Dave Carroll, a Canadian musician traveling with his band, the Sons of Maxwell, in 2008 was making a connection at O’Hare on a flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia to a gig in Nebraska when he got rocked – no rolled – at the sight of his precious equipment being hurled around by United Airlines groundcrew. Not only were his axes smashed, but there would be the usual level of concern and assistance rendered for acts of baggagicide, which is to say none:
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 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.
After being put through the usual customer non-service wringer – maybe he should have called The Fixer! – Carroll embarked into the seedy underworld of corporate irresponsibility and denial of service that major airlines really excel at. Rather than a simple “sorry, our bad,” and an offer to fix the issue, he got a series of more maddening conversations and correspondents with various United personnel, culminating in this gem of an exchange:
Another month went by and I received an email from a Ms. Irlweg, in Chicago I believe. Basically said she was sorry this happened and denied my claim. Some of her reasons included :
* 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 her refusal to introduce me 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.
Ahh, the travel voucher. Is there anything that can make a flier who’s been screwed over one way or another by an airline angrier than a travel voucher? It’s the proverbial lemon juice in the paper cut – “Here, we made you mad enough over something to pursue claims and actions, but our solution is to force you to use our service again anyway.” It’s like you’re being punished for being a victim.
(And by the way, if United had no blame in this issue, why dole out $1,200 in vouchers in the first place?)
So Carroll, left with no option, turned to YouTube.
He and his band recorded a series of songs about the experience, culminating in “United Breaks Guitars,” along with the above video. It’s a tremendous effort in straight-forward storytelling, clever video making and a nice back-of-the-hand to United.
Oh, and it’s a YouTube hit, churning out more than 700,000 views since it was posted July 6.
Not to mention the publicity it’s quickly churning up for Dave and the band for roughly $1,200 worth of guitar repairs.
Of course, none of that makes the story right, which, shockingly, united now seems to get. The airline, headquartered in Chicago, is saying it’s learned its lesson, thanks in no small part to Dave Carroll and his video tale of travel woe. So much so, in fact, that they want him to let them use his work as an in-house training guide for their customer service employees on how not to handle a “my bad” situation, reports the Tribune:
Rob Bradford, managing director of customer solutions at United, called Carroll Wednesday to apologize for the foul-up and to ask if the carrier could use the video internally to help change its culture.
“It could be used to improve the way passengers are treated around the world,” Carroll said.
For those of us with luggage a lot less precious than a $1,200 song-writing guitar, let’s hope it works. But I wouldn’t put those hopes in a jar headed for baggage check just yet if I were you.