within 24 hours if it was clearly Halifax’s responsibility

Someone from United would need to see the damage to a guitar that was repaired

So after nine months it came down to a series of emails with Ms. Irlweg and, despite asking to speak to her supervisor, our conversations ended with her saying United would not be taking any responsibility for what had happened and that that would be the last email on the matter. My final offer of a settlement of $1200 in flight vouchers, to cover my salvage costs repairing the Taylor, was rejected.

At that moment it occurred to me that I had been fighting a losing battle all this time and that fighting over this at all was a waste of time. The system is designed to frustrate affected customers into giving up their claims and United is very good at it but I realized then that as a songwriter and traveling musician I wasn’t without options. In my final reply to Ms. Irlweg I told her that I would be writing three songs about United Airlines and my experience in the whole matter. I would then make videos for these songs and offer them for free download on YouTube and my own website, inviting viewers to vote on their favourite United song. My goal: to get one million hits in one year.

To date I have written “United: Song 1” and “United: Song 2” and I’m proud to now release the first video in the trilogy. The response has been incredible so far. Everyone involved in the recording of the track and filming/editing of the video has volunteered their time and pre-production work is underway for the filming of United: Song 2 (hopefully to be released later this summer).

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.