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Put British Airways on hold until they call off instrument ban

It seems quite absurd that, in their battle with the bucket airlines, the former national carriers should abuse their best customers in the same way.  But they do… and how they do.

Musicians have long learned to avoid Ryanair if they want valuable instruments to be treated with respect. A couple of weeks ago, Lufthansa declared war on cellos. Now British Airways is banning violins as cabin baggage.  If you want to carry an instrument case on BA, you’ll need to book an extra seat. The new policy reads:

•Small musical instruments within the maximum size and weight limits for hand baggage may be carried onboard as part of your free hand baggage allowance.
•Larger musical instruments must be carried as checked baggage. Each item will count as part of your free checked baggage allowance.
•It may be possible to purchase an extra seat for your musical instrument, depending on availability. If you would like to book an extra seat for a musical instrument, please make the booking through your nearest British Airways office. Extra seats cannot be booked through ba.com.

British musical organisations are making polite representations to the airline and their government. It may take more direct action to get the new terms revised. Until they are, musicians and their friends are advised to fly British Airways as a last resort only.

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Comments

  1. Linda Strummer says:

    This is, of course, ridiculous! One can’t keep an instrument in every city one must work and we are not, these days, usually reimbursed for travel, biting seriously into already meager earnings.
    And here’s something else no body thinks about: If you have a job that takes you away from home for more than, say, two weeks (and music gigs aren’t usually THAT short), it is nearly impossible to take cloths enough with the weight limits. I was gone for five months one time involving two countries and two seasonal changes. Packing was a nightmare! It seems if you are going to be gone for more than the normal vacation period, they should cut you some slack. They can already see, by your ticket, you are gone for a long time and this isn’t a vacation!

  2. just fly Cathay Pacific. never had trouble with them. plus they give you a special permit and a fragile sticker for carry on instruments. how awesome is that.

  3. Musicians are like so much sheep – polite representation !!! that’s what they want you to do -while they screw you
    to the wall . Make this a public outcry — convince general public and music lovers this is not the group to book your flight. They only react to where it hurts –money . Musician get a back bone !!!!!!!!

  4. Hi, I am the Public Affairs & Policy Officer at the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) and we have been leading these calls to BA. There is more detail on the campaign and our advice for musicians here: http://www.ism.org/news/article/instruments_on_planes

    Valerie Vaz MP has also backed the campaign with an Early Day Motion in Parliament: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2012-13/107

    • Hi Henry,

      I’d love to contact you about the Lufthansa situation which I brought to attention a few weeks ago. How is it best to contact you?

      For those who read my letter in The Independent, Lufthansa didn’t reply until they were provoked, and then only explain the ridiculous increase in price for travelling with cello for “commercial reasons” that were decided by their “marketing department”.

      Best,

      Jonathan

  5. henry [at] ism.org should reach me at work, and we have had some good news with BA saying they will respond soon.

  6. Randolph Magri-Overend says:

    I suppose singers will now also have to park their instrument (their lungs) in the hold!

  7. Sorry, cellists, but these days air travel pretty much sucks for all the rest of us, too. Deal with it.

    • Dave, it would help you to understand that we have a choice between checking our instruments to see them destroyed, and then spend the years it takes to find a good replacement, or to pay twice as much as you do to travel anywhere with the instrument.

      It’s not remotely the same problem as what normal people go through, and is very frustrating for musicians whose livelihood depends upon being able to travel to a location where a performance is happening WITH the instrument. For instance, I am writing this message from Korea, where I traveled from the United States. If my instrument had not arrived here with me, not only would we not have been paid, but we would be out of an additional $1500 just for the extra ticket for the cello.

      Yes, I have nearly had to cancel concerts on several occasions because of airline dumb policies or sadistic flight attendants. We pay extra money for these seats, and so no, we won’t just “deal with it.” Just because you’re annoyed at the service of airlines doesn’t mean those of us who depend on them should simply put up with abuse that could end the entire field of touring musicians.

    • I wonder if Dave has considered auditioning for the part of The Grinch in a coming production of of Dr. Seuss. He’d make a perfect curmudgeon.

  8. Being a singer I luckily never have to worry about my instrument being abused by ground staff or freezing hold conditions (though cabin atmosphere and dehydration are pretty worrying sometimes). But I sympathise totally with my instrumental colleagues of the music world. Over the last thirtyeight years I have travelled all over the world with orchestras and choirs and chamber ensembles, and don’t understand why, in the last six years, it has become a logistical problem for airlines to carry smaller instruments and seat-booked ‘cellos in the cabin after decades of it never being a problem.

    Perhaps the reasons the airlines are now all copying the malicious and desperate money grabbing attitude of the Ryanair policies is down to the fact that commercial airlines are no longer able to cover a lot of their costs as before. The introduction of various taxes and other additions by various governments to the cost of a ticket means that the airlines have had to cut the actual base cost of a ticket to a stupidly unrealistic level in order to continue attracting customers.

    In 1981 I flew on a SuperApex non refundable return ticket on the then Swissair (London to Zurich and back) for £136.00p, no taxes or extra charges. Today a similar restricted ticket on BA or Swiss would cost around £180-£200. In just over 30 years the price has, in real terms, gone down since almost 60% of that ticket would be the various taxes and extra charges imposed by the airlines at the behest of the government. To my mind this means that the airlines are actually charging a lot less for many people to fly than is commercially realistic!

    Ryanair aside (an airline not even suitable for lowly cattle to fly on, and yet that is exactly how many of their customers are treated!), I feel less inclined to criticise the airlines on the issue of extra charges for instruments and perhaps blame the government more for this dilemma. The airlines obviously could be more sympathetic re the carriage of instruments, since historically there never used to be either a logistical or financial problem with a free instrument carriage policy. At the same time the airlines are put in a bad commercial position by the financial restraints imposed on them when it comes to ticket revenues, and are unable to charge realistic prices for travel without running the risk of losing a broad base of customers.

    Perhaps in today’s world we all need to re-assess the value of air transport. If we were all willing to pay what it really costs to fly then the airlines wouldn’t impose silly charges and regulations when it came to baggage, luggage, instruments, wheelchairs, prams, skis, etc. If they would INSIST (and enforce the policy properly) on less people taking bulky wheely bags and cases into the cabin and restrict it to reasonable hand baggage (do people really need to save that extra 15-20 minutes they have to wait for bags in the arrivals hall?) such as briefcases, shoulder bags, handbags, computer bags etc, then perhaps the amount of space saved would make the airlines more amenable to the necessity of on board violins/trumpets/flutes/recorders/lutes/guitars/cellos etc etc.

    Despite these thoughts, I would still support my colleagues in their right to take valuable and fragile instruments, which are necessary and essential to their profession, on board into the aircraft cabin and at no extra cost for those at able to be put in the overhead compartments or under the seat in front. It is grossly unfair to penalise musicians for carrying the means of their trade with them.

    • Wanderer says:

      “It is grossly unfair to penalise musicians for carrying the means of their trade with them.”

      That’s an unreasonable argument. It is not unfair, why should musicians be treated differently than other trades who of course have to pay for “carrying the means of their trade” if they exceed official cabin baggage size?

      No, we only can beg the airlines to subsidize the arts by allowing instruments of reasonable size free of charge into the cabin and discounted fees for bigger instruments for additional seats, since the arts are subsidized out of many public and private pockets already.

    • Simon Styles says:

      Hear hear Chris,
      well and succinctly put….. It seems an absurdity that ski’s are transported for nothing and that, otherwise, airlines generally pay very little attention to the size of so called carry on baggage….. Even so it has always seemed to me the only way, as I said in a previous post, is to bite the bullet, pay the price, and pay the price of a seat…. Even then I’ve had grief- being a tuba player, it seems, in the opinion of the punters, that I must with a Salvation Army brass band….. Now THAT assumption would never, ever be made of a ‘cellist!!!!

  9. ALICE CHUTE says:

    on a brighter note, if you do have to book a seat for an instrument you will not have to pay the taxes because they only apply to humans.

    • Jonny Byers says:

      Yes Alice that is true. But when booking a cello seat with BA, which has to be done ‘over the phone’, they then charge you an extra admin fee for booking the cello seat ‘over the phone’ and tell you there’s simply no way to avoid it. Nice.

  10. Fretwork came to the decision some years ago that it was cheaper to invest in the very best flight cases, rather than pay for extra seats for our viols – we often have to travel with 4 instruments that cannot travel as hand luggage. You can imagine the saving this is for North American tours, for example, where we might be taking 10 to 15 flights.

    It always rather poignant seeing my viol disappear down the ‘Outsize Baggage’ conveyor belt, but, in the 6 or so years that we’ve been doing this, no instrument has been trashed, or even damaged.

    The cases are fibre glass, or carbon fibre and this is then encased in a thick padded fabric outer case. Expensive but effective!

    • Mike Aldren says:

      Hi Richard, it may protect your instrument from damage but what about lost luggage?

  11. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

    I wrote to BA because we’re flying from Denver to the UK next month and I’d heard about the policy. I wrote and mentioned that the US Congress has passed a law requiring airlines to accept smaller musical instruments, such as violins, onboard. And that the US President signed it. I told them that I expected them to follow the law of the land when we leave Denver, and hoped they would review their policy before we return. I got a standard email saying that the violin won’t be allowed onboard… yada, yada.

    Please, British musicians, work for such a law there too. And we’ll still have to work to hold their feet to the fire.

    Cynthia

  12. My Company books more than £2m worth of flights for classical musicians on BA alone every year. I am pleased to say that although this “rumour” about BA and instruments has been floating around for some time, there is no truth in it and it would be very helpful if those who have recently broadcast it widely, causing widespread and unneccesary concern, were to publish a correction. What appears to have happened is that the BA website section on carriage of instruments was incorrectly updated with new general cabin baggage dimension limits. BA say there never were plans to change their actual policy on instruments and that they have no plans to do so in future. They have emailed us apologising for the concern caused to musicians and for the volume of messages and calls that we recevied as a result and have undertaken to correct the relevant section of the website immediately. There are indeed carriers who are better than others at dealing with musicians – we have to work with most of them at one time or another – we know who they are! In general, we find BA to be both supportive and flexible.

  13. Keep fighting the good fight. Here in the US, earlier this year provisions were tucked into the FAA re-authorization bill that radically changed the flying experiences of US musicians. Airlines are no longer able to set their own rules, with random flight attendants or gate personnel arbitrarily enforcing or not enforcing whatever policy the airlines thought they might have had. Now, standards are set by the FAA, and they are quite generous.

    Section 713 of the bill provides “Requires an air carrier to permit an air passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument on a passenger aircraft without charge if it can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft or under a passenger seat. Sets forth requirements for the carriage of musical instruments as checked baggage or as occupants of a purchased seat.”

    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr658

    I’m sure the AFM is coordinating with sister organizations elsewhere to push for this kind of legislation worldwide. Otherwise, companies can and will do terrible things to musicians, forever.

  14. They’re just looking to rake in more money — they know that a violinist or violist quite literally has NO CHOICE when forced to choose between buying another ticket and seeing their prized instrument smashed into matchsticks with no recourse. It’s blackmail, basically — give us more money, or else we’ll destroy your instrument.

    • monty m cellos, says:

      Why do musicians think they have the right to occupy seats for free?
      I am a proffesional biker, my instrument is my bike, it folds and dismantles into a case much the same cubic capacity as a

      • monty m , says:

        cellos, can I have my bike in the seat next to me for free please
        NO is the answer, so I have to pay hold baggage for it and buy an expensive case???
        well thats the answer to the musicians here to,,,,,

  15. Simon Styles says:

    It is always tough travelling with a large instrument, in my case, the tuba. The only advice I can give is following, based on my experiences recently, when I had to get myself and tuba (in the end 2 tubas, but that is another story…) to the Royal Opera House Covent Garden from Zurich, where I live, and usually perform. Firstly, and above all, don’t try to do it on the cheap, you’ll get no where with budget airlines- always buy a 2nd seat. Two, book personally, by telephone. Three do all your bookings as far ahead as possible and be as flexible as possible with dates. Try and pick a flight not 8 in the morning or at 5 in the evening, mid afternoon flights, within Europe are often under booked . When booking be completely honest as to size and weight, you can still be refused entry, if the instrument you have doesn’t match up with what they have (NB based on your information given at booking…) in their computer. Reconfirm a minimum of 48 hours ahead of every flight.
    I did all of this twice this year, as recently as March, with believe it or not, BA, who, I have to say were incredibly helpful, both with booking, and with priority admission (including paging….) to the aircraft, which is more than could be said of Swiss, my usual airline of choice…….

  16. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

    Hi,

    BA has apparently changed their policy. Or, this is just for US passengers in response to the new law requiring airlines to accept musical instruments. Here’s the link: https://www.britishairways.com/travel/ba6.jsp/bagcabin/public/en_us

    It sounds like I’m not going to have trouble getting my violin into the UK. I do worry about getting it out, however. We bought our ticket before the policy change(s).

    Thank you for keeping us informed.

    Cynthia

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