The Mistake That Cost United Airlines $1.4 Billion in One Day

In 2008, United Airlines passenger Dave Carroll was sitting on a United Airlines plane in Chicago awaiting takeoff when he heard a commotion. Looking out the window, he saw baggage handlers throwing guitar cases haphazardly before loading them into the hold. This alarmed Carroll because the guitars belonged to him and his band, Sons of Maxwell. He called for assistance, but flight attendants told him there was nothing they could do and to bring it up when they landed. Upon landing, he found one guitar was broken and was told to file a claim for compensation. Carroll attempted to negotiate with the airline for nine months, hitting dead end after dead end. United was unapologetic and unsympathetic. That’s when he decided to write a song — “United Breaks Guitars” — and put it on YouTube. It wasn’t long before the video went viral, spawning two sequels and spurring United to update its customer service training and its social media outreach policy. While they eventually compensated him $3,000 for the guitars, the PR damage had already been done. It took multiple tries to extract an apology from the CEO, and in the time it took him to do so, United Airlines stock plummeted $1.4 billion. In a day and age where everybody has a cellphone and those phones have cameras, YouTube is simply loaded with airline baggage handlers tossing suitcases and other items with wild abandon. Clearly, the airlines aren’t learning from their mistakes.