Monday, 27 July 2009

The guitar lesson

There is no regulation that could better protect airline passengers from inconveniences caused by flight delays, cancellations, denied boarding, lost or damaged baggage, than the use of social media. Passengers are now able to broadcast their disappointments before the eyes of the entire world with help of YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, and they may stay there forever. The latest case of the United Airlines passenger who had his guitar destroyed by the airline's baggage handlers during a flight last year, and was declined reimbursement for damage, best illustrates the power of social broadcasting. After getting the final ‘no’ from United, the passenger wrote a now-famous song decrying their customer service and brand. Within two weeks, over 4 million people watched his 'United Breaks Guitars' video (here is the link). According to The Times Online "..within four days of the song going online, the gathering thunderclouds of bad PR caused United Airlines' stock price to suffer a mid-flight stall, and it plunged by 10 per cent, costing shareholders $180 million." United surrendered, claiming that the company will “use the video internally as a unique learning and training opportunity." The massive publicity finally triggered the compensation offer to the passenger, which was (on his request) donated to the charity.

Will the technology solutions be increasingly used by passengers to help them protect their basic rights or, will the airlines work harder to minimise number of unpleasant passenger experiences, and show more respect for customer claims when things go wrong? The guitar lesson will certainly help with finding the right answer.