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Flight horror: Airline impedes musician’s mercy mission to dying kids in Africa

We expect airlines to be heartless. They’re a business, not a charity. But this display from Swiss Airlines goes beyond the normal bounds of hard-headedness.
Violinist Joanna Watts is giving three weeks of her life to help children with terminal cancer. Swiss Airlines is the best available route to her destination. But they are making her trip impossible with outrageous last-minute ransom demands. Here’s what we’re told by Joanna’s partner, Chris Fish.
Dear Norman, my partner Joanna Watts is a professional violinist based in London. This year she has organised, through the charity Children in Crossfire, to travel alone to Dar Es Salaam to give music and art workshops for terminally ill children.
joanna watts
Many of Jo’s colleagues from English National Opera and the BBC concert orchestra among others have donated small percussion instruments, toys and facepaints etc. Jo has two cases full of these donations and letters of verification from the charity. Swiss International airlines, being the only carrier to allow two cases to Dar, became the obvious choice for Jo despite the convoluted 15 hour trip! However, when we approached Swiss re excess baggage they told Jo it would amount to £115 per bag. We asked for leniency due to the cause but they said they couldn’t help.
They have contacted us today to explain that they miscalculated. The excess would actually be nearly £500 for the two cases. We again asked if they could help as this is a once in a lifetime trip for Jo which has already cost her dearly, and that the excess alone is her budget for the three  week stay working with the nurses and children.
swiss air
They again were immovable. I tried to contact them by email, but to no avail. Who, we wonder, can we approach for help?  We are NOT asking for financial donations just a kind ear from Swiss. Best Chris Fish
Right. So here’s what you can do:
1 If you’re in the air travel business, pester Swiss or offer Joanna a better flight package.
2 If you’re in Swiss or travel media, report the hell out of this story. You can reach Chris and Joanna on Facebook. Bombard the Swiss PRs.
3 If you’re a regular flier, tell Swiss you won’t use them again until they soften up.
Here’s why:
children in crossfire
UPDATE…. UPDATE….. UPDATE….. Now click here for the happy landing.
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  1. I expect if you contact only the actual staff then “rules is rules” is the answer sadly as no mere worker has the ability to make any judgement call.

    I would recommend contacting one of these people to explain:

    We are sternly warned that the email address given is for journalists only, so you better get in touch Norman!

  2. I can’t thank you enough for this Norman. I leave on Monday 4th. Follow my blog and see exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing, and how much the children will enjoy all the donated equipment that I will get there-by hook or by crook!

  3. Oh Jo, I’m so sorry. Will share as much as possible. Fingers crossed something gets sorted out. The boys loved their balloons, btw. thank you! xx

  4. It appears from Ms. Watt’s blog that she received enough in donations to cover the excessive luggage fee.
    More power to her and her cause.

  5. Hi Ed, that was before they ‘recalculated’ and the new figure was more than double! Thankyou for your in put though. Very helpful!

  6. Chris Fish says:

    Hi ed. this is not about money. Swiss have refused so far to show any leniency. Jo received a small amount of gratefully received monetary donations and we would have paid the initial excess of £230. Due to their own miscalculation they informed us it was actually nearer £500. We don’t want money!! We want the airline to show a more human face to musicians travelling to work with underprivileged communities. Best chris

  7. Emma Sallows says:

    Good luck to you Jo, so commendable and it should be rememberred that you are a freelance worker too, so zero wages for you for those 3 weeks. You’re own children will miss you heaps but they are already so proud of their mummy and you have begun to teach them the importance of caring for others and how not all children are as lucky as they are – invaluable lessons which were highlighted when they have handed over their own toys for you to take, written letters and drawn pictures for the children.
    The donations have been fantastic both in the items received and monetry wise. However Ed, any money would have been used whilst there in various forms – perhaps even a treat for the nurses too who work tirelessly with these terminally ill children, I for one would be so upset if it had to be used to line an already highly profitable airline’s pocket……

    Again good luck sis, I’ll be with you next time

  8. Sally Zehnter says:

    You go Jo!!! I’m sure this story will get legs enough to help swissair see the reputation they will get. I understand the initial charge, but not the ridiculous recalculation. Good look hon. Will be following you. xxx

  9. Marcus Davison says:

    Perhaps the senior management could profitably [sic] reflect on the underlying reasons why their Swiss airlines keep going bust.

  10. perhaps you could contact Swiss Air’s promotion dept. They could pay for the excess baggage and use your trip in a promotional way…if you would allow it……ie:… Swiss Air is helping terminally ill kids etc

  11. Violachick says:

    It’s quite often useful to write to airlines on their Facebook pages or via Twitter – many friends of mine have had to resort to that to get compensation claims sorted that have been otherwise ignored through the normal channels. It seems to be the case that public humiliation is the quickest way to get a result!

  12. Anne Reesor says:

    I see that people have donated the needed extra funds to cover Swiss Airline’s cost of transporting the instruments. These funds should belong to the mission. Surely, after agreeing to carry these cases at one rate, then changing the rate, the airline owes Jo and her project that difference, plus an equivalent amount in good will.
    Jo, congratulations on such a wonderful mission!

  13. Chris Fish says:

    Thanks to Norman and many of our friends, Swiss are in communication with JO and being very helpful. Many thanks Norman. Best chris

  14. Teresa Reynolds says:

    So sorry to hear about this – We had a similar situation a few years ago with Emirates on a voluntary mission to South Africa to help build an extension to an AIDS orphan feeding centre – we got permission for excess baggage free of charge on both journies – out and back – to be able to take tools – power tools and simple things like hammers and saws etc – No problem going out but a HUGE problem coming home when they refused to honour the previous agreement – I had already given a lot of my clothes away to women from from the township we were woking in but we still needed to get the tools home – Emirates would not budge at all and then Security at Jo Burg Airport got heavy……. insisting we throw everything over our weight allowance into the bin NOW or be arrested for causing a disturbance at checkin – so we put most of the remaining clothes in the bin (I would rather have left them at the township) and then we had to throw away lots of old but sentimental tools – my fiancee’s late father’s woodworking tools. Heartbreaking considering we had also both given up 3 weeks annual holiday and paid for our own flights, car hire & accomodation and also raised money for the construction costs involved. There needs to be an international agreement from all Airlines relating to Air Freight & Baggage relating to voluntary & aid work.

    • Chris Fish,

      I am pleased you are eventually getting somewhere with all this. I sincerely hope it works out. Good luck!


      I am shocked at reading your account, even though I have also been at the receiving end of Emirates. I will never fly with them ever again. I have read other stories elsewhere of people writing in and getting no response whatsoever from them. Disgusting way to treat people.

      As for the tools lost. That hurt tremendously & I can imagine how you felt. You ought to submit the story to the press. More and more people are being caught out like this with the likes of Emirates.

  15. joe laurent says:

    Hey Jo
    Sadly Easyjet don’t fly where you need to go otherwise I might have been able to help. I have forwarded your story to a good friend of mine who’s very high up in BA. I can’t promise anything but I thought it worth a try. I’ll let you know if I hear anything. X

  16. Words cannot describe how I am feeling at this minute. Felix Rodel, the UK Director of Swiss Air called me and told me that not only are they going to charge me only £115 in total for the excess, but I can now take 3 suitcases, not just the 2! I ofcourse burst into tears and have only just stopped crying. What a triumph! I mean really a huge triumph. I have the powers of the people to thank. I can now take even more instruments and goodies for the children. I am ecstatic! Thank you Norman for all your support!
    Power to the people I say!

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