United Airlines: United Breaks Guitars

One day, back in 2013, I was having a Turkish beer in an English pub1 in Almaty, Kazakhstan when one of my Australian drinking partners showed me this Canadian video on his Japanese phone.  Thanks Terry!

Anyway, the complaint is in the form of a song and the story goes like this…..

Musician Dave Carroll said his guitar was broken while in United Airlines’ custody.

He alleged that he heard a fellow passenger exclaim that baggage handlers on the tarmac at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport were throwing guitars2 during a stopover on his flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Omaha, Nebraska.  He arrived at his destination to discover that his $3,500 Taylor guitar was severely damaged.   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 United Airlines which informed him that he was ineligible for compensation because he had failed to make the claim within its stipulated “standard 24-hour time frame”.

United Break Guitars Broken Taylor Guitar

Carroll says that his fruitless negotiations with the airline for compensation lasted nine months. Then, thinking what Michael Moore would have done, Carroll wrote a song and created a music video about his experience. The lyrics include the verse “I should have flown with someone else, or gone by car, ’cause United breaks guitars.”  

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.  The second video, “United Breaks Guitars: Song 2” was released on YouTube on August 17, 2009.

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.  In March 2010, “United Breaks Guitars: Song 3” was released.  The song notes 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?”

The original YouTube video (see below) was posted on July 6, 2009. It amassed 150,000 views within one day, prompting United to contact Carroll to try and put things right. The video had over half a million hits by July 9, 5 million by mid-August 2009, 10 million by February 2011, and 13.1 million by June 2013.  Within 4 days of the video being posted online, United Airlines’ stock price fell 10%, costing stockholders about $180 million in value.

Bob Taylor, owner of Taylor Guitars, immediately offered Carroll two guitars and other props for his second video.  The song hit number one on the iTunes Music Store the week following its release.  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.  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 with company policies.

So, here is the original song.  Enjoy. 

You can read the more detailed story on Dave’s own website here.

Sincere thanks to Dave Carroll for consenting to DCR sharing the video here. Cheers Dave.

Dave wasn’t the only one to suffer at the hands of negligent baggage handlers. Meet Mr. Tosser, the baggage handler from hell who works at East Midlands Airport here in the UK: FlyBe – Mr. Tosser and the Woosh-Woosh

  1. Shakespeare’s Pub at 40 Dostyk near intersection of Dostyk and Vinogradova is the unofficial headquarters of the ex-pat community in Almaty.  They employ Indian chefs so the curries are fantastic. 

  2. The baggage handlers like to throw fragile packages at East Midlands Airport in the UK too.  You know who you are you evil bastards! 

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