Customer Disservice

Forget Broken Guitars, United Airlines Lost a 10-Year-Old Girl and ‘Didn’t Care’

United Airlines

According to the latest YouTube tally, David Carroll’s viral video hit, “United Breaks Guitars,” has picked up somewhere in the vicinity of 12.3 million hits since it was first posted in 2009. The little ditty has also a spawned a book, a public speaking career, and even a startup. (Gripevine, where Mr. Carroll is a cofounder, lets angry consumers gripe to the right customer service rep.) To say nothing of Jack the Cat, the Facebook-powered albatross around American Airlines’s neck. (RIP!)

One would assume, then, that the intervening years have taught United a little something about how to respond to the possibility of bad PR: swiftly and with humility. One would be wrong.

On his blog today, business guru Bob Sutton–author of “The No Asshole Rule” and “The Knowing-Doing Gap”–recounts the sad and scary journey of a 10-year-old unaccompanied minor named Phoebe traveling to summer camp, and United employees’s unwillingness to “help assist or comfort” Phoebe after a representative failed to show up to escort her to her connecting flight. Mr. Sutton says United “lost” Phoebe, although a more nuanced description might be forgot about, ignored, and then ignored some more.  Read More