The violinist Tor Frømyhr was flying from Frankfurt to Abu Dhabi when an official of Etihad Airways refused to let him carry his instrument on board. Here’s his account of the incident:
When my boarding pass was passed through the scanner, an alert came up on the screen that said, “Carrying violin, not approved to travel”. My boarding pass was handed back and I was told to sit at a particular place while lengthy discussions took place among Etihad staff and crew. This lasted an hour. A string quartet of my students carrying violins and violas later passed through the check point without incident or comment.
Before booking with Etihad, I had asked the University to seek an assurance that we would be able to carry the instruments on board, (the same flight on Qantas was $A1700 more expensive.) We received a letter back from the agent to say that it would be OK in a small violin case. I was travelling with the smallest, lightest Bam case on the market. In hindsight, it was probably a mistake to have sought prior approval.
After the plane was fully loaded, I noticed my students had refused to board unless I was with them. I was personally quite prepared to book another flight and to make a big issue about the experience as Etihad has a very strong code-share partnership with Virgin Australia which does in fact now have a generous instrument policy. The issue was resolved when I said I would not travel and they would have to retrieve my luggage and that of my students. The cost to the airline of such a delay would have been thousands of Euros and I think some common sense prevailed.
Clearly the issue of travelling with small musical instruments that do not comply exactly with the square flight baggage measurement guidelines still has a long way to go.
The best part of the story was the loyalty of my students, The Childers Street Quartet, who refused to board without me. Such is the support and loyalty of ANU students toward their faculty. It was indeed a very humbling experience.
My advice to fellow-travellers with violins:
1. Don’t bother seeking prior approval, it counts for nothing and just draws attention, this time with a note alert in the system.
2. Be prepared to argue or wait till the last minute then stress the need to have your luggage removed while hinting at the cost of such action.