‘British Airways broke my sitar’

‘British Airways broke my sitar’


norman lebrecht

October 11, 2013

The fabulous pipa player Wu Man won worldwide attention when a US Airways attendant broke her instrument while stowing it for takeoff on an internal flight to New Haven, Connecticut.



US Airways have now made amends and paid for Wu Man to have new instrument built in China. She is one of few to win this kind of dispute.

But she’s taking up the cause for others – an Indian sitar player, for instance, who had his instrument broken on a British Airways flight and is still fighting for compensation. “He’s angry,” she says. “It’s the same story again and again and again for musicians these days.”

Read more here.




(If you know the sitar player, please ask him to contact Slipped Disc.)

Wu Man will play her new pipa for the first time tonight.


wu man pipa


  • Donald Wright says:

    This latest airborne misadventure calls to mind the experience of Krystian Zimerman–U.S. Customs agents destroyed his Steinway shortly after 9/11, claiming that the glue smelled funny. (Does anyone know whether he was ever compensated?) The experience with one’s instrument is so personal that destroying it is tantamount to killing someone’s beloved pet. Good God–what a nation of barbarians we are sometimes!

  • R. James Tobin says:

    Do airline employees or customs agents have any idea even monetarily how valuable professionals’ musical instruments are? Perhaps musicians should have their instruments appraised and carry documents attesting to that. Then there might be better consideration. As for stowing instruments, I always assumed that purchase of an extra seat was a given for larger instruments particularly.

  • I think it often comes down to the personnel on a given flight — and what kind of day they are having. E.g., last fall I nervously boarded a transatlantic British Airways flight with a baroque guitar; the purser — a woman in her 50s, I would say — took one look at it, smiled and said, “Oh, let me find a better spot for that!” and secured it in the most desirable place (Business Class cubbyhole for suits). PHEW! As far as Air Canada goes: I have had horrible and wonderful experiences on the same “backwater” route: one co-pilot who seemed to take malicious pleasure in forcing me to check a violin when there was clearly room for it in the cabin; another time a different co-pilot insisted on carefully stowing an EMPTY violin case in the cabin, even after I assured him that it was empty and could go in the hold. He said, “Oh, but the violin is my favourite instrument” and clearly wanted to show his respect!

    After the unpleasant experience with Air Canada I wrote to its President offering to write an entertaining and informative training video for personnel on musical instruments that would show employees what goes into their making, and educate them on how to handle them, etc. But of course I only got an irritating form reply from a flunkey. Another sign of a poorly run corporation, though of course I’m sure Air Canada is flooded with complaints about many, many things and has trouble keeping up.

  • This reads a bit like ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’.