“United Breaks Guitars” is a trio of protest songs by Canadian musician Dave Carroll and his band, Sons of Maxwell. It chronicles a real-life experience of how his guitar was broken during a trip on United Airlines in 2008, and the subsequent reaction from the airline. The song became an immediate YouTube and iTunes hit upon its release in July 2009 and a public relations embarrassment for the airline.
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 guitars during a layover on his flight from Halifax Stanfield International Airport to Omaha, Nebraska’s Eppley Airfield. He arrived at his destination to discover that his $3,500 Taylor guitar was severely damaged. Fox News questioned Carroll on why he checked the valuable guitar and Carroll explained that it is difficult to bring guitars onto flights as carry-on luggage. 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 timeframe”.
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?”
- In December 2009, Time magazine named “United Breaks Guitars” No. 7 on its list of the Top 10 Viral Videos of 2009.
- In January 2012, Carroll and “United Breaks Guitars” were featured in the CBC/CNBC documentary Customer (Dis)Service.
- In May 2012, Carroll published a book, United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media, detailing his experiences.
- In January 2013, the success of Carroll’s online protest was used by the German television and news service Tagesschau to exemplify a new kind of threat facing corporations in the internet age.
- In June 2013, the NBC TV Today program’s panel discussed “how to properly complain and get what you want” and used a Carroll video as an example of a good way to complain while remaining “respectful” and “not yelling”.
United Breaks Guitars