British Airways announces penalties for cellos

British Airways announces penalties for cellos


norman lebrecht

December 10, 2014

This just in from an international soloist:


ally cello


I am playing at Carnegie Hall in January and trying to book flights this morning. BA offer the best fare to New York, only £352 return from Copenhagen with a change in London.
Of that, most is taxes, the actual ticket price is only 63 pounds. Until now, the extra seat has paid the ticket price and no taxes, therefore the cello should travel for 63 pounds, and myself for 352 pounds.

BA have now CHANGED the rules, so any cello in the cabin has a minimum fee of £300 long haul. So now the cello is paying almost the same as I am, with no meal, no baggage allowance, no airmiles, no online checkin, no upgrades possible etc.
Here’s the official statement BA have sent me:

“From Wednesday 03 September 2014, British Airways is making changes to the way extra seat pricing is charged. We are introducing a minimum charge of £40 on Short Haul and £300 on Long Haul for all extra seat requests.”

Cellists, beware.


  • Robert Holmén says:

    How is that a seat sold was not paying taxes just because a cello was in it?

    • Christopher Jepson says:

      Because the main part of the tax charged is for the use of facilities at the airport, hence the vast difference in price of airport tax. This doesn’t have anything to do with the fuel surcharge. So, paying this fee for a cello is like charging a large suitcase to use the lavatory.

      • Robert Holmén says:

        Well, now you can drag that cello case into the restroom with a clear conscience, knowing that you’ve paid for the right to make it difficult for everyone else to get around in there.

      • Max Grimm says:

        While the main part of the taxes is indeed for the use of facilities or services rendered at airports, the total amount of taxes usually pales in comparison to the hefty “carrier imposed fee” or fuel surcharges. During the last few years, many airlines have started to demand those charges be paid for every ticket that is issued. Considering that a cello usually is issued its own ticket…
        Considering traveling musicians aren’t an airline’s main source of income, our instruments and we seem more of a bother to airlines, who will most likely continue to treat us as such, rather than a “valued customer”.

        • Martin Stanzeleit says:

          Not sure about that. Almost all musicians I know travel a lot, and their audience travels, too. Subtract that from airline income, and I’m sure there would be some difference. However, most musicians can’t spend much money, so that’s why they get treated like beggars. Same for other customers in the low-price range, btw.

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Do celli pay taxes in UK?

  • NYMike says:

    Bad as it is, at least the cello gets on. Some US airlines (contrary to FAA/TSA guidelines) aren’t allowing cellos in the main cabin even though an extra seat has been purchased for them.

  • Will Schofield says:

    Hi Robert Holmen,
    Airport restrooms are quite roomy. The footprint of a cello is pretty much the same as that of your average carry-on… I’m trying to imagine the restroom activity that is being compromised by the presence of a cello. I can’t. Perhaps you could explain – ?
    The point seems clear to me. Airport tax is applied to the individual not to his luggage. Cellists buy seats for their cellos because if they check in the instrument it runs a high risk of being damaged or destroyed by the baggage handlers.
    The BA policy seems opportunistic to me.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      Consider a situation where 9 men are queued up in a restroom to make use of two or three urinals and they’ve all got rolling suitcases with them and none of them are agile, slim types, and numerous others wandering in to assess whether they should wait here or try to make it to the next restroom on the concourse… it starts to get like this:

      The restroom that is nearest a gate with a de-boarding flight is going to be like that quite a few times a day.

  • V.Lind says:

    For the love of God, this issue is one that requires a CONCERTED (no pun intended) effort to get ALL airlines on the same page about transporting instruments. It is too frequent an occurrence that soloists, ensembles or orchestras require the transportation of instruments, some of which are rare and/or priceless. With the fullest respect to Mr. Lebrecht and this blog, which is clearly very influential, it is not enough to get airlines to come together on a policy that will be acceptable to musicians internationally and to airlines’ other priorities. I am not sure what the organisation of such a campaign would entail, but surely someone in the field would have an idea. Get agents, or marketing directors, or some high-profile campaigner who can spearhead an initiative, staff it, organise the approach to IATA or a designated committee thereof. and get some rules in place that will stop these weekly situations.

  • Tom Moore says:

    to be a devil’s advocate: no one buys a seat for their double bass or piano. How do these musicians get by?

    • James L says:

      Doubles basses go in the hold in a flight case, pianists obviously don’t take their instrument with them worldwide. Unless you’re Horowitz.

    • Max Grimm says:

      A very small number of airlines allow you to buy a seat for a double bass. Invariably they demand that this be a first class seat (which is anything but affordable to many). The alternative is, as you mention, not buying a seat for a double bass but checking it instead. Interestingly, most airlines advise customers NOT to check very expensive or high-value items (almost all citing musical instruments as an example), advising the passenger to take them on board as carry-on. Yet, many musical instruments do not fit the requirements of carry-on items and therefore must be checked (makes sense doesn’t it).
      And then you are presented with fantastic phrases which read something like “Examples of high-value, fragile or perishable items for which ‘Airline X’ is not liable or for which ‘Airline X’s’ liability may be limited include, but are not limited to…” which essentially translates into “if we lose/damage/destroy your instrument we will most certainly not be reimbursing you with anything even remotely close to a fraction of what you paid for it, be it a Strad or a contemporary instrument”.
      As far as pianists are concerned, I only know of a handful who travel/would travel with their own instruments. Most will have to deal with what they get where ever they are to perform and if they are lucky may have several good instruments to choose from.

  • H says:

    Build a small coffin for your instrument and label your cello human remains. Perhaps then the handlers would show some respect. Good luck.