United Breaks Guitars and Other Living Things (Apple Sauce Update)

Via Timothy Geigner at Techdirt, it appears that the fine, upstanding airline company, United, came awfully close to killing a living thing.

United Airlines nearly killed an owner’s beloved dog and agreed to pay her vet bills, but only if she signed an non-disclosure agreement. Janet Sinclair brought her pets, Sedona the greyhound and Alika the cat, on a cross-country trip using UA’s “PetSafe” program, which makes several promises about how the animals will be treated and what type of conditions they’ll be exposed to. It would appear, to put it mildly, that the airline failed to keep their promises.

See what they did there? Create a “product” and marketing will give it a cool name like “PetSafe,” which means that people automatically believe that the airline will keep their beloved pet safe. And if they don’t, and nearly kill it, then they will pay the vet bills to return it to the condition they were supposed to keep it in (provided it’s still alive), and do everything possible to keep you quiet.

Why? Well, United Airlines has come face to face with modern technology before, and while it may not have learned how to fulfill its promises or run an airline without causing destruction, it has surely learned how its reputation can be destroyed by social media.

I don’t play guitar. I’m not a “pet person.”  But I can appreciate the expectation of people that, having paid the tariff upon the representations of a company, they can well expect the company to do as promised without killing or breaking anything.  Excuses are not a substitute for performance.

Stercus accidit?  Sure, every big company will have an employee somewhere who lacks the interest or desire to perform his job properly or who just sucks, whether as an employee or human being. So what?  First, is there no one else to notice poor performance and pick up the slack? Is the entirety of your system, the life of a living thing, determined by the carelessness of one lowly employee?  Of course not. It’s a corporate culture of neglect for anything except the buck.

Second, if something goes horribly awry, take responsibility and fix it. Pay for it. And do so without demanding secrecy in exchange.  There is no consideration for the customer’s silence, and withholding compensation for the damages you wrought without an agreement not to disclose your malfeasance is disgraceful and unacceptable.

Too many people tolerate getting screwed. We pay for a good or service, but when we get less than we bargained for, we suck it up and walk away.  Don’t make waves. Don’t be unpleasant. Don’t expect fulfillment of obligations, and make some manager happy that they have one less screwed customer to pacify while he calculates his bonus.

Companies don’t love you. They don’t love your pets.  Not even if they put a slogan on television that they really, really care deeply about your happiness. They want your money, which is fine as that’s what they’re in the business of doing, making money.

But there is a quid pro quo for your money, and every person who shrugs off less than satisfactory performance emboldens companies to be increasingly shoddy, careless, dehumanizing.  They are this way because we let them be this way.  Yes, you want to be polite to the nice person on the other end of the phone, but it’s not about them. It’s about a company, United Airlines or any other. You don’t want to be rude? So you would rather be a victim?

And your complaint is that they failed to keep their promise of “PetSafe”?  Or whatever slogan the marketing department created to give you the impression that they care? They don’t let you fly because they love you. You get on the plane because you gave them money. This is a simple business transaction, not an exercise in friendship and devotion.  Even people complaining of less-than-finest police constantly whine, “but the car says they’re supposed to ‘protect and serve’.”  It’s just a slogan. It’s meant to make foolish people believe. Don’t be fooled.

Companies spend huge sums of money producing commercials designed to entice people to give them money.  There are alternatives.  Put the money into operations that actually produce a product and service that reflects what the company pretends to provide.  Just give a shit and do the right thing.

So United breaks guitars. And United nearly killed pets. And United only covered the damages it caused by imposing a nondisclosure requirement. And Janet Sinclair refuses to be silent.  Now you know.

Update: It hadn’t been my plan to write about this, but then, with Dr. SJ baking pies and everyone else around SJ World Headquarters otherwise preoccupied, I decided to use my free time to add to my musings.

A few days ago, my daughter’s MacBook Pro developed issues. Knowing that all Apple products eventually become the coolest looking paperweights around, I purchased AppleCare for the laptop, and it seemed a good time to avail myself of it.  I called and they made me an appointed at the “Genius Bar” a few days hence, as there is an apparent backup of people with broken Apple products and, internet speed notwithstanding, they can’t manage to fix their many faults more timely.

So we appeared at the “Genius Bar” at the appointed time, whereupon we were told to sit and wait by a very happy person. Finally, a young woman, whose name according to the thing she was wearing around her neck was Victoria Genius, came over. She wore too much make-up for someone her age.

We explained the problem and she told us how happy they would be to fix it. She then produced an iPad with a great deal of very small legalese writing on it, to be signed by thumb nail. I explained to Ms. Genius that this was a warrant repair. She explained she knew. I explained why there would be no reason to sign anything whatsoever, since I had paid for the warranty. She explained this was Apple’s policy; if I didn’t sign, they wouldn’t fix.  I explained again the whole concept of paying for a warranty and then fixing their very cool looking broken machine. She grew bored with me.

I asked for her manager, after Ms. Genius explained to me that her manager would say exactly what she said, and saw my best curmudgeon face, she fetched the manager. And the manager did say exactly what she said, though the manager was much older than Ms. Genius, perhaps 22, but with the same last name.  I explained it all again to the manager, and then asked whether she would prefer to repair or refund my money.

The manager advised me that this was just some meaningless legalese crap that Apple required them to obtain before honoring the warranty they sold me. It just said that I authorized them to repair the machine. I told her that if she cared to write that out, that I authorize them to repair the machine, I would be happy to sign it. She looked at me like I was an idiot, and explained again that I had to sign the lengthy legal waiver.

I asked her if she ever read the waiver and knew what it said. She said no. I asked her if anyone had ever, to her knowledge, read the waiver. She said no.

That was when I finally understood what makes Apple products so special. They appeal to people who will sign legal documents without reason, knowledge or understanding, because they just want their shiny toy no matter what. That’s when I realized I was wrong. I signed the waiver. “Richard Milhous Nixon.” The took the laptop and told me it would be ready in an hour.

We came back 1:03 later, and were told to sit in chairs and await their bringing out the laptop when they were damn good and ready.  Finally, another member of the Genius family brought out the MacBook Pro.  He didn’t turn it on, but it appeared they cleaned the casing. It was a clean machine.

He then produced an iPad and told me to sign. What is this? I asked. It’s confirmation that we fixed your computer, he explained. “But I don’t know if you did,” I responded.  “Well, we did,” he said as he shoved the iPad toward me. You have to sign it.

I considered explaining to the male member of the Genius clan that I really don’t have to do anything, but I decided it would just annoy him while teaching him nothing. What would they do if I gabbed the machine and made a run for it? Would they chase me down? Would they beat me up? It wasn’t worth the chance that they would get make-up all over my sweater.

I signed the iPad. Spiro Theordore Agnew.  He wished me a pleasant day as he turned and walked away.  I did the same.


9 thoughts on “United Breaks Guitars and Other Living Things (Apple Sauce Update)

  1. AH

    As a regular reader but sporadic commentor, my worlds are colliding. Dave (the United Breaks Guitar Guy) is an in-law of mine in a somewhat convoluted way. His point was exactly yours and Janet’s. He refused to accept their payment if it was conditional on taking down his video. Of course, the benefit he got from the video was in the end way more than he would have gotten if United had done the right thing. Conversely, United would have been much better off had they just taken responsibility. You would think they would have learned from their mistakes.

    (I understand that this is not exactly adding anything to your post, I just had to comment on the fact that you posted United Breaks Guitars. I know I don’t need to grant you the authority, this being your blog and all, but feel free to delete at will)

    1. SHG Post author

      Dave’s video is one of my all-time favorites, both for its music (I adore the song) and it’s meaning. Please give him my best wishes and thanks.

      1. AH

        My favorite part of the story is that he told the customer service agent (Ms. Irlweg) that he would write three songs and post the videos to youtube, which generated very little concern. I think the response was along the lines of “okay, you go do that”. I’m sure they wished later that they had never called his bluff (which wasn’t a bluff, but I couldn’t think of a better way to put it.) When I see him next I will mention that you are a fan.

        I’m sorry about the Apple experience. It seems like we’re fighting a losing battle.

    1. SHG Post author

      I bet this would have been a slightly humorous comment had you merely used the reply button so it made some tiny bit of sense. But that’s just me. And no, she didn’t scream “daaaaad,” but then her attention was distracted by all the shiny things in the room.

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