United Breaks Guitars and My Spirit

Originally, I wanted to title the post, “United Breaks Guitars and Balls”. I struggled with whether that was offensive to anyone. My friend Lance said, “It’s not offensive, it happened in New Jersey and it’s common for them to say ‘Yo, your bustin my balls'”. After consulting several friends; however, I decided to go with the current title.

In my blog, I have given good examples of customer service. See my last post, Are These People Trying To Make My Life Difficult and you will see my recognition of extraordinary customer service at the NJ hotel. This time, however, I encountered an example of bad service and I’m about to tell you the details.

It all started at around 4:00 p.m. on Thursday. In my quest to use public transportation (See blog post Road Warriors Guide to Dallas Dart), I decided to take the NJ transit from Penn Station in NYC to Newark Airport. It was not a problem, the train left at 4:17, and I arrived at Newark airport around 5:00 p.m. It was plenty of time before my 7:00 departure. I arrived at the American ticket counter and was notified that my plane had been cancelled due to weather. Since the cancellation was weather related, I was on my own for hotel and they could reschedule me for the next morning. I clarified at least 3 times that there were no other alternatives. I think I’m rather good at acknowledging reality and making the best of it. I decided to get some dinner while I considered my options.

I arrived at Tony Roma’s and asked to be seated next to a plug in so that I could charge my phone. I was told that there were only electrical outlets behind the bar. I said, “how do you vacuum”. She smiled and said, “we don’t”. I walked away and sat on the cold tile floor in the middle of the airport walkway and plugged in my phone. I’m at Defcon 3. Here’s a description of Defcon if you need it from Wikipedia.

I walked through the restaurant and confirmed that their were no plug-ins. I sat at the bar and asked the bartender if she would plug in my phone which she did. I ordered ribs and mashed potatoes and began to research hotels in the area. I looked at the flight monitor and noticed that there was a United flight leaving at 8:00. It’s not my first flight rodeo. I have flown over 1 million miles with American and am Gold for life. I knew that airlines have cooperative relationships with other airlines and can sometimes write tickets covered by other airlines. However, if United could fly into Dallas airport, why does American cancel its flight due to bad weather? I called the Platinum service desk at American. The service agent was on hold with United for 30 minutes, then came back on the phone and told me that she had me a ticket on United that left at 8:00. She gave me the record locator. I paid my bill and made a mad dash for the United ticket counter.

When I arrived at the ticket counter, there were 2 employees with very few customers. I plopped my bag down in the center weigh area. One lady said, “You have to use the kiosk or you’re gonna have to wait”. She was in the customer area. Apparently she had lost her earring and was looking for it. The other employee was hammering away on his keyboard and had not acknowledged my presence. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity. Then I stated, “I’m not sure who is waiting on me”. He then said, “You need to swipe your credit card in the kiosk”. I said, “I did and it told me to see a service agent”. (I just went to DEFCON 2) He said, “I need your ID”. I gave him the ID and he proceeded to complete his War and Peace typing project. I told him that I had the record locator and gave it to him. He informed me that the Dallas flight left from terminal C. He also said that he would need the United ticket number. I exhaled with frustration, then called the American Platinum service agent. She said, “He should be able to look it up by the record locator. I said, “I know, this is ridiculous.” She agreed and proceeded to read me a list of numbers. I listened and repeated these numbers to the United agent. Being all about efficiency, I asked him if he would mind talking to the American agent himself. He then uttered the magic words that took me to DEFCON 1. “I don’t talk to nobody” Wow…I was amazed. I took out my phone, and took his picture as he ducked his head in shame. From now on, I will refer to him as IDTTN (I don’t talk to Nobody)

Mr. I don't talk to nobody

I don’t talk to nobody

I knew I didn’t get a very good picture, so I went to take another one of IDTTN. He said, “Why are you taking my picture”. I said, “Because, I want to tell the world how rude you are”. He informed me that he was going to go talk to American on my behalf but not anymore! I was then informed by his partner in crime that I could not take pictures in the area or I would be arrested. I don’t know if I said it or just thought it, but I thought, “Arrest me”. After researching this, I think she was totally wrong. Here’s the link to that question at the TSA website.

I then rushed to terminal C where I met a big line. I waited in the line for 30 minutes while an American agent gave me a ticket number which I wrote on a newspaper with magic marker. I got to the kiosk, swiped my credit card and was told that it was too late to check a bag. To my right, there was a lady with a kid screaming at a ticket agent. I found an agent who was talking to a man who didn’t speak English. I asked her about my dilemma and she said that my bags were not too large and could be carried onto the flight. I inquired about baggies for toiletries and was informed that they no longer required them. I went back to check in again at the Kiosk and was told that I could no longer be checked in via the kiosk. I told the ticket agent, who asked for my ID and she printed my ticket. Wow….20 minutes to get there. I ran to security. My bag had a bottle of water that was confiscated. I ran to my flight, barely arrived, and then sat on the tarmac for at least an hour.

On the flight, the flight attendants were pleasant. They informed me apologetically, however, that there were no pillows or blankets on the flight. I was so exhausted, I attempted to use my shoe covered with a magazine for a pillow as I had 3 seats in the back to myself.

Upon awakening, I searched for a United magazine. I knew that there would be some customer service message from the President somewhere. I couldn’t help myself as I tore this page out and smiled. Here is an excerpt from that message.

Welcome aboard, and thanks for choosing to fly United. We appreciate your business, and we’ll do our best to deliver a good travel experience for you. At United, we’re investing in our product, our technology, our fleet, our facilities, and our people so that we can continue to improve your travel experience.

I wonder if he’s been to terminal A at Newark and met IDTTN or I can’t find my earring? Has he seen the third world chaos at terminal C that was as close to a lynch mob that I’ve seen?

I guess I shouldn’t feel bad, here’s a link where United lost a 10 year old girl.

Did you guys hear about the guy who had his guitar broken by United? He tried to get them to fix it and they refused. He told them that he was going to write a song about them. They said, “Good luck with that”. He produced the song and got 14 million hits. They offered to pay for it after that if he would take down the video. He said, “Good luck with that”.

Here’s his video. I love it! Enjoy!

So what do I hope to accomplish with this blog post? I want an uprising. I want you to turn good customer service into heroic celebrations. I want you to expose bad customer service where it exists so that we can send these companies out of business. I want the airline industry to wake up and implement good hiring, selection, training, and incentive programs in order to create “service” companies.

Here are a few customer experiences that should be emphasized.

1. Make eye contact with customers
2. Information Technology should create systems that don’t require so much typing. This is 2012 for God’s sake!
3. Agents should empathize with customers who have been stranded and do whatever it takes to help them.

This is just the beginning. What ideas do you have for improving service in the airline industry?

If you enjoyed the United Breaks Guitars, here’s the second and third video clip.

If we can help improve your service experience, contact us.

  • David Tucker

    Dear Dale:

    You know, someone who teaches effective communication and codes his own websites ought to be able to figure out how to make paragraphs. You just type (I’ve spaced the letters so it doesn’t execute as a command).


    You asked me whether you could be arrested. The short answer is “yes.” Anyone can be arrested by anyone for anything, whether criminal activity has occurred or not. The issue is whether that arrest is lawful, whether you’ve committed a crime or tort, and whether that arrest might have violated your rights or constituted unjust imprisonment (or a similarly-named tort in that jurisdiction). If they can convince an police officer to make an arrest, then you’re arrested.

    Merely taking someone’s picture isn’t a crime or tort. However, you might use that picture in illegal ways, like: (a) using a celebrity’s picture in an advertisement without permission or (b) publicizing that photo or private details about a person in ways that intrude on their privacy. In your situation, there was no evidence that you were about to commit a crime or the tort of intrusion on seclusion by publicizing information in which the United employee had a justified expectation of privacy. See the discussion below from Citizen Media Law Project.

    An airport is a public place. Except in rare circumstances, people don’t have justified expectations of privacy about what they do in public places. You should be in the clear.

    But even if you weren’t, the First Amendment might provide you with some protection. You have a customer service beef with United that you can express to your fellow citizens under First Amendment protection. The Constitution doesn’t merely protect speech against the government or about public policy issues. Expressing yourself with words and images are part of that protected speech. You should have some kind of limited right to obtain images for this purpose that balances against privacy concerns.

    Of course, there might be some kind of harassment or stalking statute that could apply. It’d be a stretch to make it cover this situation, and if it could, then the statute is unconstitutionally overbroad because it prohibits conduct protected by the First Amendment.

    Hope this helps.

    David Tucker

    P.S.: I’m not giving you legal advice on which you should rely, nor does my email constitute the establishment of an attorney-client relationship between us. You should obtain your own counsel before doing something stupid like submitting this guy’s picture to a newspaper or including it in some other, widely available media.

    From Citizen Media Law Project
    Elements of an Intrusion Claim

    An intrusion on seclusion claim is a special form of invasion of privacy. It applies when someone intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another. In most states, to make out an intrusion on seclusion claim, a plaintiff must generally establish 4 elements:

    First, that the defendant, without authorization, must have intentionally invaded the private affairs of the plaintiff;

    Second, the invasion must be offensive to a reasonable person;

    Third, the matter that the defendant intruded upon must involve a private matter; and

    Finally, the intrusion must have caused mental anguish or suffering to the plaintiff. See Restatement (Second) of Torts – Intrusion Upon Seclusion.

    With respect to the first element of an intrusion claim — intentional invasion into the private affairs of another — courts generally require that the intrusion take the form of a “physical trespass.” This can be met literally, by physically entering onto private property, or by an electronic or optical intrusion, such as using zoom lenses or highly sensitive microphones to photograph or record a person who has a reasonable expectation of privacy. A court would consider this a “physical trespass” if your use of ultra-powerful or highly sensitive equipment was the only way you were able to obtain your information or recording.

    The second element requires that the actions giving rise to a claim must be offensive to a reasonable person. This requires more than mere discomfort or embarrassment. For example, barging in on someone in the bathroom and photographing them using the facilities would be offensive to a reasonable person while taking a picture of them standing at the mirror combing their hair likely would not be offensive.

    The third element requires that the intrusion involve a private matter. Generally speaking, if you’ve intruded into someone’s seclusion in a place they expect privacy (e.g., a bathroom or their bedroom) or while they are engaged in an activity that most reasonable people would expect to be private (e.g., intimate contact with another) this element will be met.

    The fourth element requires that the intrusion must have resulted in mental anguish or suffering for the person whose privacy was invaded. This suffering can come from surprise, fright, or even anger at having been disturbed. In the case of surreptitious invasions, it can also come from the plaintiff finding out, after the fact, that his or her privacy has been invaded. The degree of anguish or suffering the plaintiff experiences will determine the amount of damages he or she is entitled to if the other elements of an intrusion claim are established.

    Keep in mind that consent is typically one of your strongest defenses to an intrusion claim. Consent can often be gained expressly, by someone specifically telling you that you can photograph or collect private information about them (which you should get in writing), but can also be implied. If a person fails to object to your presence after you identify yourself as a member of the media (or publisher of a blog, etc.), courts will generally consider this to be implied consent to your use of recording and photography equipment. If consent is required, however, you must obtain it from someone who is legally able to give it. Permission from a child or mentally handicapped person is unlikely to be valid; in those situations, you should seek consent from the appropriate parent or guardian.

    Each state has its own definition of what constitutes intrusion upon seclusion.

    • Thanks David. I was looking for a yes or no. Gentle jab back based upon the paragraph jab you gave me. I don’t have any knowledge of HTML. That’s the beauty of WordPress. I made some changes in my mobile device and it seems to have changed the format. I’ll adjust it today. Thanks for the thorough answer. 🙂