Meet the airline that refused to fly a youth orchestra

Meet the airline that refused to fly a youth orchestra


norman lebrecht

December 07, 2014

singapore airlines

These are some of the friendly folk at Singapore Airlines in Hong Kong, who refused to board the LGT Young Soloists with their instruments. Happily, after a four-hour airport standoff, Lufthansa took pity and flew the orchestra home. If you’re a travelling musician, beware the Singapore treatment. And whatever happens, don’t expect a Singapology.


  • Patrick says:

    Last year i flew with our orchesra to Puerto Rico. After much research, including rejecting airlines with lower rates or better schedules, we chose an airline having overhead bins large enough for violins and violas. By the way, it’s best to just not mention the term “viola” – say violin. Our reception from the airline ranged from “please allow the orchestra musicians to board first so they can use the bins” to general annoyance from staff and crew. The key is to have a contact at the gate in advance. It is possible but takes some work.

  • Blobfish says:

    The LSO used Singapore Airlines for their recent tour with Gergiev. I think this is more a problem with the local staff and inconsistent training/procedures.

  • Lemonade says:

    I read thru the article and found it rather biased in some aspects. No offence to the author but I think since you arrived in HK with SQ, you must have your cellos and violins with you guys on the way in. The issue here is how was that arranged? Did you arrange the same allowances on the way back to Zurich via SG?

    Secondly is the reference to local staff laughing at you guys. I think you should provide video proof if u want to say they were gloating over your situation. No offence again but i do take your words with a pinch of salt. I gather you could not understand their local language am i correct?

    Lastly, if you truly understood how SQ or big corporations worked then you would not likely (not totally) have encountered the above. Prior arrangements always have the effect to override to local reps who have limited knowledge of your situation and limited authority to assist you.

    Your standoff could have been avoided. To slime SQ after their Star Alliance flew you instead perhaps was your way of venting. But did you take a good look holistically before you warn others ? Or isit your own needs are prioritised instead?

    • Nick says:

      Your comments also make a bucketful of assumptions. Do you seriously think that the management of any orchestra of whatever size would take the trouble to ensure arrangements had been made with an airline for the outward journey – but NOT not for the return? That is just plain ridiculous!

      Similarly, why on earth should any passenger know how “big corporations work”? Your assumption is that if this orchestra had known such irrelevant information, the members would have waltzed on the aircraft without any problem!

      And I suppose when anyone laughs at you, you just happen to have your vdo camera at the ready! These young people were trying to board a plane, for goodness sake!

      The letter in no way “slimes” Singapore Airlines (what a strange expression)! It provides a series of facts which no doubt it will corroborate with the airline. You also gather they could not understand the local language. Well that shows how often you fly through major international airports in Asia, Lemonade. At HKIA as at Singapore’s Changi, the staff of all major airlines speak fluent English. But you assume they must have been trying to communicate in Cantonese!

  • ah nuo says:

    There is a difference between the ground staff and air crew. Either way, as a passenger, I would not like the surprise of boarding an aircraft and realize the overhead bins are full (regardless of what reasons) and have to leave my belonging halfway down the plane. Therefore, I actually appreciate that the ground staff spared a thought for other passengers with basic needs.

    Perhaps the management of the incident could be improved, but with such short descriptions in the passage, it is difficult to judge with fairness to all parties.

    • Sardis says:

      It seems you failed to read the previous article which stated that the orchestra had paid for extra seats for their instruments. I also question your rather selfish attitude – overhead bins are for the use of all passengers and not just those you consider ‘suitable’. Having flown Singapore several times I long since tired of their attitudes and include them on my list of airlines that I would avoid. The issue is clearly the ignorance and attitude of the staff employed by Singapore Airlines.

  • Sara Nathan says:

    I find the best way when travelling with a youth string orchestra, is to check compulsively with the travel agent beforehand, to start with the oversize luggage people (once the double basses are checked, everyone has skin in them not having to be unloaded) then the cellos and their seats. Then violins/violas – and no I don’t distinguish between them.
    Helps to have someone who understands the language – couple of dicey moments with Turkish airlines in October but combination of assertive, very English voice (mine) and charming young Turkish girls seemed to sort it.
    But I worry every time: last disaster was Swiss (you would think they would know better) resolved by flying uninsurable cello in seat – they had refused to allow any – and others in hold. Never had a violin problem in the end.

  • Richard Savage says:

    We find Singapore Airlines to be well disposed towards musicians and instruments so long as the necessary arrangements are agreed with them in advance. The Melbourne Symphony travelled with them to Europe and back this past summer. Problems of various kinds crop up at Hong Kong airport more often than they should, not only with various airline check-ins but also at security. I would suggest that this is where complaints should be directed.

  • Scott Fields says:

    To “Lemonade,” above. Flying in one direction on a given airline with carried-on musician instruments has little relationship on whether the same instruments will be allowed on the return. I frequently fly in one direction trouble free and then have to fight my way on when returning home. The argument that “I carried this on your airline to get here” isn’t effective.

    • Nick says:

      It may not be effective but it is certainly an excellent illustration of an airline whose left hand has little clue what its right is doing. SIA usually has 7 daily flights to and from Hong Kong. So it has its own management team based there. It does not depend on a third party.

      Sorry Sara Nathan, but knowledge of the language is no issue at Hong Kong International airport. The staff of all major airlines there speak fluent English. I cannot believe that this is not also the case with at least one staff member of the orchestra.

      And as for Ah Nuo’s comments, SIA operates only wide-bodied aircraft on the Hong Kong route, mostly 777s with tons of overhead bin space. Let’s also remember that this was not a full orchestra with a large number of instruments. According to the letter from the manager published here in an earlier thread, there were just 10 instruments involved including more than one Strad on loan to the orchestra.

      Sorry also to Richard Savage. The problem seemed not to lie with the airport security staff at HKG whom I have always found extremely professional. The manager herself spoke of discussions with the flight’s crew – “The pilot refused to come out and talk to us. The crew was laughing at us . . . ” They were very clearly at the gate by that stage.

      • MZ says:

        Airport security staff, airport ground staff, and cabin crew. It seems that most of the people likes to group these 3 groups of people together.

        If it is the cabin crew inside the plane that stops them for boarding, then yes those are SIA staff. However, if you are referring to the people doing the checking-in of luggage, and checking and scanning the boarding pass at the gates at HK, then most likely They are the staff under JASL (Jardine Airport Services Ltd.).

        Anyway, this article has nothing to do with airport security staff in HKIA.

  • Charlotte Clark says:

    Continental Airlines would have never done that. They treat us like royalty.