United Breaks Guitars

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"United Breaks Guitars"
Single by Dave Carroll
Released July 6, 2009
Format Digital download
Genre Country
Length 4:36
Label Dave Carroll Music
Writer(s) Dave Carroll
Dave Carroll singles chronology
"United Breaks Guitars"

"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.

Background of the incident[edit]

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.[1] 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.[2] 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".[3]

The song[edit]

Carroll says that his fruitless negotiations with the airline for compensation lasted nine months.[4] Then, thinking what Michael Moore would have done[clarification needed], Carroll wrote a song and created a music video about his experience.[5] The lyrics include the verse "I should have flown with someone else, or gone by car, 'cause United breaks guitars."[6] 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.[7] The second video, "United Breaks Guitars: Song 2" was released on YouTube on August 17, 2009.[8] 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.[7] In March 2010, "United Breaks Guitars: Song 3" was released.[9] 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?"[9]


The YouTube video was posted on July 6, 2009. It amassed 150,000 views within one day, prompting United to contact Carroll saying it hoped to right the wrong.[4] The video garnered over half a million hits by July 9,[6] 5 million by mid-August 2009,[3] 10 million by February 2011, and 15 million by August 2015.

Media reported the story of the song's instant success and the public relations humiliation for United Airlines.[1][5][7] Attempting to put a positive gloss on the incident and the song, a company spokesman called it "excellent". Rob Bradford, United's managing director of customer solutions, telephoned Carroll to apologize for the foul-up and to ask if the carrier could use the video internally for training.[6] United mentioned it hoped to learn from the incident, and to change its customer service policy accordingly.[4]

Bob Taylor, owner of Taylor Guitars, immediately offered Carroll two guitars and other props for his second video.[7] The song hit number one on the iTunes Music Store the week following its release.[10] The belated compensation offer of $3,000, which was donated by United to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz as a "gesture of goodwill",[11] failed to undo the damage done to its image.[12] In response to his protest's success, Carroll posted a video address thanking the public for their support while urging a more understanding and civil attitude towards Ms. Irlweg, who was just doing her job in accordance with mandated company policies in this affair.[13]

Since the incident, Carroll has been in great demand as a speaker on customer service. Ironically, on one of his trips as a speaker, United Airlines lost his luggage.[10]

In December 2009, Time magazine named "United Breaks Guitars" No. 7 on its list of the Top 10 Viral Videos of 2009.[14]

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,[15] 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.[16]

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".

Stock price effect[edit]

Within 4 days of the video being posted online, United Airlines' stock price fell 10%, costing stockholders about $180 million in value.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Blitzer, Wolf (9 July 2009). "United Breaks Guitars". The Situation Room. CNN. Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  2. ^ "Fox News". Fox & Friends. July 9, 2009. Fox News Channel. 
  3. ^ a b Cosh, Colby (August 21, 2009). "A man and his guitar". National Post (Canada: The Financial Post). 
  4. ^ a b c Broken guitar song gets airline's attention CBC News. Online, July 8, 2009. Retrieved July 8, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Jamieson, Alastair (July 23, 2009). "Musician behind anti-airline hit video 'United Breaks Guitars' pledges more songs". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  6. ^ a b c Singer's revenge on United: A hit song United Press International July 9, 2009.
  7. ^ a b c d Tran, Mark (July 23, 2009). "Singer gets his revenge on United Airlines and soars to fame". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 26, 2010. 
  8. ^ "United Breaks Guitars Song 2" on YouTube
  9. ^ a b "United Breaks Guitars: Song 3 – Dave Carroll". Davecarrollmusic.com. February 17, 2010. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b McLean, Jesse (October 29, 2009). "United loses luggage of 'United Breaks Guitars' guy". Toronto Star. 
  11. ^ Greenstein, Howard (July 2009). "Social Media Crisis Communications Case Study – United Airlines Breaks Guitars". Inc. Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  12. ^ Ayers, Chris (July 22, 2009). "Revenge is best served cold – on YouTube". The Times (London). 
  13. ^ Carroll, Dave. "United Breaks Guitars – A statement from Dave Carroll". Dave Carroll. Retrieved January 16, 2012. 
  14. ^ Fletcher, Dan (December 8, 2009). "Top 10 Viral Videos – 7. United Breaks Guitars". TIME. Fuming about mishandled baggage? Singing's the best revenge. 
  15. ^ http://www.davecarrollmusic.com/book/
  16. ^ http://www.tagesschau.de/wirtschaft/digitalebuschfeuer100.html
  17. ^ Ayres, Chris (July 22, 2009). "Revenge is best served cold – on YouTube: How a broken guitar became a smash hit". The Sunday Times. Retrieved July 7, 2010. 

External links[edit]