United Breaks Policy And Faith With Employees
You know, this space is supposed to offer some kind of insight or illumination on topics of interest to aviators, but if anyone reading this doesn't get how badly United Airlines has mishandled Dave Carroll's reaction to his broken guitar, I'd be surprised.
First of all, kudos to Carroll and the Sons of Maxwell for a fun song and video that will undoubtedly, after 2.5 million views on YouTube, boost the career of a group that was already locally famous and well-respected in Atlantic Canada.
Now, it's Ms. Irlweg who could use a protest video.
If you've seen Carroll's video, she's the only identified United employee and it was her job to tell Carroll that there wasn't any way he could get his guitar fixed on United's tab. I haven't researched it but apparently it's a worldwide convention that when you watch that bag disappear on the conveyor, you have little recourse if something inside your bag gets damaged. Oddly enough, if the bag itself is damaged, you can make a claim. We did that once after someone clearly took a Samurai sword to my wife's new bag. The airline says it doesn't issue swords (or any sharp objects) to its employees but paid for a repair anyway.
At any rate, Ms. Irlweg was doing her job and doing it effectively when she said Carroll was on the hook for the busted guitar. Somewhere in that fine print on the ticket he bought it says that, we have no doubt.
So, all of a sudden, millions of people, all of whom have had lost luggage, surly service, late or cancelled flights or whatever flooded to Carroll's video as a touchstone for their personal frustration and the airline brass reacted in exactly the wrong way.
They tried to weasel a deal with Carroll and offered him money when they don't owe him anything.
Carroll himself was obviously uncomfortable with the offer and has told the airline to donate it to charity. He never said he was entitled to compensation. He just said he should be entitled to compensation — and that's a big difference.
And as sad as it was that Carroll's guitar was broken, the real victim here was Ms. Irlweg and her thousands of colleagues. As the person who spends her whole day dealing with airline baggage complaints — imagine, for a moment, having that job — the very least she should expect is unflinching support when she correctly applies the rules and, if we understand Carroll correctly in his video and interviews, in a polite and empathetic manner. Gate agents, flight attendants, reservation clerks and countless others have the daily responsibility of delivering bad news to people who, if we're honest with ourselves, are not at their best in the alien environments of the airport and/or an airliner.
When this hit the fan, United PR people and the brass should have simply said, "Nice video, Mr. Carroll, but we can't pay you. We will, however, try to stop our employees from breaking things and would you and the boys like to play for our shareholders meeting? And do you know any dirges?"
Instead it hung Ms. Irlweg out to dry and exposed the lack of leadership that's the real story in this story.
The only question I have in this whole thing is why the backup singers were dressed as Mexicans.