Be on the Right Side of Right

Welcome to the RSR inaugural blog. I thought I might share a few ideas about what I think being on the Right Side of Right entails and welcome your feedback as part of this discussion. One of the main reasons United Breaks Guitars was successful was that it was so clear that I had done nothing inappropriate, I had run the course in United’s “customer service maze” and that the airline’s policies were designed in a such a way as to frustrate and wear people down. Being on the Right Side of Right infers a responsibility on both the customer and the business whose services they are buying.

In the case of UBG I had a responsibility to ensure my guitar was in a durable hard-shell case that could withstand a reasonable amount of handling. I did that and when it got broken, I was well positioned to expect them to do something about it. Had I packed my guitar in a soft-shell case it wouldn’t have been reasonable to assume that it would be returned to me unscathed. I did my part. United did not.

Being on the Right Side of Right doesn’t end there, however. My initial issue with United’s customer service was the disrespect I was shown as an individual by the employees I met at O’Hare. Remember, at this point I didn’t know my guitar had been broken, only that it had been thrown. Their reaction implied that the mishandling of instruments/luggage was “business as usual” and that I should have known that. The temptation to react angrily to the indifference of people in a position to help you can be intense but being on the Right Side of Right demands that you don’t. Instead, ask yourself some questions. Who are these people? Maybe they just had the worst day of their lives or have personal problems that make your issue pale in comparison. Take a second and try to see yourself in them. It doesn’t mean you should accept damage to your property but this awareness that you are connecting to another human being, not unlike yourself in many ways, will help you to not react in a negative way. Confrontation makes matters worse and has no place on the Right Side of Right. In fact being on the Right Side of Right eliminates the need for confrontation because your position is impenetrable, having nothing to defend. Taking responsibility for yourself and working towards reasonable results is what RSR is all about.

In my case I met three people in Chicago within five minutes who shared the same indifferent reaction to my guitar (four or even five people if you include the baggage handlers). My first question was “what kind organization do these people belong to that would allow indifference like this to occur?”  The answer came in my next question: “Is there something this company has done in the way they treat their employees that has trickled down to the way they treat me as a customer?”  Since July, I have heard from countless United employees and labour groups who would give an emphatic “yes” to that question. It doesn’t excuse what happened to my guitar but by asking those questions, I gained an awareness that helped govern my reaction going forward.  There was no justification in ever getting angry at any United employee I would encounter over this.  The fact that this indifference was more a rule than an exception told me the problem lay more with the organization and less with any individual. While certain employees could use a little coaching in NOT paying forward the disrespect they feel from their employer, getting angry at them, as a customer, serves no useful purpose.

Instead, I approached every interaction with United as a step in the right direction at getting a fair resolution. My Taylor guitar held a lot of sentimental value to me and so I spent $1200 on restoring it. Ultimately, I didn’t ask United for the replacement cost of the guitar but rather $1200 in flight vouchers to resolve the issue and UBG was born when that offer was rejected and I was told no other offers would be made. I had done all they asked to find a fair solution from the high ground and so I felt justified in getting creative to bring awareness of this problem to those who might agree that United’s policies needed changing. What I didn’t realize was how many like me there are with negative experiences, and how deep the greater problem is with customer experience  around the world. 

When you operate from the Right Side of Right and you are unable to arrive at a fair resolution it implies the system you are dealing with is broken and in need of a fix. I believe people on the RSR have a responsibility to do what they can to improve that system not only for those following behind but also for themselves because, if we don’t, we’re doomed to repeat the unlearned lessons of the past. The United Breaks Guitars trilogy has helped highlight problems with poor customer experience and raise awareness that good customer service is a necessary component to any successful business. While a lot of effort on the part of many went into the creation of the UBG series, it felt not so much like work because we were operating from the Right Side of Right. In my experience, changing the system is more fruitful than trying to fight it and the only place to do that is from that vantage point.


24 replies
  1. Glenn Harrington says:

    Rule One

    So many times I’ve been involved in poor situations, I’ve developed a rule about that.
    It’s called “Rule One.”
    Rule One is simple: “They Don’t Care.” Many times when I’m discussing with people about a poor customer service issue or even dealing with a bureaucracy I bring up that “This is a Rule One issue” or “Rule One applies.”
    Puts in perspective.
    So, when United Breaks Guitars, that’s a Rule One issue.

    It gets worse. I’ve been in aerospace engineering over 40 years. When the Boeing 737MAX had two fatal crashes due to their going too far trying to make a1950’s design competitive with newer Airbus designs, it became Rule One. Boeing didn’t care that they had a flying booby trap in the 737MAX. Numerous problems with the software and flying qualities were ignored. Even after two fatal crashes, they still didn’t care.

    When wy wife was in the hospital with cancer, I could see right away it was Rule One. Many of the doctors and staff didn’t care.

    Sad, but true.

    Thank You
    Glenn Harrington

  2. Cheryl says:

    I’ve only just come across your story but I guess it wasn’t so big over here in the U.K. Dave I congratulate you on all that you’ve done and the way you have done it. Inspiring that you have gained such a positive experience out of something negative. It takes the patience of a saint sometimes to be non reactive or positive in these sort of situations but the results can be worth it. Just a little story to illustrate, I was on a train which got held up due to a faulty bridge down the line. The passengers were let out onto the platform to stretch their legs and they formed a little huddle around the driver and guard and began complaining bitterly. I went up and asked the driver and guard whether there was anything I could do for them like get them some water or something to eat. The crowd went silent and then dispersed 🙂

  3. Ron Hemphill says:

    Hi Dave,

    I absolutely love UBGs, both the song and the video! I pull it up at least a couple times a week to listen.

    The Twilight Zune:
    I had my own “United” experience a couple of years ago with Microsoft and Zune (see below link to their forum, the thread titled “The Twilight Zune”). I also logged days and hours on the phone with them (in India and all over), most of which I documented with written notes and with email.

    My thread became popular enough that Zune eventually had a series of (obviously) paid staff, who acted like regular visitors, but that would visously attack me or anyone who posted to the thread supporting my predicament. To date, the thread has 166 replies and over 15,000 hits, a very large number for a thread on the Zune forum.

    At one point, I had actually reserved and owned and was about to start up the website, but I unfortunately gave up on the idea. The whole thing was an absolutely miserable experience.

    Anyway, I am glad to have you on the side of the customers. Thanks for doing your part!


  4. S Kaine says:

    I love your attitude!

    You’re right–it really does no good to take out your frustrations on individual employees. Some are just plain rude people whom you will find in any walk of life. But, many are the people who have to deal with the company’s ridiculous policies day in and day out and have become numb to it all–just as you say, indifferent. They know they can’t help. Unfortunately, it’s not just United. I encountered the same indifference from Delta during a three-day ordeal when I was stranded during bad weather. I was more frustrated by the lack of information and courtesy than by the weather situation. A little customer service could have gone a long way for a lot of people, but it just wasn’t happening. Change needs to happen in the airline industry (and in many other so-called “service”-oriented industries), and the Right Side of Right Movement is a good place to start!

  5. Ron Phillips says:


    I love your entire trilogy – very creative ! For those of us in the business world which requires us to fly a lot – we all have our United stories. Since your last release – I have made it my personal mission to share your story and songs with everyone in Washington, DC where I live.

    I look forward to hearing you in person one day and hopefully you will perform in the Washington, DC area – you have many friends down here !

  6. alan griffiths says:

    hi dave great work your songs and your voice are brilliant i love your music i also had a problem with united with baggage in sfo afew years ago it finished back in nz when are you coming down under to australia you are very welcome hope qantas dont stuffup keep up the great work all the aussies i have sent your songs to love them in ww2 the aussies and the canadians fought along side each other and it is still the same way regards and keep upthe good work alan griffiths jp

  7. ResumeWriter says:

    I’m looking forward to our radio interview today! For Dave’s fans, please tune in online at noon (CST) and listen as Dave explains his plans for the Right Side of Right site and other insights to the UBG saga.
    Lauren Milligan

  8. Randy says:

    Wow. Just wow. I’m a guitarist. It’s my hobby that I enjoy just because it’s me making the music. I play sometimes along with the mood I’m in as my way of dealing with stress, sadness, or perhaps pure enjoyment of something successful.

    Anyway, guitars are something I treat with care and to hear about this travesty and the lack of care or concern still puts me in awe. My first wife pawned the first guitar I bought while I was interviewing for a job out of state. I threatened to leave her behind because of that. I played it almost daily. I eventually did leave her but it was for other reasons.

    The point is that something sentimental is treated with respect by it’s owner and people who handle other people’s belongings should treat them as such.

    I hope that companies around the world pay attention to RSR as I’m sure there are going to be many people putting up their stories about companies they’ve dealt with.

  9. Dan says:

    Dave, Did you have to pay extra for checking your Guitar? or was this before United (and everyone else sans Southwest) began charging for bags?

  10. Linda says:

    Dave, I have read the account of your story several times and you handled the whole thing in such a gentleman-ly way, and went through all the right channels, etc before making your wise decision to take it further by doing the videos. (I LOVE your videos and watch them daily!) Now you’re continuing with it: GREAT!! I have told SO many people of your videos and quest for better customer servce training!

    I checked out your appearance schedule and was dismayed not to see FL included. Are you and all the SOM ever coming to FL to perform?


  11. Denise says:

    I was thrilled to see a teacher using the UBG experience as an ethics teaching experience. Dave your “one person voice” is making an impact. Thank you for your dedication to a better world.

  12. John Long says:

    I think that it great that the net has made available the ability of a single individual to affect an entire corporation.
    Because of this for example, I will never take United if there is ANY alternative.

  13. Alan Grant says:

    Dave, I’m really impressed with this new RSR website. I teach in New Zealand, and last year a quick look at UBG 1 as a one off ‘power of the media’ study, led to an evolving unit of work on ethics with my class of 13-15 year olds. Wish we’d had RSR to tap into as well. The thinking in your first post is something more of us, myself included, need to consider when things go wrong and we know it’s not our fault. Rather than griping, how can we help improve systems which have got to the stage where individuals treat each other poorly?
    I’m also with Stephanie’s post – it’s great to see someone with a good sense of humour who can also write decent music, going places. Maybe we’ll see you down this end of the world someday. (Air NZ offers alternative carriage to UA out of North America!)

  14. Kitty Darst says:

    I HATE to fly! No food worthy of the name, inadequate space, lousy service – why not go by car; or, if possible, stay home? The check-in lines at airports are unbearably intrusive and time-consuming. It gets worse from there. A sister-in-law and I were discussing the sad conditions, particularly since 9/11, and she commented that the terrorists had won. I hate to admit it, but she’s right. . .

  15. Jeff Padgett says:

    Great good fortune with this site. My UA disaster, flight 882, on 22 Feb 2010 from BKK to Toyko could only backup your experiance of lack of customer service from UA. Would love to have someone share pictures of that mass of people, waiting for their UA flight of that morning.

  16. Jim says:


    I love the UBG songs, and I think you’re spot on with your observations and assessments of the situation. Both the customer and the service provider have some responsibility. Many customers seem to think that they have no responsibility and tend to have an eye towards taking advantage of a company that wants to “do the right thing”. On the flip side, many companies, perhaps because they’ve grown too big, or they’ve been taken advantage of by said customer on too many times, start to set up the maze that you described in an attempt to weed out those that would take advantage of them.

    I enjoyed listening to your songs and following along with your story. I glad you got your guitar replaced and it’s nice to see you doing more for others. Good work.


  17. Stephanie says:

    That was very well stated. It seems you are not only a talented singer, song-writer and actor (loved all the videos by the way) but a great motivational speaker.

    Like the saying goes: “When one door closes…another one opens”. It is always nice to hear something positive come from something tragic and your Taylor’s near death experience was tragic.

    Keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing more from you. You had talent long before United broke your guitar but it took YouTube (and this incident) for the world to have the opportunity to finally hear your voice. You have our attention now and I am sure I speak for many when I say that it will be a pleasure watching your career continue to blossom from here on out. Good luck to you and the rest of your gang.


    PS, thanks for the last several months , Ive enjoyed the responce UBG has had and had many a laugh reading the comments , and the spin uniteds people posted in reply , even to receiving a reply from Glenn Tilton , well someone that claimed to be him , just a form letter sent out to many I`d guess , I look forward to spending a lot more time in the future in watching the SONS develope and grow in stature around the world , a well deserved outcome for the laughs , and , hopefully the change you have bought to the world , rock on boys 🙂


    Dave , as said elsewhere “I bet united`s paying attention now” however it remains to be seen if anything is actually being done about the problems united have as a company but I would hazard a guess that its caused some harsh words being said in various meetings held about the responce united needed to address the disaster (for united) that UBG was causing , it certainly rattled them considering every responce they made caused them to further fall onto their collective swords, this company needs a closer look at people employed by them and the perception they project to the paying public , if needed the worst need to be located to a job that causes no interaction or actions that affect customers of the airline

  20. Deborah Ford says:

    Thanks for sharing your story and opening up a site to possibly help others with their stories and frustrations. UBG Rocks!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] That is NOT the end of the story though. Dave started Right Side of Right to enable consumers to “more effectively share stories and seek out possible solutions” and for “finding ways for us to work with companies that truly want to deliver better experiences for their customers and who are striving to be on the “Right Side of Right“.” […]

  2. […] That is NOT the end of the story though. Dave started Right Side of Right to enable consumers to “more effectively share stories and seek out possible solutions” and for “finding ways for us to work with companies that truly want to deliver better experiences for their customers and who are striving to be on the “Right Side of Right“.” […]

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