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Violin is banned on yet another airline

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.

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  1. Nick Durrant says:

    My recent experience with Transavia going from Amsterdam to Napoli was quite incredible. Having a home printed boarding pass, no hold luggage, my viola as hand baggage, and a copy of thier regulations stating the allowance of such instrumen
    ts as hand baggage, including the larger than normal hand luggage dimensions, I had trouble even getting past Transavia staff at the check in desks. (once more, I had no need to check in as I had my boarding pass). I was asked if I had paid for the viola. Politely answered no and that the instrument fell within regulations. The rude representative dissagreed, at which point I let her see the regulations. She looked confused, went to talk to other staff. After some time she came back and tried to get me to fit the viola into thier measuring bins for hand baggage. By now I was getting irate and told her that the viola obviously would not fit. More back and forthing until they finally let me go. I had to rush through security and walk to one of the most distant gates, getting on board almost last, with the consiquence that baggage bins had to be re arranged to accomadate the viola, once again with rather unfriendly staff. ……By the way, the Transavia regulations for on board instruments are only available in Dutch. The English ones contradict the Dutch ones. Thank goodness I speak Dutch.

    • Nick Durrant says:

      So , My advice is,… Even when traveling with an airline that specifically allows violins and violas as hand baggage, always have a copy of the regulations for when push comes to shove. I am flying back next week via Venice with Alitalia and KLM. Both allow violins and violas on board, but I will have a copy of both regulations with me. Even then I will be nerveous.
      The only real answer to this problem is a Eurpoean law. Something which we are campaigning for when the Air Passenger Charter comes up for review in Strasborg sometime soon.
      In the meantime , we violinists and viola players must continue to “blow our trumpets” and “bang our drums”. Also for the right for ‘cellists to be allowed to buy a ‘cello seat at the lowest price possible.

  2. José Bergher says:

    Good thing the airport wasn’t the Franz Kafka Internacional Airport.
    So far, there wouldn’t be any problem with the Edgar A. Poe International Airport, which is still being built.

  3. I have flown extensively with my violin all over the world and only recently did I have trouble with taking it on the plane. I was flying from Tonga to Fiji and Air Pacific gave me LOTS of trouble and eventually made me put it under as a check-in even after we argued for awhile. They told me either I had to leave the instrument or check it under. They claimed that it was a full flight and I was only allowed one carry-on. When I boarded the plane there was tons of room for my violin. The thing is that I have flown with them three times and never had any problem.

  4. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    This takes air travel to a whole new dimension. I hear folks are going to be raven about the EA Poe airport.

    I once brought a Guadagnini worth $1M (not mine, sorry to say) on board (CDG-PHL) and asked the the flight attendant to please put it in the closet in Business class. This was on USAirways (known by other less complimentary names on occasion) and there was no problem. I did have documentation with me for customs but was never asked to produce it. I do not play the violin and would have been in great difficulty if they had demanded a concerto or 2.

    I agree that a European regulation on airline baggage would help but Brussels is more worried about cheese. The pressing issue of foie gras may be ducked but one hopes they will goose it along.

  5. Jakob Byager Evenrud says:

    My last experience with norwegianair was positive , just the same as described above. The personel was polite and serviceminded ,both about checking in extra colli and placing the instrument on the shelf above the seats. In my opinion there where no certain discussion around whether instrument cases slightly bigger than the measures given would fit in. As a matter of fact – I even bought my chain smoking sister an extra carton of siggies during the flight! No problem at all – two tumbs up !

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