Learning from social media, kinda

Having spent a depressing fraction of my life in airports and on airplanes, some in comfort and some in the kind of squalor that I'd rather forget, any story where a passenger comes out on top attracts my attention. My eyes were thus drawn to the story of Dave Schneider who tried to bring his $10K Gibson guitar on board a Delta plane, was denied and forced to check it as baggage. While at Detroit he saw airport staff loading his guitar onto the plane and pleaded with a Delta steward to ask them to be careful: to his credit, the steward did ask, but the Detroit baggage handlers weren't sufficiently careful stowing the guitar on a baggage elevator. The case was trashed and $2000 of damage was caused to the Gibson.

You may be wondering where I'm going with this. Bear with me.

Canadian guitarist and unexpected social media star Dave Carroll had a similar experience in 2009 with United Airlines, who consigned his Taylor guitar to the tender mercies of Chicago baggage handlers where it was promptly broken. After a year of wrestling with United's customer satisfaction agents (hollow laugh from anyone who's flown United) they denied his claim, at which point he told them that he'd make three music videos about the experience. They scoffed, he made United Breaks Guitars and the rest is history - it broke his career, and delivered a well-deserved kick in the nads to United's share price.

Delta were a little slow to react to the breakage, but being contacted by Yahoo! seemed to kick them into high gear:

"This instance is certainly not indicative of the high regard we hold for our customers' property when they travel with us, and for that, we apologize," Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said in an emailed statement. "We look forward to making a direct and sincere apology to the customer as we work with him to rectify what happened."
Mr. Durrant has no doubt been briefed on Dave Carroll and his impact on United. I'd be fascinated to learn whether the Delta steward's intervention was motivated by compassion for a passenger or a company warning about the Carroll case - I'll be charitable, since my experience of Delta crew has generally been more positive than United "Not Quite The Worst" service. But social media has turned the tables when airlines screw things up for passengers; anecdotes may not be data, but a well-crafted catchy musical anecdote has a significance all of its own.

Dave Schneider should send a thank-you note to Dave Carroll, and Delta should probably send a thank-you note to United. If the consequence of social media is a softening in the attitude of airlines towards their passengers then Twitter, Facebook, Google et al will have done the world a service.

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