An international airline discriminates against violas

In an unusually lucid and utterly unequivocal statement of its current musical instruments policy, Air Canada declares that it will accept violas only as checked baggage – that is, shoved in the hold.

Violins ‘may be accepted (either) as carry-on or checked baggage’ depending on various circumstaces, such as the capacity of the plane or the mood of the clerk at the check-in desk. Equally, there is no guarantee that you can buy an extra seat for an instrument.

Read the bloody rules here and weep. Be warned. Keep for reference.

music airport 2

In general, other airlines that accept violins will also admit violas.

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  • Direct quotes include,

    “A mute (used for most brass instruments such as trumpets, French horns, trombones, violins) may be accepted as carry-on or checked baggage.”

    Violins are now brass instruments and they are extremely well informed on the variety of banjos,

    “All types of banjos (i.e. cello, bass, bluegrass, electric, fretless, plectrum long neck and tenor) can be accepted as carry-on or checked baggage.”

    Luckily there is no mention of Baroque instruments in this list…..better check the hazardous materials section to be sure.

    • In what world is a viola bigger than a banjo??

      In Canada.

      Perhaps they’re thinking of viola da gamba.

      I’ll start the ball rolling with a hurdy gurdy.

      I’ll see your hurdy-gurdy, and raise you a baryton.

  • When I was 16 I had the honour of going on tour across Canada with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada as principal violist. The tour ended in Toronto and I had to fly alone back home to Saskatoon on Air Canada. As soon as I arrived at check-in I started getting hassled about my viola and by the time it came to board and I got hassled again by the gate agent I had lost it. I tried to reason with her, telling her to check the airline’s policy about allowable oversized carry-one (her main claim was that it was oversized and wasn’t going to fit in the overhead compartment). I tried to assure her that I fly regularly with it and it would definitely fit. She then got really snippy with me and said something along the lines of “well if you know so much about how everything works how come you don’t work for the airline”. I was alone, exhausted, and just wanted to go home. I’m normally a pretty together person but this was just too much for me and I broke down in tears. Miraculously, I was suddenly allowed to board with my viola!!!

    This was not the only time I’d been hassled or had to argue my viola on an Air Canada flight, but it was definitely my worst experience. I used to always get hassled at check-in in Saskatoon, so my mom and I devised a system where she would wait around the corner with my viola while I checked in. Once while travelling with the Saskatoon Youth Orchestra they started hassling us about our instruments in the Montreal airport until our conductor (aka a responsible looking adult) stepped in. After a while I just stopped flying AC and switched to WestJet, where I’ve only had good experiences (and even been allowed to pre-board with my viola a few times!).

  • If you carry on your viola, just tell them it’s a violin. What are the odds that they’ll know the difference?

    • I like your thinking on that! And I doubt the airline’s goons would know a viola from a Strohviol.

      But most savvy players who travel frequently carry documentation for their instrument with them (proof of ownership, details of manufacture, insurance valuation, etc). The game would soon be up when the word “viola” appears.

      • Not necessarily. I once wrote an article about a violist and to my horror when I saw the advance copy the Arts Editor of a major daily newspaper had gone through it and changed the reference IN EVERY INSTANCE to violinist. When I tried to explain to him the enormity of his interference, he was first unbelieving, second, oblivious and third, dismissive. So I wouldn’t count on a busy gate agent making the difference in a read through documents.

  • It makes no sense at all.

    Perhaps we should swamp them with specific enquiries about more obscure instruments.

    I’ll start the ball rolling with a hurdy gurdy.

  • Why not just avoid using Air Canada full stop? After the way they treated Itzhak Perlman a few months ago and now this rubbish, why should they benefit financially from musicians or their sponsors paying Air Canada ridiculous prices and fees for a lousy service? There are plenty of other airlines going to and across Canada and several of them much less expensive. Use these instead and spread the message, wide, clear and loud about how bad Air Canada have become. Perhaps we should even set it to music.

  • My favourite new Air Canada guideline is the one permitting bassoons aboard, as long as the instrument “folds.” I appreciate their efforts to create a clear policy, but their efforts seem to have fallen somewhat short…

  • I like how they tried to show that they did their instrument research, but failed to mention a very common type of saxophone in their rule, the soprano (amongst other issues). This policy shows once again that airlines have no idea what there are doing when it comes to musicians and our property. If my instrument is smaller than one of those wheely carry on bags, then it should be allowed on. Have you seen how insanely oversized some of those roller board cases are and how they aren’t even questioned?!

  • I have been travelling with AC for decades and never had a problem with my viola as carry-on. Then again, I have always referred to it as my violin, and just as another commenter here noted, nobody has ever been able to tell the difference.

    • I wasn’t allowed to carry on my guitar, but a sympathetic agent said she would stow it with the cabin crew’s belongings, and as soon as the flight was down a stewardess brought it right to me. But those were the days of VERY agreeable, what-can-we-do-to-make-your-trip-more- pleasant, service on AC. Gone, with so much else, since 9/11.

  • I have rarely been hassled, but a couple of years ago, when boarding a smaller plane, they questioned about the viola. I assured them it would fit and marched on, promptly putting it into the overhead bin. I have an advantage though as my husband is an AC frequent flyer and gets early boarding privileges. I always call it a violin and would be prepared to refuse to fly if they made me check it. However, I’ve recently acquired a viola d’amore and would like to take it to Vancouver with me to meet with a friend there who plays the instrument. I worry about being hassled about it.

  • “oversized instruments measuring more than 115in/292cm (e.g. guitars, tubas, double basses)” – that is one hell of a guitar…

  • This comment section is mostly just a chance for people to demonstrate that they know the names of some obscure instruments.

    • What on earth are you talking about?

      (Going back to practicing sarrusophone while looking at a photo of a Lupophone….)

  • Thanks for the feedback. We are aware of inconsistencies with the current viola baggage policy which has not changed in some time. We are making changes and in the coming days it will be aligned with the policies for violins and guitars; our website will be updated when this is completed.

  • We appreciate the feedback and are aware of inconsistencies with the current viola baggage policy that hasn’t been updated in some time. We are making changes in the coming days to be in line with the policies for violins and guitars; our website will be updated when completed.

  • For convenience, and lack of hassle, just using another airline is all fine and good, but it does not address the issue. This is no different than any other ism. It is discriminatory. Plain and simply. Now, we can say it’s all based on the ignorance and lack of research of the policy makers, but that doesn’t change a thing when one is at the airport trying to get onto a plane for that audition, gig, festival, competition or any appearance-with-viola. Sure, the boarding people are just doing their jobs, on limited information, and it is a complicated job. But this is clearly wrong.

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