United's Skies Not So Friendly in 2009


Turn the calendar back to the summer of 2008, and the worst publicity United Airlines was receiving at the time included its increase in baggage fees to counteract escalating fuel prices and the scaling back of its fleet capacity. Now, more than halfway into 2009, the carrier is probably wishing it could turn back time.

Three months ago, the airline offended passengers who have a robust taste for life (or are either big-boned or suffering from a glandular problem) by saying they will be left behind or required to purchase an extra ticket or seat upgrade if they are unable to fit into a single seat in the ticketed cabin, unable to properly buckle the seatbelt using a single seatbelt extender, or unable to put the seat’s armrests down when seated. Then, in June, Southwest Airlines new Chicago-New York service upped the competition right in United's hub. Sure, Petfinder.com named United the fifth best airline for pet travel that same month, but that's because Rover and Felix don't understand what an airplane or customer service is.

July may be the worst month in years for the airilne, and the seventh month's first two weeks could very well be the worst for the airline's reputation for quite some time. It began with the travel agent community's backlash against United's proposed credit card policy change, followed by a computer glitch at O'Hare in Chicago before the Independence Day holiday that kept travelers on the ground and forced United employees to manually process each passenger. Yet even this list of trials is small potatoes compared to a new smash hit online that, based on a personal account, bashes United's treatment of its passengers from the runway to the customer support center.

Enter Canadian musician Dave Carroll, who's YouTube video "United Breaks Guitars" has received nearly 1.5 million views since this past Monday. Actions speak louder than words, so instead a summary of the cleverly satirical bit, check it out yourself below:

"I was thinking I'd definitely get some action on (YouTube) because the song has been resonating so well with audiences as I've been performing it, but I didn't know it would take off like this," Carroll told the Associated Press. As he croons "you're liable admit it... I should have flown with someone else or gone by car," and that United's "attitude must go," his words obviously hit home with travelers, but how do they fall on the ears of agents?

And speaking of agents, how can they use multimedia and online communities to further air their problems with United Airlines or other suppliers/companies? There aren't that many, if any, videos or songs out there that artistically express the anguish and sorrow agents endure when doing business with United (or other suppliers/companies), so perhaps Carroll's hard work is only the beginning.

What's your opinion? Will Carroll's video make it easier for agents to turn more attention to how United's credit card policy is affecting them? Can travel professionals utilize multimedia and leverage online communities to better benefit their own causes?

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