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United Airlines: They Don’t Just Break Guitars Anymore

Apr 21, 2017


Remember when United Airlines broke Dave Carroll’s guitar and refused to pay for it?

After Carroll paid a $1200 repair bill, he chased United Airlines for months for an apology, reimbursement, or any attention at all. They refused to pay for the damage they caused or even admit any wrong doing. Finally, Carroll wrote a song about it; “United Breaks Guitars”. The music video went viral, and United had a public relations nightmare on their hands. But at least they saved $1200…



With the recent United Airlines assault on Dr. Dao, their reputation for horrific customer service (abuse of property, refusal to assist consumers, and public mockery of consumers for example), they’re becoming downright notorious. Their stock prices almost immediately plummeted by over $1 billion after the Dao incident, and people are swearing they’ll never fly United again.

Conversely, processed meat behemoth Maple Leaf Foods with the listeriosis nightmare in 2008 showed a different way of handling a PR nightmare. Likely against the suggestion of their corporate law team, Michael McCain appeared on National Television News Stations shortly after the incident arose and not only spoke apologetically but as well his expressions on camera were equally sincere. 

Mr. McCain ordered the closure of the plant, openly transparent to the public the company was ensuring not only the consumers but as well the company they will investigate and remediate the cause and result and put into action safeguards for the future. 

Two huge companies with two huge public relations nightmares and two different takes on how to handle the oncoming storm. 

The take-away in my opinion is to do what is right for the customer and the customer will do what is right with you. Time will tell if United can overcome the public awareness and discontent of their recent debacle as time has shown with Maple Leaf Foods. 


This is the cost of poor customer service.

Before we wag our fingers at them and walk away feeling superior though, let’s learn from their example.  

As real estate professionals (or any business for that matter), our main purpose is to serve people. Any time we are indifferent, uncaring, selfish, or willing to cut a corner just this once, we gamble our client’s experience as well as our reputation.

If we take anything away from the chaos that is United Airlines, let it be this: poor service kills your business.

You know I’m passionate about consumer rights and excellence in customer service. Whether we give excellent client care or poor service can save hundreds of thousands of dollars, create a fiercely loyal client, or even save someone’s life.

Service is important, and clients the lifeblood of every business.

Are you a waitress wondering how to get $100 in tips from a single table?
Want to know how to avoid boycotts to your business?

If it helps, think of United Airlines for what was poor initial handling of the incident (Blaming Mr. Dao) and the ensuing horrific customer service, and do the opposite. We are human, we make mistakes and have moments of poor judgement. In my opinion, it is times such as this when faced with a challenge that... HOW we respond projects the overall culture of the company. Admitting we erred, apologizing for our error and attempting to correct our error make for better PR than procrastinating, blaming and not taking responsibility for your part of the problem. 

Remember your business purpose.


Be helpful, even if it is not helping you. 

Be about others.

In fact, here’s an opportunity.

If you are a REALTOR® or Business Owner or Employee, tell me about one time you served a client well.

If you are a Consumer, tell me about how you were served well.

(If you’ve got links to blogs, share them! It’s share-the-love time.) 




Category: Customer Service

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