United Airlines: ORM Failure Case Study

Online Reputation Management United Airlines

In the recent history we’ve come across a lot of cases of airlines’ rude behavior towards their passengers. From IndiGo manhandling one of their passenger to Delta exchanging a passenger’s seat with another for no apparent reason, we’ve heard all kinds of weird cases related to airlines, haven’t we?

But United Airlines steals the show! Their history of rude behavior and no compassion towards their passengers dates back to 2009; when they broke Dave Carrol’s Taylor guitar, worth $3500! A case that they should have kept in mind and learnt their lesson; a case that lost them a LOT of money and reputation, ultimately.

In the year 2008, Dave Carrol a Canadian singer/songwriter was flying with the United Airlines from Halifax to Nebraska with a layover at Chicago. At Chicago as Carrol was gearing up to disembark, he heard a co-passenger yell “My God! They’re throwing guitars out there!”. Carrol and his band members couldn’t believe what they were seeing as they realized the guitars that were being thrown were theirs.

When Carrol checked on his Taylor guitar worth $3500, it was broken. He then approached the aviation officials of United Airlines. What happened in the wake of this incident was appalling. He was informed that he had made the claim after 24 hours; 24 hours was the time frame to make claims as United Airlines policy and he wouldn’t be compensated.

Carrol tried all that he could; even suggesting that the airline only pay $1200 in flight vouchers, which was the cost of repair of the guitar. The airline refused to compromise. Carrol’s ordeal was ongoing for nine months now. He then took matters in his own hands and did what he does best; he wrote and published a song titled ‘United Breaks Guitars’. The song went viral, creating a massive buzz and thus began United Airline’s worst nightmare. Take a look at the video here:


Once the video had crossed 150,000 views, United Airlines contacted Carrol and offered their apologies along with a compensation to make the video go away but the latter had changed his mind by then. At the time of writing, this video had 18,020,168 views!

As the video became an internet sensation, the news media picked up the story along with newspapers; proving that Carrol’s video creating a stir beyond YouTube. He was called on many radio and TV new shows, sharing his story. He went on to give over 200 interviews in the first few months.

Twitterati is still crazy over this incident and the #UnitedBreaksGuitars
https://twitter.com/hashtag/unitedbreaksguitars?lang=en still trends, check it out!

The impact could also be seen in Newark when an entire shuttle of passengers spontaneously began singing ‘United Breaks Guitars’ while traveling between terminals.

In August, 2009, Carrol came out with the second part of the song titled, ‘United Breaks Guitars Song 2’ and a third part to the series titled ‘United Breaks Guitars Song 3’ in March, 2010. At the time of writing, they had 2,167,394 views and 982,806 views respectively. You can view the videos here:

United Breaks Guitars Song 2


United Breaks Guitars Song 3

This digital roar of bad publicity led United’s stock prices to drop by 10% and caused them a loss of $180 million.

A look at this case and we’re sure you’ll agree that Online Reputation Management (ORM) is crucial for your brand. And we, at Clatter Chatter make sure your brand is doing well and staying away from unnecessary drama on social media. So, what are you waiting for? Reach us at hello@clatterchatter.com.