Dave Carroll v. United Airlines, social media lessons round two

"United Song 2 is about my emails with "Miss Irlweg" and features my relationship with her in a lighthearted way. We could have been great friends if it was not for United policy," Carroll said speaking to me by phone from his home base in Halifax, Nova Scotia. by John Dodge
Written by John Dodge, Contributor

Look out United Airlines. Here comes Dave Carroll with "United Song 2."

Dave Carroll, who engineered one of the most epic and viral paybacks in Internet history for bad customer service, will release a second video of his promised trilogy on Youtube Aug. 18.

This time he's not fooling around: the video and song plainly titled "United Song 2" will feature 100 extras and camera shots from 40 feet up. The topic focuses on his interactions with a customer service representative who last November denied his claim to be compensated for an expensive guitar broken on a United flight.

"It’s about my emails with "Miss Irlweg" and features my relationship with her in a lighthearted way. She did a fantastic job as an employee and it's too bad the policy handcuffed her. We could have been great friends if it was not for United policy," Carroll said speaking to me by phone from his home base in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

[I have invited United to tell its side of the story and will give it equal space should it accept. There is still no mention of Carroll or his first song on its web site.]

Consumer folk hero Dave Carroll

Carroll says it was left to Miss Irlweg not only to deny his claim, but to inform his he would receive no further emails on the matter from United. Take a hike. Case closed. Drop dead.

"That was the tipping point. I told them "I urge you to reconsider because I am a musician and will write three songs about the the experience," says Carroll, who clearly doesn't make empty threats. On July 6, he released "United Break Guitars" on Youtube (below) which to this point has wracked up 4,718,199 views and elevated the humble musician to consumer folk hero status.

How did the first video and song take off? First, United Breaks Guitars is an alluring tune about a topic tailor made for sympathy and comments. If it caught on by online word of mouth, it was bound to skyrocket. On July 6, he sent the link to his Facebook friends, his band The Sons of Maxwell's Facebook group, everyone he knew on email and Miss Irlweg at United. That's scarcely more than 600 people.

By the end of the day, it had been picked up by The Consumerist which drove 25,000 views. "All hell broke loose," he says. The next day United called and he was unavailable, according to Carroll. A conference call was set up for several days later with United expressing "regret" and offering him $1,200 in cash and a $1,200 travel voucher. He turned them down because he felt that accepting would have been a "betrayal" of everyone who helped with the video which he said cost a mere $150 for sombreros worn by the actors and snacks. The second video cost $600, he says.

His values and determination are refreshing and serve as a reminder that with the likes of Facebook and Twitter, we are not powerless.

"It's absolutely crazy and off the rails in so many ways. The reaction is people talk about it for hours about what happened to them on an airline. I've gone from relative obscurity to being known around the world. At one point, it was the number two most talked about thing in the music world."

United Breaks Guitars, he says, was the number one country song in the United Kingdom iTunes store. He's awaiting results to see how well the $.99 download has done here. A professional musician for 20 years, he had already published eight CDs and 40 original songs before United Breaks Guitars, according to his web site.

He's been asked to speak on the customer service lecture circuit and says that Cisco Systems and General Motors in Europe have studied his example to avoid similar fiascos.

For the remainder of 2009, he is planning two trips to Las Vegas and one to Denver for which a travel  agent tried to put him on United. "You better not. I wrote the song United Breaks Guitars." The travel agent viewed the video, called back and said "I see what you mean."

He also has been invited to drop into Chicago, the infamous site of the baggage handler guitar tossing, and have a cup of coffee with Miss Irlweg. He's considering it if he's passing through.

"I've gotten thousands of emails from around the world thanking me for this song and it has nothing to do with United. It's people who have not had a voice. I did not intend to be come a poster child for customer service."

[I have close to 500,000 actual flight miles on United mostly from the 1990s and for the most part, it delivered with above average service. Northwest was the one...oh, never mind.]

I sense down deep he feels sort of bad for United and especially the unwitting Miss Irlweg. United has never threatened to sue or tried to intimidate him. Their several conversations have always been "civil." United hasn't  asked him to pull the songs although he says they have expressed concern for the safety of Miss Irlweg and her children. Her name conjures someone out of Central Casting for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band!

Will he forsake bucolic Halifax for slickness of New York or LA? The down to earth Carroll, also a call firefighter for the Halifax suburb of Waverley, says he won't. "I'm very happy here." By the way, the two baggage handlers in the first video which was shot in the local firehall are fellow volunteer firefighters wearing forestry coveralls (I can identify. I just became a call firefighter).

Regardless, he's firm  in his resolve to complete the song trilogy with the yet to written third about what United has done for his career. He admits the episode has been a boon for him. "In retrospect, I’m glad [United did] nothing.  Taylor gave me two guitars and would have repaired the broken one for free."

Follow me on Twitter.


This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards