Norman Lebrecht on shifting sound worlds
From today’s Independent.
This isn’t much of a story without any details. What changed with Lufthansa? What kind of prices are we talking about? Does it concern having to buy bulkhead or other “premium” type seats? Just wondering.
Experienced the same issue late February flying from Munich to London. A return flight for 1 person on the Internet was GBP 169. However, if you want to fly with your Cello, you have to call the booking centre or buy the ticket at the airport ticket desk. But then you don’t get the online tariff anymore, need to book your own seat and the Cello seat in a higher booking class plus pay call centre booking charges, so it all becomes suddenly ridiculously expensive. The real problem for me though was that the Lufthansa staff was so incredibly incapable of issuing the ticket for my Cello that I missed my flight (which was the last one that night) even though I had been at the airport 75 min before departure. No apologies from them, no compensation, no hotel voucher, no taxi voucher back to Munich, nothing. Just a rebooking on the first flight the next day. Needless to say I took the train back to Munich.
I travelled several times with my cello with Lufthansa and never payed more than the normal ticket price. O.K., you have to call the booking centre and pay more service charge but Lufthansa is not the only airline where you have to do it., For the cello you have to book an extra seat without taxes. At the end the ticket is much cheaper than buying a normal ticket on the internet. I don´t know if Lufthansa really changed their rules but it could be that you only had bad luck with your booking…
Presumably the answer is fairly simple.
People travelling with ‘cellos, in the context of an airline, are few and far between. Most of us criticise online booking systems for being overly complex, poorly designed, or clunky – why would Lufthansa want to make it more so to cover any sort of odd item an occasional passenger might want to take on board? And if a passenger is taking a ‘specialist’ item, isn’t it better for it to be booked in by a person who can make sure the right boxes are ticked, thus – in theory at least – making the process at the airport swifter and less hassle, rather than leaving it to the owner of the bulky item to wade through screen after screen of options, and getting them wrong?
Of course, employing actual people to do this, and providing call centre facilities, costs money. Which is reflected in the ticket price.
So the answer is – if you are a ‘unique’ or ‘unusual’ passenger, then your ticket is handled in a ‘bespoke’ manner, which costs more.
Or look at it the other way round – the question is not “why does my ‘cello cost more” but rather “how come some seats booked online are less”. The answer looked at this way is obvious to most – it’s because the costs for the airline are less, because many passenger fit easily into a simple ‘box’ and have no special requirements. So they can have a cheaper rate.
Sounds fair to me.
Might I add that Jonathan’s letter – well-constructed though it is – uses a stereotype of a passenger rarely encountered in order to enhance the ‘cello’s case.
The vast majority of passengers do not get drunk before boarding, do not answer back or complain, eat little, and tend to be very easy to deal with – a fair amount of parity with the ‘cello, then. Only the ‘cello is unlikely to go shopping in the airport, buy anything from duty-free (OK, so most passengers don’t either), or otherwise increase the profitability of the airline.
Bottom line – unusual items cost more to arrange to travel for the airline; (be it skis, firearms, or a ‘cello) so the cost is likely to be correspondingly higher for the customer. Seems fair.
If you don’t like it, fly with a different airline that sees things differently
As someone who used to take a cello on board a plane mostly without problems and no extra payment, I do pity the sufferings of cellists in this new age of airline greed.
It’s especially bothersome for students. That is why the summer master class I manage offers high quality loaner cellos to students who have to fly to get there. It’s been highly popular, and the students love the instruments, since in many cases, they are better than the ones they usually play on.
This is very strange logic exhibited by the Lufthansa powers-that-be! Why should it cost more to travel with your cello than with a friend? It beats me!
I travel frequently with my cello. No doubt it has gotten more and more difficult. A word of warning for those cellists, particularly students, who check their instruments. USAir no longer accepts cellos as checked baggage even in a flight case.
Try flying with a double bass. In the 70s and 80s I travelled by air frequently for school and work with my instrument: back and forth across the US, over the Atlantic, and to South America. A hard-sided double bass case can be checked, but it is the size of a coffin, and there is no guarantee that the baggage handlers will be gentle, so I always purchased a full-fare bulkhead companion ticket and strapped my instrument (in its soft case) into the seat next to me. I only experienced one problem in those days, with a head flight attendant who said ‘no way, not in my cabin’. The pilot backed her up, but since he was short a flight engineer for the flight, he allowed the bass to fly in the jumpseat behind him. These instruments (as well as cellos) are so fragile and large that it isn’t feasible to check them as luggage. I am willing to pay for a full-fare passenger seat, but agree with Mr. Lebrecht that my bass, as a passenger, is very low-maintenance, and comes with its own ‘handler’ and ‘supervisor’. Purchasing tickets in person is not possible for a professional who travels regularly. And waiting to purchase tickets until one reaches the airport, or being forced to see if ‘space is available’, or to wait for the next flight could easily compromise a professional musician’s contract to perform in the destination city. The musicians union in the US has been working for years with the airlines to resolve this issue. It’s time for the airlines to understand that this is not an unusual occurrence, and that a musician’s ability to travel (with an instrument) is a key component to making a living.
Author, novelist, broadcaster, cultural commentator.
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