David R. Henderson  

Accountability and the Web

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Book 1, Book 2... Snap Judgments vs. Apathy...

Musician Dave Carroll recently posted a video on YouTube after United Airlines refused to take responsibility for one of its employees' having wrecked his Taylor guitar.

In his last conversation with the United Airlines Customer Relations Manager, Carroll said he would make a music video to expose the airline's lack of cooperation. The manager replied, "Good luck with that one, pal."

Carroll didn't need luck. He needed, and had, creativity--and the Web. His video has received almost 6 million hits. United Airlines contacted him and tried to settle. The quid pro quo: pull the video. Dave replied, "Good luck with that one, pal."

Taylor Guitars sent Carroll two new custom guitars in appreciation for the product recognition from the video that led to a sharp increase in orders.

United probably should have taken responsibility. I say "probably" because I haven't read the fine print about what they take responsibility for and what they don't. But there's an issue here that also bears looking at: how much responsibility can a firm take when it is forced, literally, to deal with a union that protects its members from taking responsibility? Had United been able to identify the employee who wrecked the guitar, would United have been able to fire him? I doubt it.

H/T to Jeff Hummel.


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CATEGORIES: Business Economics



COMMENTS (14 to date)
RSF677 writes:

On the odds of being able to fire the at fault employee, you probably should have closed with "Good luck with that one, pal."

RL writes:

Perhaps United should hire Carroll to do a country western anti-Union video.

Mark Brady writes:

"Had United been able to identify the employee who wrecked the guitar, would United have been able to fire him? I doubt it."

Evidence? I rather think they could have done so.

Many firms are unionized and they wouldn't treat Dave Carroll in the way United Airlines did. I suggest we should be pointing the finger at the monopoly privileges United enjoys that enhances both their and their union(s) position in the marketplace.

david writes:

I get the impression that the good Mr. Henderson believes that unions own, rather than are employed by, United Airlines.

Presumably the best indicator of the division of responsibility is the share of producer's surplus that unionized labor captures, with the remaining responsibility belonging ultimately to United's shareholders.

Doesn't make the segue into a condemnation of labor monopoly as dazzling, though, I guess.

PeterW writes:

Problem: does the impact of Caroll's music video have any dependency on the truth of his claims? If not, this is just a case of the strong bullying the weak. (The twist here is that "strength" turns out to be measured in charisma and popularity, not financial and legal leverage).

hacs writes:

A comment completely out of the subject.

Would it be unfair to define socialists as the bourgeoisie of the capital of the others?

david writes:

@hacs

Socialists often claim the existence of unfair exploitation of some sort, so such a definition assumes the invalidity of socialist claims. They don't believe that any capital they desire to command would fairly belong to its current owners, after all.

If you nonetheless believe that such a definition would be useful, well, that's up to you. To be sure, defining your opposition as wrong is a lot easier than actually disputing what they say.

Eric Crampton writes:

Had you seen the second chapter of this? He flew to a conference in Colorado on social marketing, had to fly United as only direct connection...and they lost all his luggage, including his powerpoint presentation. And so he turned his keynote into how United continues to lose stuff.

http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.com/2009/11/morning-roundup.html

joecanuck writes:

Mark Brady,

it pretty much takes a thermonuclear weapon to get rid of members of baggage handler unions.

I'm not sure they're affiliated with United, I was under the impression that baggage handlers were airport employees.

United still should have treated Carroll better.

Mark Brady writes:

joecanuck:

Good point about the baggage handlers likely being airport employees. And if they are, I guess the question of firing a baggage handler turns on the particular airport and the kind of labor contract that applies. Which raises further questions about how municipally owned and operated airports are run. And it suggests that United would have a claim against the airport for lost and damaged luggage.

"[I]t pretty much takes a thermonuclear weapon to get rid of members of baggage handler unions."

Maybe. What I know for sure is that it would take a thermonuclear weapon to repeal the law that prevents foreigners from taking over the U.S. civil aviation industry.

hacs writes:

"Socialists often claim the existence of unfair exploitation of some sort, so such a definition assumes the invalidity of socialist claims..."

It would sound better as

"Socialism often claim the existence of unfair exploitation of some sort, so such a definition assumes the invalidity of socialist claims..."

The problem is to find human beings who want to put in practice the socialism as it was conceived.

But from a theoretical standpoint you are completely right.

Carlos writes:

Responsibility is not necessary about firing people. In this case it means UA paying the guitar back to Carroll. If the contract with the union was well designed, then some sort of mechanism could penalize the union when things like this happen. See, contracts and responsibilities should be in customer's benefit. At least in decentralized economies.
This case is not about the existence or absence of the Union precluding the airline to be responsible with clients. It's about good practices and good mechanisms to put incentives in place. We only know from the story what the airline did and said, and that was not correct. We don't know what the relation with the union is.

After all, good for David Carroll to create his own mechanism to punish the airline's behavior.

Eric H writes:

From Eric Crampton's link:

"Meanwhile, the singer/songwriter's expertise in customer service and social media is in demand; he has an upcoming speech booked in Ottawa and in September he was part of a congressional hearing in Washington D.C. on passenger's rights. He got to say and then sing his testimony, which "apparently hasn't happened much, if ever".

"Congressional hearing on passenger's rights?" Just what's needed: a self-important committee to divert attention away from United's bureaucratic calcification and poor business practice and onto the creation of more "rights." That will only end poorly for airline passengers who value having a wide range of options from which to choose.

I applaud Carroll for the novelty of his approach and the professional way he went about it. But testifying in front of a congressional committee? Please. Talk about bullying.

jim b writes:

Am I missing something? Didn't Mr Carroll wait a couple of months before reporting his guitar damage? I think the consumer has some responsibility for making sure their things are appropriately packed. Does Mr Carroll mail his Christmas gifts in a paper bag and then complain to the post office that its damaged?
He's gotten more mileage out of this story than any frequent flier. Maybe I'm just tired of hearing year old news

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