United Breaks Guitars

This is such a great story of consumer revenge. And to think that it originates with a mild-mannered Canadian! We can see a whole new career field opening up for songwriters who can tell sad consumer stories that name and shame the behemoth companies whose customer service departments don’t quite get it. Bravo, Dave Carroll!

‘United Breaks Guitars’ singer says airline passenger bill of rights signals positive direction
A Halifax man whose YouTube video about his customer experience with United Airlines in 2009 went viral says the federal government’s recently proposed passenger bill of rights is a move “in the right direction.”
Dave Carroll, originally of Timmins, Ont., made headlines when a song he wrote about United Airlines breaking his guitar received more than 17 million views when it was posted on YouTube in 2009.
The song also led to him becoming a public speaker and consumer advocate.


30 November
Update: Following the appearance of United Breaks Guitars and the (more or less) successful conclusion of the issue, it became the focus of a number of serious studies about consumer/customer relations, culminating in a Harvard Business School case study

United Breaks Guitars
by John Deighton, Leora Kornfeld
Source: Harvard Business School
13 pages. Publication date: Jan 06, 2010. Prod. #: 510057-PDF-ENG
When social media propagate a complaint about poor customer service, an international media event ensues. How do viral videos spread and what can firms do about them? This case dissects an incident in which a disgruntled customer used YouTube and Twitter to spread a music video detailing United’s mishandling of his $3,500 guitar and the company’s subsequent refusal to compensate him. The song was called “United Breaks Guitars.” Within one week it received 3 million views and mainstream news coverage followed, with CNN, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, the CBS Morning Show, and many other print and electronic outlets picking up on the story. The mechanics of viral propagation are uncovered and the limited opportunities for response by the firm are revealed. The case supports the notion of the Internet as an insurgent medium, better at attack than at defense.

Carroll video going prime time Down Under
Timmins’ own Dave Carroll continues to break new ground, this time Down Under.
Carroll announced Tuesday his United Breaks Guitars video has been licensed by Australia’s No. 1 rate show Spicks and Specks, to be featured in an episode likely to air in April of 2011.
March 2010
In March, 2010, United Breaks Guitars: Song 3 was released. 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 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 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. (Wikipedia + Dave Carroll website)
18 August
The second video, United Breaks Guitars: Song 2 was released on YouTube on August 18, 2009. The song adopts a somewhat conciliatory approach noting that not all employees at United are “bad apples.” (Wikipedia). 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. (Dave Carroll website)
18 July
A new riff on the United guitar song story
Another airline, another guitar smashed. This time, a happy ending
There’s never a good time to have your guitar smashed by an airline, but as Toronto musician Kevin Fox found out, this summer is probably as good as it’ll ever get. And he has Halifax musician Dave Carroll to thank. [See Sunwing Airlines Also Breaks Guitars – Then Replaces Them]
11 July
United Airlines gives to charity in guitar gaffe
The airline’s change of heart came after “United Breaks Guitars” appeared on YouTube this week, gathering 1.5 million hits by Friday night and coverage on CNN.
United Airlines, the company whose customer service prompted the musician to write a song that’s garnered worldwide attention, has agreed to … donate $3,000 to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz for music education for kids. Carroll had requested that United direct any compensation to charity (class act, Dave Carroll – but United should be doing a lot better than $3000)
10 July
Broken guitar song hits high note with musicians
Airline protest song makes Halifax songwriter ‘a hero’ to travelling bands
Dave Carroll, whose song about United Airlines damaging his guitar has become an internet sensation, is a hero to Canadian musicians’ association AFM Canada. His humorous video, is highlighting an issue the Canadian branch of the American Federation of Musicians has been battling for years. “He accomplished with his one song more than all the lawyers and lobbyists and union officials in North America for the past eight years,” Bill Skolnik, vice-president of the organization representing 17,000 Canadian musicians, said Friday.
Taylor Guitars responds with help and advice
How will United Airlines respond? – good advice.
Guitarist and United dickering, video viewers snickering [Updated]
(LA Times Travel) This just in on the case of United Airlines, a busted guitar and a wicked YouTube song: While Dave Carroll, aggrieved customer and wicked songwriter, was playing a gig Tuesday night in Picou, Nova Scotia, his July 6 video, “United Breaks Guitars,” was passing 100,000 views and United airlines was laying plans to make nice. But there’s no happy ending just yet. (Some funny comments and good advice, e.g. get royalties if United uses it as a training video))
10 July
Songwriter overwhelmed with success of ‘United Breaks Guitars’
Video for song about broken instrument garners more than 600,000 hits on YouTube
(Globe & Mail) A broken guitar is turning out to be a major break for Halifax musician Dave Carroll.
Mr. Carroll has become an Internet sensation after posting a revenge song on YouTube about United Airlines’ baggage handlers breaking his guitar during a flight in the United States.
The catchy song recounts his year-long struggle to get compensation for what he calls “a vicious act of malice” at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago last year.
Mr. Carroll was flying between Halifax and Nebraska when he switched planes in Chicago. The passenger next to him noticed baggage handlers tossing guitar cases outside the plane.
Initially, Mr. Carroll thought his Taylor guitar was destroyed. Even after paying $1,400 in repairs, he said, it still doesn’t play the way it used to but he keeps it for sentimental reasons. He played it on all eight of his band’s albums.
He spent the past year trying to get compensation from United Airlines. When the airline refused to take responsibility, the songwriter made the humorous music video and posted it online.
Robin Urbanski Janikowski, a spokeswoman for United, said on Thursday in an email that Mr. Carroll’s story “has struck a chord with us.”
“While we mutually agree that this should have been fixed much sooner, Dave Carroll’s excellent video provides United with a unique learning opportunity that we would like to use for training purposes to ensure all customers receive better service from us.”

Dave of “United Breaks Guitars” appears on CBS Early Show
(CBS) The song, which only hit YouTube on Monday, now has 1,384,878 views as of 11:10 a.m. CDT. Carroll told CBS that he hasn’t spoken to United officials since the video came out, although he understands they are now interested in compensating him.

Canadian’s song about United Airlines a hit
(AP) — A Canadian musician has become an Internet sensation after posting a song on YouTube about United Airlines breaking his guitar.

La chanson d’un Canadien sur United Airlines trouve écho

Le succès d’une chanson qui dénonce la mauvaise manutention d’une guitare par les bagagistes de la compagnie aérienne United Airlines mise en ligne dans internet réjouit son auteur, mais aussi une association de musiciens, qui déplore que le problème est beaucoup trop répandu.

Busted guitar blues is sweet YouTube revenge
(The Star) Dave Carroll’s ode to a broken guitar has turned into an Internet tempest and become a cause célèbre for any musician who has ever had a maddening flight experience.
The Halifax-based singer-songwriter’s music video “United Breaks Guitars” – an overnight hit on YouTube – chronicles his year-long battle for compensation after a United Airlines baggage handler broke his guitar.
But there’s one woman who isn’t tapping her toes to the 4 1/2-minute folk ballad – and that’s because she is named in the second verse.
“I am not pleased with that. I did my job and upheld company policy,” the now notorious Ms. Irlweg said from an airline office in Illinois. (She asked that her first name not to be used for fear she might be bombarded with hostile calls.) “I know Mr. Carroll wasn’t happy with the outcome, but that wasn’t the way (to go about it),” she said. We disagree; in our opinion, he did exactly the right thing.

2 Comments on "United Breaks Guitars"

  1. Web Digger July 17, 2009 at 8:24 am ·

    The infamous Mrs. Marianne Irlweg is right. She just upheld policy. The policy is hypocracy and designed to wear the customer down and beat the customer into attrition. There is something wrong with people who earn their livelihood from inflicting these sort of policies in the name of their bosses. Since when is a complete lack of responsibility down the line is justification for any crime?

  2. Shauna Quinn December 20, 2010 at 4:53 pm ·

    terrific content, this is precisely the knowledge i was wanting for. thank you so significantly for posting this

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