United Breaks Guitars, the complaint anthem

Udpate: United Airlines has responded. Bottom line: YouTube complaint videos appear to work.

Instead of a complaint letter, the band "Sons of Maxwell" have posted a music video aimed at United Airlines over the destruction of one of their guitars on a trip last year:

[We] were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that the $3500 guitar was severely damaged. They didnt deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss. So I promised the last person to finally say no to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world.
United Breaks Guitars (YouTube, via Graham Linehan)


  1. It would be better if they included some kind of call to action, since I feel like just watching their videos is not very effective for achieving their goals.

  2. Thanks worldmatt! Somehow the addition of “disguise” mustaches makes this one so much more effective as a tool for consumer justice, though.

  3. Kudos to Sons of Maxwell – they express the frustration of everyone who’s had to pray as they place a guitar aboard a plane.

    I cringed as I saw the scene where the baggage handlers are tossing the case – I once looked out the window of a plane on the ground in Vancouver to see a handler throw a guitar onto the ground. It wasn’t mine, but I had a guitar on that plane, and I was enraged. I’m still enraged. Give ’em hell guys!

    @ worldmatt, they’re two different songs, albeit dealing with the same topic.

  4. this immediately reminds me of the song “I got fucked by Liberty Mutual” by Whitey Houston (http://www.myspace.com/whiteyhouston). Not in style, but in message. The direct corporate protest song can be good. Calling out the name in the chorus, priceless…

  5. Wesley Willis already did this, sans video…”My Keyboard Got Damaged.”


  6. hehe I checked this yesterday when it was posted on the consumerist, had 331 views. 130k+ now. Gotta love the interwebs for spreading the word.

  7. This was on fark.com yesterday and not surprisingly many of the Farkers took the position that it was the musician’s own fault for not using a proper case to protect his $3500 guitar.

    I have been a Farker for over 8 years now and sometimes those clowns really make me shake my head in wonder.

  8. #1: … And as Tom says whenever he performs this song, he likes to think his publicity efforts contributed to Republic going out of business.

    “Never anger a bard, for your name sounds funny and can be made to scan to Greensleeves.”

  9. I recall a flight from Minneapolis to Philly where a group of guys who were returning from a hunting trip went mental at the sight of their rifles being thrown onto the apron.

    It doesn’t justify the handling, but if it isn’t packed in a purpose-built hard case, nothing more fragile than an electric razor should be checked as baggage.

  10. Clever band. Too bad about their guitar(s). My advice would have been as follows:

    Never, ever, check your guitar at the check-in. Don’t do it.

    You meet “God” twice at the airport. If you can get past the first (check-in), the second is a more forgiving, understanding deity (gate). The secret to appeasing the folks at check-in is to insist on a “gate check.” At the very least, this will save your guitar from going through the conveyor belts. Although human carelessness is sometimes to blame, the conveyor system is as much or more of a threat.

    Ultimately, the goal is to carry it on with you. Most flight crews I’ve encountered, even post 9/11, are happy to help you find a place for it, often in the closets they use to store their garments and luggage.

    Through the whole process, act terrified about checking your guitar, because as Sons of Maxwell attest, you ought to be.

    20+ international flights with my guitar (in a flight rated ABS case, just in case I have to check it) and I’ve only had to (gate) check it once.

    Hope that helps somebody.

  11. i am starting to think that airlines get a cut from all hardcase luggage sales. maybe just the baggage handlers union.

    the accounts of this type of thing are just too numerous…

    well, that is one conspiracy theory

  12. That was a far catchier song than I expected.

    My experience is that United is a pretty low class airline. Sometimes I fly with them, but the price difference has to be significant.

    Sometimes it’s even better to drive or take the bus. Wish the US had better train service.

  13. #7 Well with rifles, it is legaly required to pack them in a lockable hard case to check them into baggage.

  14. Years backs, coming from a show in LA where I picked up a nice vintage cheap (I love guitar gulch..the land of broken dreams and dead cheap equipment)…ran out and picked up a chipboard case for it.

    Plan was to carry on…due to the full flight, I was told they needed to check it at the gate…generally a good thing because you get it back at the next gate, and equipment is better taken care of.

    Didn’t work out that way…the attendant that checked it had verified it was in great shape before and wrote a claim for me. Turned out, by the time I got through insurance, it paid better than the show did.

    Of course, this was pre-911, before the airlines decided they could use a tragic event to screw us. I have younger friends that just feel this is how airlines have always been and will always be…none of them believe me when I tell them about free hot meals and attendants that weren’t overly familiar with the use of the cattleprod and zipties.

    Honestly, I think that a carrier that provided good service with friendly staff could kick everyones asses…I’d pay for it…oh wait…I get on priceline and grab the lowest flight like everyone else…nevermind…

  15. Beautiful, to the point and I bet that song felt great coming out.

    The band should make two more songs Then quickly go to small claims court.

    Small claims court was made for this.

    United can keep the bad publicity, can pay the lawyers fee, and probably the full verdict.

    Why compromise, united didn’t?

  16. ok, you know what, not to excuse what United did, but:

    a) If they really put a Taylor on checked baggage, they are stupid at worst, risky at best.

    b) If they really put a Taylor in one of those weak cases they picture in the video instead of an ATA rated flight case, they are *really* stupid.

    c) -10 points for country music.

    If you can afford a Taylor, you can afford to ship it properly.

  17. I hate to pile on here, and I certainly don’t want to defend the morons who throw luggage around, but if I have a $3500 guitar, I’m either buying it a ticket so it can sit next to me, or checking it in a case that can be dropped off a building or sent to the bottom of the ocean.

    I mean seriously, I wouldn’t check my $200 Yamaha bass…

  18. my thing with all these people talking crap about him not having it in a proper case, consider this.

    1) the dude has a 3500 dollar guitar and he apparently knows something about playing it, do you really think he had it in a gig bag or some kind of cheap flimsy case?

    2) no record label is paying to make this video, do you really think they are going to spend a few hundred bucks on one of these ata cases just to throw it around in a video? i doubt it.

    and really, who sides with an airline in a situation like this? communists, that’s who!

  19. Not to excuse the baggage handlers, but he didn’t have instrument insurance? Bad move for a professional traveling musician, it’s not that expensive. Also, from another article I read it sounds like United has reconsidered reimbursing him because of all the publicity. Good on him.

  20. This is eerily relevant to me as me and my Taylor are flying to Australia in 10 days. My agent is booking the flight-I have no say in the matter…I am now very anxiously awaiting my flight details…

  21. Autark, “-10 points for country music?” really? Who died and made you the arbiter of all music?

  22. Instruments are evil! There’s quite a few stories of people who have had their synthesizers taken apart by airlines. Next they’ll be breaking open drum sticks!

  23. As always, when someone has a bad experience, and it gets posted to BB, some joker *has* to tell them that it was either their own stupid fault, that they deserved it, or that they shouldn’t complain.

    It’s like BB’s version of Godwin’s law.

  24. I’m not a fan of country music by any means, but somehow I find this video to be a thing of beauty.

    If I ever fly United again (and I’m not likely to do so after this), I’ll be sure to get as much video of the luggage-loading process as possible.

  25. Back in the day, my travel agent grandmother, who died in 1978, used to say that she could wallpaper her firm’s entire office in apology letters from United Airlines.

  26. wow, this great! Good on you guys. Do you think you could do one for easyjet, ryan air, scottish power, scottish water and British Telecom? :) x

  27. My husband travels for his music occasionally and because of that, bought a special hard travel case for whichever of his basses he decides to take. Even so, he never takes his Fender 5-string jazz bass with him, just because we’d never be able to replace it if it was destroyed.

    Totally sucks for those guys, but hopefully they’ll get some good PR out of it. Liked the song and I don’t generally trend towards country. :)

  28. Jjasper, I blame the airline, and I don’t think anyone “deserves” to have their stuff trashed by a bunch of idiots. But as a musician, if I’m traveling my instrument is insured and in a serious case…what’s Godwin about that?

  29. If you really think there’s no such thing as bad press, you haven’t been paying attention to the Michael Jackson news. I somehow doubt he ever said “Hooray, they think I’m a pedophile, but at least I’m in the news!”

  30. c’mon people who are blaming the guy for checking
    even in a hard case, the majority of music equipment will be damaged if it’s thrown on concrete

  31. united is the absolute worst north american airline. any and every time i’ve flown with them i’ve been delayed 2 to 5 hours – i always travel as light as possible so they’ve never had the opportunity to lose or destroy any of my stuff.

    i also work at a festival in calgary doing booking, immigration and flights. they stranded the breeders in detroit making them drive to chicago to catch a flight to make their set time and then lost all their guitars and effects. they also delayed quintron and miss pussycat and lost a lot of his home made musical gear including the drum buddy (featured on boing boing here: http://www.boingboing.net/2008/01/02/drum-buddy.html ).

    they all got their stuff back eventually thankfully but it was a total nightmare. i the future i will use them as a last resort only.

  32. I don’t hate rap, I just recognize that I am not within the target market for most of it.

  33. In a perfect world you shouldn’t have to lock your doors or can check anything and get it back in the shape it was received or fifteen billion other things.

    Last time I checked this isn’t and checking a fragile instrument into a system that regularly mangles purpose built luggage is stupid.

  34. Awesome, that’s much more effective than dealing with unresponsive, obnoxious airline employees who seldom solve anything. Cheers Dave Carroll.

  35. It’s like BB’s version of Godwin’s law.

    I think it’s straight irony myself.

    Those done wrong targeted by those who do it wrong.

  36. problem is the airlines are pretty much forcing you to check your baggage nowadays, with all the paranoid restrictions on what you can and can not carry onboard. no razor, no after shave lotion if over a certain size, no nail clippers etc.. you could always use a guitar to bludgen your way in to the cockpit and hijack the plane to cuba you know…

  37. First: I am NOT that Dave Carroll:

    I saw this on Digg yesterday, and sent it to all my friends. My brother got a real kick out of it: He owns around 15 guitars. Music is his job in the family, mine is being a techno-geek.

    Anyway, I now know three David Carroll’s who are more talented than I:

    http://www.davidcarroll.com/ Check out his Custom Podium Design. Wow!

    He’s an Anchor Man in Chattanooga TN.

    And now:

    Welcome to the club gentlemen!

    Next time you are in Ottawa, Canada, I’ll buy you a Guinness!

  38. i just don’t get why the sombreros and fake moustaches needed to be in there. everything else i’m cool with.

  39. The interesting thing now is how this will play out. In a few days, this video will have something like a million views, and United Airlines will be shamed beyond belief; they will look totally incompetent, hard-assed, and – worse – stupid and dumb and unresponsive.

    I am sure they will offer the guy a new guitar, and a considerable amount of money, but it will come with a price: No more videos, and take the existing one down.

    My suggestion to the artist who’s been fitted up here: Get a new (and free) guitar or two from Taylor, who must be relishing this attention. Tell the airline sorry; the video stays up. BUT, as a gesture of goodwill, tell them you’ve made your point and you won’t write or film the next two promised efforts – providing they provide you with free travel for a year. You will agree not to include the song on your next album, but you WILL sing it loud and proud at every gig. Just as Tom Paxton still does with his tale of similar treatment at the hands of the now-vanished Republic Airlines.

    Airlines MUST learn a couple of lessons from this. One, their baggage handling procedures are appalling, and two, their customer service is way the other side of totally abysmal.

    Will they learn those lessons? Probably not, but one can hope…

    (flying Air Canada but guitar-less to the Winnipeg Folk Festival tomorrow…)

  40. @37
    “It’s common for pseudo intellectuals to hate on country and rap.”

    Truer words were never spoken. If I hear another hipster utter one more blanket comment about the suckage of all country music, I am going to shake him until his earbuds fall out. I may let the rap comments slide… but I’ll still be pissed.

    Problem is they don’t realize that all that indie drivel they are so proud of “discovering” (new agey Grateful Dead stuff with albums covered in ironic birds and/or deer) are the direct descendants from country western and American roots music.

    Also! The old skool 60s/70s rock bands that are so cool now are what I call “head-neck” music. Basically, music for hippie rednecks.

    *stepping off my soap box*

    1. I don’t know what decade you are from, but all the hipsters I know are into Gram Parsons, folk, and country music. Have you heard of Lavender Diamond or Devendra Banhart? I highly doubt that these freaky people have any disdain for country music.

      Regarding this crazy dialogue – It’s the baggage handlers’ ‘fault’ for being so disrespectful. They are indeed the ones who probably damaged the guitar. It may have been damaged by other baggage as well, though, so how can blame for the actual damage be assigned?

      But it is really, really stupid to pack up an expensive, fragile guitar, not loosen the strings, and not to put it in a real flight case. It’s common knowledge that all baggage gets handled roughly by any airline. ATA rated guitar cases are not expensive compared to the $3500 MSRP of that guitar. $200-@300 dollars.

  41. @ #24 Anonymous:

    Those who side with the airlines would actually be the capitalists. Unless of course you’re just being facetious. Or today is opposite day.

  42. I feel for the guy, but how could you not know the airline (almost any airline) will screw up your guitar if you check it as baggage? Especially going through O’Hare, the worst airport in the country for lost or damaged baggage.

  43. “So I promised the last person to finally say no to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world.”

    I love this. It’s like a curse from the Brothers Grimm.

  44. Everyone jump on the bandwagon! Corperate America is evil yadda yadda… look he shipped his delicate instrument FREIGHT CLASS. In the CARGO HOLD of a major airplane. You get what you deserve for not insuring your instruments or using freight class instrument cases, unstringing the instrument and all the other precautions. Freight clams, particularly concealed freight claims are notoriously difficult to settle. If you work in freight claims at all you know to get everything in writing and expect to settle for 50% of the value of the product, which is probably what would happen if he actually took that route. Instead he turned it into a big media circus to make himself look like the little guy. I don’t buy his story. You’re all fools for buying into his self-marketing scheme.

  45. Hadlock@53

    Take a deep breath and count to 10, man. Most of us don’t know much about the specifics of this particular situation, but we’ve been appalled at the way airlines handle our luggage (and, for that matter, our persons). In the story as it’s described we can identify with Mr. Carroll and happily imagine ourselves seizing control of a customer dispute the way he did. That’s no reason to throw tantrums on the forum.

  46. Hey, try flying with an accordion. I made the mistake once of checking mine flying home from Europe. It was in pieces when I opened the case. I got $100 compensation which is better than most folks get.
    After years of using a heavy super padded flight case, I finally chopped and channeled my touring box so it fits nicely in the overhead. I’ll never check it again.

  47. Palookajoe@54

    Here’s his specifics as he describes them. This text has changed as least 3 times since the video hit Fark


    If you read the reasons his claim was denied, United’s claim denial is 100% valid. Furthermore it’s concealed damage, which most freight companies will at best, give you 50% of the value. The fact that he nowhere specifies his preflight prep (loosening or completely removing the strings is a good start – he says the break was near the headstock – a good indicator he didn’t do the most basic preventative maintenance for shipping a guitar). He also doesn’t mention any use of a flight case anywhere, or foresight to insure the instrument. Both are no brainers if your guitar is your primary business. Furthermore he uses lazy (or complete lack of) followup procedures and expects a bunch of hand holding which didn’t help him at all.

    What makes me mad is that he’s taken advantage of his own (seemingly) willful ignorance to promote himself and his band. I’m sure you can appreciate a good story that people can relate to but I think it’s rather shameless what he’s doing and further appalled that media sites are picking up on this.

  48. BRILLIANT! The power of the net.

    But, I have to say: I’m a musician. When I travel, my stuff goes in hard cases. ATA rated “flight cases”. Who puts *anything* fragile that is worth $3500 into baggage check without an Anvil, Pelican, or other rated case?

  49. If anyone, like I did, thinks… ok, I got the story, I don’t need to see the viseo, and I don’t travel in USA anyway, forget it!

    Watch the video!

    It is superb :)

  50. Let’s call this for what it is. A brilliant marketing move get one’s music to a wider audience. He had the opportunity, he took it. It’s not revenge, it’s marketing!

  51. Saw Tom Paxton do the Republic airlines song in the 1980’s in England. See
    http://mog.com/music/Tom_Paxton/One_Million_Lawyers_and_Other_Disasters/Thank_You,_Republic_AirlinesThat airline was by far the WORST airline I ever flew on. United may be in the right as far as luggage goes.

    The ones who really got even were the people who made the commercial about apes throwing around luggage–can’t remember who did that.

    Yes, it costs to fly in more ways than one but Americans and Canadians have been paying outrageous uneven prices for every little thing that the airlines think costs something (rather like the bank charges)for quite awhile.

    Sons of Maxwell is a good little band with good music and they deserve every chance they get for attention.

  52. Hey guys. This makes a perfectly good point about United Airlines and airlines in general. He did pack it ** CORRECTLY ** to all you people who said he should have. Also, he said in an interview that he had previously travelled approximately 50 – 60 other times with other airlines with no problems and yes it was packed ** CORRECTLY **

  53. It’s a nice idea to buy your guitar a seat but as a touring musician, there is not way I can afford this. I usually get it onboard. Virgin Airlines almost always makes me put it underneath which is mind-boggling considering they where a spin off of Virgin Records!

  54. This video is about more than guitars and cases. It is about anyone who has been given the bone job by a large corporation or governmental entity. It’s about playing phone tag with a customer service rep or listening to those stupid recorded directory trees for 20 minutes and still not getting to the right person.

    Finally, someone appears to be getting justice. This is a DISASTER for United. Google United Air Lines. This vid is #3 result ON THE FIRST PAGE!!!!!!

    That’s power baby!!

  55. I sincerely hope the singsong refrain ‘United breaks guitars’ haunts every painful moment of torturous half-sleep that every United PR employee must endure before mercifully drifting off at night.

  56. FRANKO quote “i just don’t get why the sombreros and fake moustaches needed to be in there. everything else i’m cool with.”

    Franko, I assumed the band was playing off the Woody Guthrie line “You don’t have a name when you ride the big airplane” from Guthrie’s song about Mexican deportees “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)”. The plaintive yet catchy folk song/ folk tale style is similar.

  57. I really loved this, I am in New Zealand and heard this storey on the radia at 2am this morning. Had to get up and turn the laptop on to hear this. I love it and look forward to the next two songs from the boys.

    I fly united a lot, and I find there service sucks. Also there internet and billing service is useless. I had a problem on my May 09 will my credit card being from a dif country and there was no way they could fix it. Will never book a internal flight with united again.


  58. JoeKickAss @9: Of course Fark.com decided it was the victim’s fault for not being smart like them. If the Farkers weren’t forever reassuring each other about how brilliant they are, who else would do it for them?

  59. Sons of Maxwell is an awesome band, I’ve been a fan for some time. They’re not strictly country, they tend towards folk/rock style.

  60. Teresa Nielsen Hayden @71

    I know this message is off topic, but this is the first post I have seen from you in a while.

    Welcome back! I trust you are well..

  61. Anonymous @68

    Fender electric guitars are a lot harder to damage than a Taylor but:

    Who in their right mind would throw a Taylor of a roof? ;)

    Nice video. How about pitching a cheap no-name student quality acoustic next time?

    P.S. I am not THAT Dave Carroll, but I am getting a really big kick out of this whole thing, and am proud as heck of my fellow Southern Ontarian namesake.

  62. This kind of stuff is still being done by United… we arrived back into Chicago on a flight from Orlando and as we waited to depart the plane I observed a baggage handler taking luggage off the converyer belt from our plane and litterally throwing it a good 6 feet (hitting the ground)to a cart behind the one she was loading, needless to say our luggage was damaged when we picked it up… it’s ridiculous.

Comments are closed.