United Airlines, Mom’s Missing Jewelry, and the Asymmetry of Customer Feedback

Dad used to say “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it”.  Mom prefers the double-positive version.

What if people spent the same energy to praise good deeds as they do publicly complaining?


Someone rub you the wrong way?  Got your knickers in a knot?  Well, post it somewhere and see if you can get it to go viral.

It’s easy to rage publicly over real or perceived slights.  We can turn millions against a company, deserved or not, while we bloviate in anonymity with no repercussions.  It’s like punching the schoolyard bully in the face remotely from your basement. And generally, it’s how a lot of people tend to roll.

Well, sometimes companies actually do good things due to someone’s actions; unfortunately people seem to be less motivated to share when things turn out well – – isn’t that what we’re entitled to? – – so you’re not likely to hear about it.  And so the story of United Airlines, my mom and the lost jewelry.  But first a quick bit of context.

Remember the ‘United Broke My Guitar’ guy?  Back in 2009 United Airlines broke his guitar and refused to compensate him for it.  In frustration, he posted a song on YouTube (13 million hits), wrote a book, and became something of a travelers’ cause célèbre.  Ultimately, of course, United realized it had screwed up, rightfully made him whole, and learned a painful lesson about ‘an ounce of medicine’ or something like that.

This weekend my 82 year old mother flew into town and discovered she had lost her jewelry bag.  On her return trip, since she of course gets to the airport 4 hours early, she had time to check United lost & found.  Lo and behold, not only did United have it, but the jewelry bag was immediately returned to her, intact and untouched!

Blue Jewelry Bag

It apparently had slipped out of her bag in the overhead compartment on the way over.  This means not only did all the passengers, staff, and cleaning crew ignore a temptation, but somehow THE SYSTEM WORKED:  It found its way to Lost and Found, was properly coded into the system, and a United representative was actually able and willing to locate it and immediately give it back to its owner.  Wow.

I don’t know about you, but I lose more than my fair share of things and I NEVER get anything back.  And this was a jewelry bag within a complex system with thousands of flights and hundreds of thousands of passengers daily.  (Full disclosure:  it was costume jewelry – – Mom’s been to the rodeo a few times – – but they didn’t know that).

This must happen with some regularity.  So why don’t you generally see companies praised publicly for excellent customer service?  Mom has been a professional pianist for over 60 years and is in fair voice, so she could do her version of Guitar Guy on YouTube, but she has a full schedule of 35 students a week and like all of us, is too busy.

I also suspect that praising a big company just isn’t cool; you’re not sticking it to the Man when you say something positive.  This will be just one of many transactions of this United representative, the majority of which likely won’t have as happy an ending.  And that’s too bad.


Maybe the readers of this post could forward it to a few people as a reminder that sometimes good things happen because someone gave extra effort, and that it wouldn’t be so bad to send out an Attaboy once in a while.   See if you can get it picked up.  You might just make someone’s day.  Here’s a little primer on how to get started.


One response »

  1. Well said. People are quick to share disappointing experiences but sharing a positive story can be even more important. If you support brands you like you help them thrive and grow.



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