According to the latest YouTube tally, David Carroll’s viral video hit, “United Breaks Guitars,” has picked up somewhere in the vicinity of 12.3 million hits since it was first posted in 2009. The little ditty has also a spawned a book, a public speaking career, and even a startup. (Gripevine, where Mr. Carroll is a cofounder, lets angry consumers gripe to the right customer service rep.) To say nothing of Jack the Cat, the Facebook-powered albatross around American Airlines’s neck. (RIP!)

One would assume, then, that the intervening years have taught United a little something about how to respond to the possibility of bad PR: swiftly and with humility. One would be wrong.