For the past month and a half United Airlines (Stock Quote: UAUA) has endured an unmitigated, ongoing public relations disaster with a country-western soundtrack.
Here’s the back story.
Last year Canadian musician Dave Carroll was on a United flight en-route to a gig with his band when he spotted baggage handlers tossing guitar cases around during a stop-over in Chicago. He told some United staffers but says they were indifferent. When he arrived at his destination his fears were confirmed: his $3,500 Taylor guitar was broken.
For the following nine months Carroll attempted to navigate what turned out to be an utterly pointless claims process. In his words, “I had been fighting a losing battle all this time and that fighting over this at all was a waste of time. The system is designed to frustrate affected customers into giving up their claims and United is very good at it.” (If you want to read a detailed account of the saga from Carroll’s perspective, it’s on his Web site.)
What’s a Musician to Do?
The first song, called “United Breaks Guitars,” was posted to YouTube on July 6 and practically became an overnight sensation. The video was linked to and embedded far and wide and to date has more than five million views on YouTube alone.
One reporter suggested that the initial video may have cost United tens of millions of dollars. “Within four days of the song going online, the gathering thunderclouds of bad PR caused United Airlines’ stock price to suffer a mid-flight stall, and it plunged by 10%, costing shareholders $180 million. Which, incidentally, would have bought Carroll more than 51,000 replacement guitars,” reported Chris Ayres of The Times of London.
Carroll did eventually get himself a replacement guitar. The president of Taylor Guitars got in touch with the singer/songwriter, gave him a couple of guitars (as bad as the PR was for United, it was excellent for Taylor whose guitars are generally held in very high regard anyway) and even had him out to the factory for a tour.