Music Video Forces United to Clean Up Customer-Service Act

YouTube Sensation Takes on Some Universal Truths About Corporate Culture

By Published on .

Yo, United Airlines, animate this.

Assuredly the company's TV ads are lush and lovely, gentle and comely. Almost splendor itself. Alas, the United experience is not so splendid. Frequently enough, it is an inner circle of hell, populated with overworked and undercompensated, irritable and indifferent employees who have been themselves hosed by management so often they seem to derive perverse satisfaction in doing the same to you.

Title: 'United Breaks Guitars'
Disgruntled Customer: Dave Carroll
Great men hoist high the flag declaring, "Don't tread on me," and heroically set out for redress of their grievances. For the sanctity of principle. For, you know, revenge.
Surliness is by no means unique to United crews, but Delta and American and US Airways also don't presume to offer "Friendly Skies." So we wish United would start being more truthful in its advertising.

Sadly, Abu Ghraib doesn't animate well.

That's where Dave Carroll comes in. He is half of the Canadian folk duo Sons of Maxwell, a touring music act that a year ago had the misfortune of traveling from Halifax to Omaha, via Chicago, aboard United. It was in Chicago that they saw baggage handlers tossing guitar cases onto the ground as if they were bags of cement. Carroll tried to report this to flight attendants, but they evinced no interest.

Sure enough, his $3,700 Taylor guitar was severely damaged -- leading to months of effort trying to get compensation from the airline. Despite jumping through the various flaming bureaucratic hoops put in his path by United, he was eventually denied his claim.

Here's what most people do in those circumstances: They fold. They bitch, they moan, they threaten, but they almost uniformly decide not to throw good energy after bad. They harbor bad feelings, but they also give up.

Some people, however, do not. Great men hoist high the flag declaring, "Don't tread on me," and heroically set out for redress of their grievances. For the sanctity of principle. For, you know, revenge. (For more on this subject, we commend you to and a chapter titled "Comcast Must Die." It's a sizzler, by God, and the author is a national treasure.)

What Dave Carroll did was no more or less than what he promised (i.e., threatened) the airline: a music video devoted to his customer experience. It is a country ditty titled, elegantly, "United Breaks Guitars," which by Friday had generated 1.5 million YouTube hits in three days. That's because the tune is catchy, the video is clever and the lyrics are universal truth -- universal not in the particulars but in the underlying corporate arrogance they depict:

I've heard all your excuses
and I've chased your wild gooses
and this attitude of yours I say must go.

United, United you broke my Taylor guitar.
United, United some big help you are.
You broke it, you should fix it.
You're liable just admit it.
I should have flown with someone else
Or just have gone by car.
Because United breaks guitars.

Funnily enough, somewhere around the millionth YouTube hit, United underwent a miraculous change of heart and offered not only to make Dave Carroll whole but to re-imagine its customer-service apparatus.

It'd better hurry. Carroll has two more United videos on the way.

Most Popular