Haughty airline humiliates youth orchestra

Haughty airline humiliates youth orchestra


norman lebrecht

December 06, 2014

Alexander Gilman, artistic director of Swiss-based LGT Young Soloists tells us his orchestra is stranded in Hong Kong, refused boarding by a customer-unfriendly airline.


singapore air

Hi Norman,

The LGT Young Soloists, a youth orchestra with young musicians had a tournee of 5 concerts in Asia. We arrived with Singapore Airlines to Hong Kong and were supposed to fly out today from Hong Kong back via Singapore to Zurich. They did not let us on the plane because they wanted us to check our instruments even though the cellos had extra seats booked by us. They wanted to force us to check violins with the suitcases.

I told them we had Stradivaris and extremely expensive violins. Their answer was they don’t care, it is our policy. We are stuck here in the evening now with young kids and don’t know what to do.

The pilot refused to come out and talk to us. The crew was laughing at us and telling us we can only come in if we check in 8 violins and 2 violas. The contrabass were already checked in and the two cellos had seats booked.

They did not let us on board only because of violins and violas, even though we told them that we are speaking about Millions of Euros that will be destroyed. Their answer was they don’t care and that this is Singapore Airlines Policy.

Additionally, they checked in the two cellos before and separated the minor kids who own them for two hours from us. They did not let the two girls join us for two hours. These two girls did not know what happened for two hours until the crew decided to let them and the luggage out. The two girls were panicking and scared, sitting outside in the airport not knowing what happened until we found them.

Now they are taking pictures of our instruments to send it to Lufthansa to check with them if the size is ok to be checked in.

And the outcome? Click here.


  • Anon says:

    Outrageous. I hope that Mr. Gilman continues posting about this. We would like to know the outcome. Simply inexcusable when young children are involved like this.

  • Emil Chudnovsky says:

    Mr. Gilman, here’s the reaction from Igor Yuzefovich, the new concertmaster of the Singapore Symphony:
    It can’t be Singapore Airlines policy, as I personally have flown with my violin on Singapore Airlines with no problems. The only caveat is that the ticket agent must give you a “carry-on” permit for the instrument – something that is done as a routine. Singapore Symphony Orchestra also just flew Singapore Airlines for our BBC Proms concert this past September, with many of our members hand carrying our instruments, again with no issues. I would urge the managers of the orchestra to get in touch with Singapore Airlines corporate office and sort this mess out. Best of luck!

    • Andres says:

      i just had the same issue out of Hong Kong last week, going to Dubai. The very rude and insolent ticket agent from Emirates Airline insisted I check my 1719 Guarnerius. Only after a lengthy argument and speaking to her supervisor was she informed that it was perfectly allowable. Why are these people not trained and remain ignorant of a rampant issue?

  • Wilson Goh says:

    Mr Alexander Gilman,

    We have travelled several times with children orchestra with their instruments on Singapore Airlines without any problems. In line with maestro Yuzefovich’s comments, all you need to do is to have your ticketing agent sort it out while booking the tickets.
    Our experience has been that Singaore Airlines has always been much more accommodating to children. So in your case, I doubt that the staff were particularly being difficult to the children, let alone laughing at them.
    Please maintain your composure and we are sure Singapore Airlines will sort things out for you and the children. It never helps to lose your cool, especially in front of the already traumatized children.

    • alengyel@yahoo.com says:

      Do you work for SIA? If not, how can you defend them? Why are you calling Mr. Gilman a liar, doubting what he describes exactly happened? “Maintain your composure” and “it never helps to loose your cool” is your haughty advice to someone who paid for these services, booked seats for the cellos, and had to go through this ordeal? And the children had to go through their infinitely worse experience? You should be ashamed of yourself for your remark. All the best to Mr. Gilmen, I hope he sues this disgusting airline for emotional trauma and damages.

    • Anna says:

      It’s quite clear that it wasn’t Mr. Gilman who “traumatized” the children. I don’t know if you’re a shill for the airline, but your “doubt” about his account is meaningless if you were not there.

  • Alison says:

    Emil Chudnovsky, can Igor Yuzefovitch have the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s manager intervene, and talk ASAP with whoever is in charge of Singapore Airlines? They need help from someone who knows the right people to speak with. And it is simply unconscionable that they isolated two foreign children from their group.

  • TB says:

    Here is the Singapore Airlines’ Policy on their site! I can’t believe the HK branch has done this to these young musicians and this orchestra! I hope they rectify this with a full apology ASAP!!!


    Oversized Musical Instruments
    oversize instruments

    An oversized musical instrument (eg. cello, guitars, etc) can only be carried onboard if you are travelling in Economy Class and if you purchase an extra seat to accommodate it. The musical instrument will be placed on the floor and properly secured by seat belts to the seat frame. Suites, First and Business Class seats do not have accessible seat frames to secure musical instruments on.

    The maximum weight and dimension allowable is:

    Weight: 75 kg
    Height: 61″
    Width: 19″ (based on armrest to armrest seat width)

    A Double Bass is not allowed onboard as it exceeds the height limit set above.
    Although guitars are normally less than 7 kg (that is within the cabin weight allowance), it may be considered as oversized due to its (dimensions) ; and may not be allowed in the cabin if no extra seat(s)have been purchased for it. If you do not plan to purchase an extra seat, your guitar should be packed in a suitable hard case and checked in to avoid damage.

  • leslie tan says:

    I agree with igor and am quite sure it’s not singapore airlines policy. I travel with my quartet quite often on singapore airlines and we don’t have a problem with that airline. We have never even needed a “carry-on” permit.

    But best always to get the travel agents inform the airlines before travel I guess. Good luck!

  • Nick says:

    Since the airline permitted them to take the instruments on board in Singapore for the flight to Hong Kong, this seems to be a case of staff in Hong Kong not knowing the regulations, forgetting the regulations, not having been properly briefed in advance – or just being downright bloody-minded. Given the comments by the concertmaster of the Singapore Symphony, the last would seem the most plausible.

    Whatever the reason, the Singapore Airlines staff’s treatment of the youngsters as described above is outrageous. This airline prides itself on its position of being consistently voted one of the best in the world. I hope this debacle makes it into the media worldwide and SIA is not only forced to apologise but refund all additional costs incurred by the orchestra. Since their concert in Hong Kong was in aid of a charity providing medical services for orphans in China, I trust the utmost pressure will also be put on SIA’s corporate headquarters to make a donation both to the orchestra and to the medical charity.

  • David Ashbridge says:

    Here is the webpage for complaints to Singapore Airlines. Can I ask everyone to send a complaint into them with the hope that something can be done quickly to sort this mess out.


    • bratschegirl says:

      Done. Thank you for providing the link. Shame on Singapore Airlines.

      I am connected with a youth orchestra that tours internationally every other year. We have had many difficulties involving instruments, including severe damage to those traveling as checked luggage, but nothing rising to this level. We’ll make sure we never fly Singapore, and have told them so.

  • Conrad van Alphen says:

    Norman Lebrecht what a disturbing post! Glad to hear Lufthansa is taking the group home. Is there any official airline document which could help in such cases? With Sinfonia Rotterdam tours to South America coming up soon …..

    • Wilson Goh says:

      Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa are alliance airlines under Star Alliance. So in this case, Singapore Airlines had asked Lufthansa to help resolve the situation by putting the orchestra on the next available flight out. Let’s not get the wrong impression that Lufthansa saved the day while Singapore Airlines refused to help. All resolutions were generated from Singapore Airlines.
      Pilot had to decide to take off without Mr Gilman’s orchestra in order not to delay the flight for the other passengers.
      Was told that police was called in to help resolve the tension which was threatening to delay the flight.
      A gentle reminder that rational and gentlemanly behavior can help to efficiently overcome such situations.

      • Nick says:

        “A gentle reminder that rational and gentlemanly behavior can help to efficiently overcome such situations.”

        I totally agree. But would you describe the dreadful attitude and actions of Singapore Airlines in this case as “rational and gentlemanly”? Sorry, the opposite was the case! You seem to forget that their actions caused the problems in the first place! Clearly the captain was also as much at fault as the ground staff.

        I am writing now to SIA to express now my disgust.

      • Anon says:

        Dear Mr. Goh,

        You seem to be very defensive of actions taken by Singapore Airlines, and very quick to jump to conclusions as to how Mr. Gilman or any of the other persons involved behaved. If you are someone who recently traveled with a youth orchestra via this airline, I am not sure if you are in a position to know so many details as to what the pilot did, or why, or whether the police was called. Frankly, whatever their “behaviour” was, it was in reaction to Singapore Airlines’ personel creating a situation, which apparently is not even covered by their policy, if you yourself conceed that other musicians have successfully boarded SA flights with their violins/violas in hand. As for lessons on “gentlemanly behaviour”, I assure you, attempting to downplay help received from Lufthansa airlines, and stretch it to be given to Singapore airlines, is certainly NOT the high road to take.

        Whatever your relationship with Singapore airlines, let’s stick to the facts – these musicians were refused boarding, unless they checked their priceless instruments, something that they rightfully refused (many of them probably had these instruments on loan from instrument banks, and were personally responsible for them!), on the pretext that it was “Singapore Airlines policy”, something that appears to be untrue. If true – the airline deserves to lose all business from traveling artists, if untrue – they need to publicly apologize to Mr. Gilman and LGT Soloists, refund the cost of the tickets, and educate their staff to make sure this never happens again – to the same group, or any other musicians/artists.

  • John Harding says:

    Had exactly the same experience with Singapore Airlines out of HK a couple of years ago. Eventually had to go home and rebook on Cathay Pacific the next day–absolute bloody nuisance and not a word in return from Singapore–perhaps the tone of my hastily typed email was too vituperous!

  • V.Lind says:

    staff in Hong Kong … just being downright bloody-minded…

    I used to live there. Bells rang symphonically when I read that phrase. My experience of Singapore Airlines has been excellent. My experience of pleasant, helpful and efficient service in Hong Kong was isolated.

    • Nick says:

      I also lived there for many years. I flew SIA many times and agree their service was generally very good. But then I was not travelling with a violin or viola. Were you?

      As the headline states, though, I did find their management “haughty” and totally unresponsive the couple of times I sent in a complaint. The airline is well-known for this. So please keep up the pressure on SIA with comments through the posted website, tweets etc. I have. Better still, get this story into the international media.

  • Ray Richardson says:

    Have sent complaints form. To help others to do so, here’s the direct link to the appropriate form.


  • David says:

    Tweet this article at them and demand a response from their social media team!

  • Ricardo says:

    Being a travelling musician is becoming more and more intolerable. It feels as if we are being punished for playing music. I’d love to travel more and play but I shudder every time I have to fly abroad with my violin. I’ve had it up to here —> x with the arrogance and ignorance of airport staff regarding musical instruments. We’ll have to all stay put at home, and if people abroad want to listen to our music, they can always buy our CDs, or steal them, or watch us fopr a few seconds at a time on YouTube. Blegh!!!!

  • Jun says:

    One must distinguish between the airlines and the ground staff which I believe is the Hong Kong airport check in staff that may be rather inflexible. Just like my experience with the heathrow immigration officers manning the priority lanes that were extremely rude to business and first class passengers, but the carrier airline staff is hapless about the airport ground staff when I approached them to complain that was no the way to treat their full fee paying passengers..

    • Nick says:

      Almost impossible it was the fault of the HK airport check-in staff. At HKIA, there is no carpeting in the large check-in area, at the security check area or the Immigration check. If I recall correctly, carpeting only starts once you go downstairs to the departures areas near gates and at the arrivals level. If you check the photo in the later post on this subject, the floor is clearly carpeted. If that photo was indeed taken on departure, then not only must the orchestra have already been checked in along with their instruments, they will have got through the cabin bag size screening process which happens prior to the security check.

  • KS Toh says:

    Something did go wrong and should be investigated. But to pin the blame entirely on SIA and its crew at this stage when the reason the instruments were denied boarding is completely unjustified.

    “The pilot refused to talk to us and the crew was laughing at us and telling us we can come in if we check in 8 violins …” Since when did pilots and crew do the checking in of passengers? And the picture of the alleged rude crew were clearly of HKIA ground staff and not from SIA.

    An update on the official explanation given by SIA if any would be good.

  • Bianca says:

    Did you know that the (SQ) Staff which refused to check them in, tried to make Lufthansa to refuse Gilman and his ensemble members? I believe this is not entirely SQ’s fault, but more likely the HKIA staffs’. However, I think your comment and opinion for defending the staff (or SQ?) was somewhat too much.