January 2016 started with some pretty unfriendly travel experiences for at least 2 classical musicians that had planned on flying with their instruments.
Although he had purchased a ticket for himself and one for his cello, when he got to the WestJet flight, they told him that he couldn’t bring his cello on board the plane; even though had had already paid for the ticket.
WestJet claimed that there were no “specialized tie downs” for the cello, and that they were concerned for the safety of the instrument.
Although he booked his flight through American Airlines, he was never told that WestJet had a different policy regarding instruments from them, nor was he warned that there would be any issue in using the ticket for his cello on the entire flight.
Another similar story centers on Helsinki Philharmonic violinist Ari Vilhjalmsson and Norwegian Airlines.
On this particular flight however, after he had already boarded and been told by one flight attendant that he could put his violin up top, a different flight attendant came and told him that he would have to be put on hold.
When he questioned why this was happening, he was told that the first flight attendant was just being nice, and it was really against company policy for him to bring his violin on board the plane.
Apparently he was also told that “every other airline has this policy”. He ended up missing his flight, rather than put his valuable instrument in an unpressurized cabin and risk damaging it. Norwegian Airlines later offered a public apology.
It’s not just international flights giving musicians a hard time.
US Airways told 2 violinists in May of 2014 at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport that they could either put their violins in the cabin underneath, or not take their flight.
Nicolas Kendall and Zachary De Pue are frequent fliers that had flown with their violins many times before and had never been told that they couldn’t bring their violins onto the plane.
They protested by posting this video on YouTube. The plane left without them and a conflict resolution specialist was sent to address the issue.
They were booked on a later flight, but were again met by a US Air representative that told them they had to check their instruments, instead of carrying them onto the plane.
By this time however, they had done a little investigating, and found about the changes made to the DOT ruling stating how airlines would treat musicians who were traveling with their instruments.
The new ruling states: Section 424 requires air carriers to permit passengers to carry a small musical instrument, such as a violin, guitar, onto the aircraft cabin if it can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin or baggage or cargo storage compartment if the instrument can be stowed properly and there is space for such instruments.
This basically means that provided all safety requirements are met, musicians are allowed to bring small instruments, like violins or guitars, on board aircraft to be stowed in an overhead bin or in-cabin storage space; to purchase a seat for larger instruments (e.g. a cello) at no additional cost beyond the typical price; and to check really large instruments (e.g. a bass) in the aircraft’s cargo hold.
And interestingly, it further states: The final rule applies to scheduled and chartered flights in domestic or international transportation operated by U.S. carriers, regardless of the size of the aircraft they operate.
This new ruling went into effect in February, 2015.
Once the two musicians explained this ruling to the US Air representatives, they were allowed to board the plane with their violins.
US Air did offer a statement from their perspective stating that “the incident was a “disagreement over policy” and said that the airline staff acted in accordance with company rules.
“Sometimes cases won’t fit,” he noted, adding that the flight crew were “trying to follow policy.”
So, are the problems coming from people not understanding how valuable instruments are and how atmospheric pressure has a big affect them?
Is it because they don’t know the changes in the DOT regulations? Do they not understand the company policies for the Airline they work for?
We may never know.
The fact is, that even with the changes in the DOT regulations; it’s obvious that not every airline personnel is going to know the regulations and their company’s policies, nor is every musician is going to experience smooth sailing when it comes to flying with their fiddles, or any other instrument for that matter.
How can we avoid these issues if we want to fly with our violins?
Every air carrier is required to abide by the policies regarding musical instruments that the DOT set forth. There are a couple of things to remember though:
Most airlines do have their own special policies about musical instruments. These policies are required by the DOT to be published in what is called a “Contract of Carriage.”
Look for their policies under “Customer Service” or “Legal” tabs on the company website. You can also find out any charges that some carriers may bill you just for carry-on luggage. This is more common with low-budget flights.
Be aware of “Codeshare” flights. This is when a larger airline partners with a smaller airline to handle one segment of the trip, say as a connector flight.
When 2 different carriers are involved with the same flight, you have to know what the policies are from each separate carrier in regards to your bringing your instrument on the plane.
The DOT suggests that musicians try to take nonstop or direct flights to avoid issues that occur with multi-carrier flights.
All airlines have a first – come, first – serve boarding policy, (unless you are flying first class). The point being, get to your flight early so you can carry your fiddle on board. If you get there late and they don’t have any more room, you’ll have to check it, or take a different flight at your own cost. Yikes!
The DOT recommends flying at “off-peak” times to have the best chance of there being enough room for your instrument. (Off-peak times are Tuesday-Thursday, Saturday afternoon or night, or Sunday morning.)
Before buying your ticket, check out the airline’s carry-on policies in regards to fees, weight limitations, and how many pieces you can bring on board. Generally, fliers can bring one item that fits under your seat and one carry-on that will fit in the overhead bin.
Here is a brief overview of what most major airlines require in regards to flying with your instrument:
|Airline||Carry-On Baggage||Cabin Seat Baggage||Checked Baggage|
|Standard carry-on policy applies.||Large musical instruments may be accepted as cabin seat baggage with purchase of full adult fare.||Standard checked bag policy applies.|
|A musical instrument may be taken onboard as your one carry-on bag, regardless of its size, as long as it can be safely stowed in an approved carry-on stowage location and space is available when you board.||Instruments that are too large to be stowed in an approved carry-on stowage location, or are too fragile to be checked may still be taken in the cabin and transported in a passenger seat if certain requirements are met, including purchase of a ticket for an additional seat.||Musical instruments can be checked as baggage. Liability for damage to checked instruments is limited under certain conditions explained on the AA website and in the contract of carriage.|
Delta Air Lines
|Guitars and other small musical instruments such as violins will be accepted as your free carry-on baggage item. These items must safely fit into the overhead bin or other approved storage location in the cabin, based on available space at the time of boarding.||If the instrument is too fragile to be checked, it may be checked as seat baggage. The item must meet certain requirements.||Musical instruments may be checked if certain requirements are met.|
|Standard carry-on policy applies.||Passengers may purchase a seat for their fragile and/or bulky items.||Most musical instruments may be checked if certain requirements are met.|
|A musical instrument is allowed in place of one carry-on item, provided it can be stowed properly under the seat or in an overhead bin at the time of boarding.||Musical instruments of a size that prevents the instrument from being handled as normal carry-on baggage will be accepted in the cabin and are subject to certain requirements.||A musical instrument will count as one piece of checked baggage and are subject to all applicable baggage fees.|
|Musical instruments do not have to meet sizing requirements for carry-on items and will be accepted if they can be stowed safely under the seat or in an overhead bin at the time of boarding.||In the event you are traveling with a musical instrument that cannot be stowed safely as carry-on luggage, or is fragile in nature, you may purchase a seat for the instrument and carry it in the cabin under certain conditions.||Some musical instruments cannot be secured in a seat and must be transported as checked baggage, subject to applicable baggage fees.|
|A musical instrument may be carried on board as a carry-on item if it can be stowed safely overhead or in the seat in front of you at the time of boarding.||A customer may purchase a ticket for a musical instrument which is too fragile or bulky to be handled as checked baggage. Upright basses and guitars will not be accepted as cabin-seat baggage.||Checked instruments must meet certain requirements, including being packed in a hard-shell case.|
|A musical instrument may be taken onboard as your one carry-on bag, regardless of its size, as long as it can be safely stowed in an approved carry-on stowage location at the time of boarding.||Instruments that are too large to be stowed in an approved carry-on stowage location, or are too fragile to be checked may still be taken in the cabin and transported in a passenger seat if certain requirements are met, including purchase of a ticket for an additional seat.||Musical instruments, considered fragile items, will be accepted as checked baggage if they are appropriately packaged in a container/case designed for shipping such items. Fragile items without appropriate packaging will be accepted upon the execution of a release furnished by US Airways.|
There is some help if you still end up having trouble getting your violin onto a plane.
The DOT offers a comprehensive list of all of the major airline’s contact information for customers to use to voice their complaints and any negative experiences. There is an email and a snail address for each carrier.
They also have a page where you can send in complaints directly to the DOT about negligent behavior on the part of any airline staff who does not follow the Federal regulations about allowing you to travel with your instrument.
While this information won’t always prevent you from running into some problems in the future, it does arm you with the necessary information to confront any lack of education on the part of flight staff when they try to tell you that you have to check your violin instead of bringing it on board.