July 9, 2009— -- United Airlines has learned a valuable lesson: Don't mess with a musician's prized possession.
Canadian folk singer Dave Carroll tried for nearly a year to get United to pay for his $3,500 Taylor guitar that he said baggage handlers broke. When the airline still refused to cough up any money, he did what any songwriter would do: He wrote a song about it.
"I called it my Michael Moore moment -- my epiphany when I decided what would Michael Moore do if he were a singer-songwriter and I decided to write three songs about United Airlines," Carroll told ABC News.
That first song and its accompanying YouTube video, called "United Breaks Guitars," has become a viral hit, with just over half a million page views since it was posted on Monday.
"I decided to go with a light-hearted approach to this and have some fun with it, rather than come across as angry and bitter, just to laugh about the whole experience and share the story with people," Carroll said.
The video finally got the attention of the airline, which is now trying to make nice with Carroll.
Note the pun in the statement United sent to ABCNews.com: "This has struck has a chord with us. We are in conversations with one another to make what happened right, and while we mutually agree that this should have been fixed much sooner, Dave Carroll's excellent video provides United with a unique learning opportunity that we would like to use for training purposes to ensure all customers receive better service from us."
"Of course it is a valuable lesson," said ABCNews.com columnist Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com, an airfare comparison shopping site. "This happens to a lot of people who don't make as big of deal about it. Typically people end up having to just eat things, because they don't want to take drastic measures, like making a video."
The incident Carroll sings about occurred in March 2008, when he and his group Sons of Maxwell, which includes his brother Don, were traveling from their hometown Halifax, Canada, to a gig in Omaha, Neb.
During a stopover in Chicago, a passenger sitting behind the group looked out the window at the baggage handlers loading the plane and declared, "Oh my God, they're throwing guitars," according to Carroll.
"We all felt mortified, knowing that it was probably our instruments being mishandled," he said.
Indeed, his prized Taylor guitar was smashed.
Thus began a "nine-month series of people passing the buck and saying it was someone else's fault," said Carroll, who made calls to United reps in Chicago, New York, Canada and even India.
"United wouldn't take any responsibility for that," he said. "After nine months, in the mind of the company, the matter was closed."
Carroll spent $1,200 to fix the guitar, though it hasn't played the same since. But he wasn't quite done with the matter. He told a United customer service manager to expect a video that he would be sharing with the world.
The video, which has already received a few thousand comments, has struck a chord with others as well.
"This is exactly why our whole country is going down in flames. Nobody does their job anymore. Wake up ... or you'll all end up like GM and Chrysler," wrote Trunk516, among the comments.
Seaney said these instances of social media taking on Goliath can provide a catharsis for other frustrated airline passengers.
"It's always good to poke fun at things that are painful," he said. "It gives everyone a little bit of a giggle."
United Breaks Guitar Online Video
The video uses humor to tell Carroll's story, with actresses portraying the ineffectual airline customer service reps, Carroll's bandmates singing backup while wearing sombreros and fake black mustaches, and guitars flying through the air.
The song's refrain goes: "United, you broke my Taylor guitar/United, some big help you are/You broke it/ You should fix it/ You're liable, just admit it/I should have flown by someone else or gone by car/Because United breaks guitars."
Carroll said he didn't write the songs to get even with the airline -- or even get compensation.
"I'm not out to harm the company," he said. "My initiative was to feel good about writing the songs."
But he is happy with the company's apology.
"This could end up being a very positive thing for passengers on United and across the industry," he said.