Mistreated Customers Try for Viral Vengeance

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In the old days, if you had a beef with Corporate America, you wrote a
letter, got on the horn or called the local newspaper.


You go viral.

Oh, and you still call — or, actually in this case, e-mail — the
local newspaper. That’s what Richard
, 27, of Mira Mesa did. Martin is upset with American
, which he claims trashed his bike when flying
it to Switzerland last year.

He’s gotten nowhere with his claim asking the airline to make good.

So he recently created a Facebook
page, which features a short biting documentary on what he says

The page is called, “American Airlines Breaks Bikes.” So far, more
than 120 people have latched onto it, with one person saying, “This is
unfortunate. I will NOT book with American Airlines this summer … .”

Well, that’s one customer down …

Martin paid $1,800 for the bike, a Klein Q-Elite, but money is not
the issue, said the robotics engineer. “I’m not going to let these guys
beat me.”

He got the idea for this brand of a consumer attack from
singer/songwriter Dave Carroll, who also said he was a victim of
heavy-handed baggage handlers. His $3,500 Taylor guitar got whacked by United

And he got nowhere when he complained, too.

So he wrote a trio of songs about the experience. The first one is
called, “United Breaks Guitars.” You can see it on YouTube. A lot people
have done so — more than 8.6 million.

Martin maintains he did everything right in packing his bike for the
trip. But after checking in at Kennedy
International Airport
in New York, he noticed what
appeared to be his bike box on the tarmac.

And it seemed to be heavily damaged. He rushed to American Airline
officials, but was reassured by the baggage crew chief that everything
was just fine. Martin took a connecting flight with another airline,
Brussels, to get to Switzerland, where he planned to go on a bike tour.

When he got to a friend’s house, he got a shock. He opened the box.
His bike was in pieces. The frame had been broken in several places. The
tires were mangled.

In the Facebook film, there are pictures of it. It’s nothing short of
a total mess.

So why didn’t Martin open the box at the airport? Well, the box was
too heavily taped, he said. And because he had been told the bike was
fine, he wasn’t concerned.

He had to buy another bike, at a cost of $1,800, for his tour.

And he soon got another ride — this time from the two airlines
involved, he said.

American says Martin is way off base. He didn’t make a claim for
damages with Brussels until 13 days after the incident, said Tim Smith,
an American Airlines spokesman. So it could have been damaged any time
from his arrival until then.

Martin also failed to pack the bike in a hard case. The airline
doesn’t assume liability for damaged sports equipment if that’s the
situation, Smith said in an e-mail response.

Martin told me that he complained to American Airlines the day he saw
the damages but was told to contact Brussels. He did so and was told to
file a claim but couldn’t do that immediately because he was embarking
on his bike tour.

A buddy who went along had contacted American Airlines before flying
and was told that a cardboard box was OK to use. Martin said he was
never told about the hard-case policy, even when checking in, he said.

So he’s taking his fight to the public. Is this the new way to get
consumer justice?

You bet your YouTube.

There’s been an uptick in the number of people who are going the
social-media route to take shots at corporations that they feel have
done them wrong, said Mark Reback of Consumer Watchdog in Santa Monica.

Carroll, the songwriter who suffered that broken guitar, got a lot
of media coverage and appeared on “The

He figured, at the very least, writing the song would be a creative
release. But then it took off.

And United quickly came around. It offered to pay for damages and
give him flight vouchers. Carroll told United to give the money to

He believes his song “should be a signal to Corporate America that
the old paradigm of good service to as many people as possible, but not
everyone, is gone.”

And why is that?

“Every customer now has a voice and an ability to have it heard.”

Martin is now trying to pull that off.

And at the very least, it’s better than being stuck on hold for an

Michael Stetz: (619)
293-1720; [email protected]

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdoghttps://consumerwatchdog.org
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