Viral Video Watch: “United Breaks Guitars” : A Lesson In Baggage and Message Handling

July 6:  The band Sons of Maxwell post this video on YouTube, relating their story of how their baggage — and their complaint — was mishandled by United Airlines:

(hat tip to Tricia M)

July 7:  The video immediately takes off, tray tables stowed and locked and seatbacks in the upright position, with over 50,000 views in the 24 hours. With its catchy country tune, the band seems to have tapped into people’s feeling about large airlines in general, and United Airlines in particular.  United Airlines, either being on the ball regarding social media or (more likely) tipped off the musicians themselves, sees the video and reaches out to lead singer Dave Carroll. Story works it way onto some mainstream blogs/journalism websites.

July 8: United Airlines speaks with Carroll, and issues a response statement worthy of the best crisis-handling communication consultant:  They apologize, they were wrong, they will fix the situation with this customer, they appreciate the lesson, they will review their policies, they will use the video as a training aide for their workers.  Excerpt:  “..(this video) struck a chord….(it) is excellent, and we plan to use it internally as a unique learning and training opportunity to ensure that all our customers receive better service….This should have been fixed much sooner.”

July 8-9 :  Meanwhile, the blogotweetosphere is just getting started, and news networks such as CNN and FOX pick up the story and fan the flames. Wikipedia article on Sons of Maxwell is updated with an account of this incident. How about a statement from the baggage monkeys’ union?  What is the cost for additional insurance on airline baggage, e.g. a $3500 musical instrument? Did the musicians hold any kind of travelers insurance?   I like United’s response, but if they really wanted to turn lemons into lemonade, they should do co-opt the notoriety of the incident and offer free baggage insurance coverage for guitars — because you know, United loves guitars.  

July 10:  Having crushed this lame corporation and its hapless employees, Dave Carroll issues this oh-so-Canadian, conciliatory statement on YouTube:

“One day I hope to have a good laugh aboot all this with her.”

Bob Taylor also jumps into the video-PR fray, offering some advice for travelling guitarists and of course further promotion of the Taylor Guitars brand.

July 11: Jet-fuelled by all this attention, the viewcount on the video shoots up an order of magnitude, past the one million mark. Other musicians chime in — apparently this cause extends beyond mere guitars and includes all manner of stringed instruments, including mountain dulcimers

There is also apparently a musical precedent for all this: Thirty years ago Tom Paxton wrote a song about a very similar incident called Thank You Republic Airlines.

Flying through the Michigan skies
with a song in my innocent heart
I placed myself in professional hands
Masters of the traveler’s art
When I opened my guitar case

Yeah, well, they didn’t have YouTube thirty years ago. 

Nor did they have $15 bagagge handling surcharge fees.

July 12-15:  After growing like gangbusters, the video seems to be levelling out a bit just under 3 million cumulative views,  with a cruising altitude of several hundred thousand views per day:


THE FUTURE:   Carroll’s promised two sequels to this video will no doubt give it some additional kicks upwards, in the coming weeks.  The story itself will earn Carroll and his band some additional gigs, album sales, as well as tributes in the annals of country musical and business communication case studies.

Customer-facing staff at United Airlines will learn more about showing empathy and concern when a customer complains.  Managers will learn to take seriously threats of muscial/PR retaliation, and allow for exceptions to rules under certain circumstances — in this case, the complaint was issued a week later than the 24 hours allowed by United’s complaint policy.  

Musicians will continue to fly without insuring their equipment.  Pundits will use this example over and over in their discussions about the power of social media, and baggage handlers will defiantly crush all guitar cases they come across.


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on July 15, 2009, in Business, Communication Skills, humor, music, Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. amazing what a little publicity can do

  2. What I love that this shows is the trailing of traditional media compared to the tweeblogobook, how long it takes them to pick up on stores, report and THEN discuss all the other angles (which have no doubt been commented on already by said blogobooktweeters). I have no doubt that there a write-up about this in the New Yorker in the coming weeks.
    And I love the new yorker, but printed press can’t keep up.

  3. tweeblogofacespace?

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