The opinions expressed here are well-reasoned and insightful -- needless to say they are not the opinions of my employers

09 July 2009

United Breaks Guitars

A couple of years ago the odds caught up with me and my luggage was lost on my trip to Denver for the GSA conference. It was annoying but I understand it is all part of life's rich pageant.

What I did not comment on at the time was how frustrating it was to deal with the United Airlines bureaucracy. The DMV and the Post Office are rank amateurs compared to UA in terms of their ability to create in the individual that classic sense of existential dread associated with powerlessness when facing The Machine.

Most of this, of course, had to do with the fact that there is no person you can talk to, on the phone or face-to-face, that can actually help you -- the guy/gal at the luggage counter, the customer service rep in some scrap of the old British Empire -- they can look at their computer screen and tell you where the bag probably is, but their only superpowers consist of the ability to punch a key telling The System that your bag is out there somewhere, and to reassure you that they're doing the best that they can...

I'm not a yeller, and my sense of perspective makes it impossible for me to scream at these people, and thus the behemoth that is UA is successful at isolating itself behind a solid wall of smiling functionaries armed with reassuring platitudes about how important The Customer is to UA.

It took them just under two days to get my luggage to my hotel, and just for good measure my bag was missing for about four hours after I arrived back home at the end of the week.

I wrote a couple of letters to the corporation, expressing my disappointment with the lack of responsiveness of the system to one of their paying customers, but -- they never responded.

That's why this story made me smile. Dave Carroll was travelling with his band, Sons of Maxwell, when they actually witnessed a group of baggage handlers playing "hammer throw" with luggage, including what he recognized as his guitar case. After 8 months of being reassured that they were sorry this happened, that they know the Sons of Maxwell have a choice in airlines and UA is glad that they chose United, The Corporation told Dave to f**k himself (metaphorically of course).

Dave promised the last apparatchik to whom he spoke that she would be visited by three ghosts he would do a series of three music videos telling the story of his experience. This is the first (the second song is recorded and the video is in production), and it has been viewed almost 650,000 times since it was posted 3 days ago.

UA has, of course, responded by unleashing the only part of the Hive that actually deals with the public -- its PR flacks. They are making the rounds, reassuring everyone that The Company the whole United family takes this problem seriously.

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