Why do airlines keep smashing cellos?

Why do airlines keep smashing cellos?


norman lebrecht

May 07, 2015

This is the second airline assault reported to us in as many weeks. It comes from Nicholas Gold, cellist with the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera orchestra.

smashed cello1

On Wednesday May 6th 2015, I flew into Nashville and this is what I found. I was flying Southwest Airlines. The cello was never handled by TSA… I always gate check the instrument and it’s always fine.

The airline must have had workers that are oblivious to the care of musical instruments and stickers saying “Fragile.” The impact to break a ‪#‎StevensonCase‬ has to be extremely severe.

Musicians: What are your thoughts on how airlines should handle instruments? Should I be held accountable for this catastrophe or should they?

I obviously work as a full-time cellist and this is my primary instrument. Do the baggage workers and Southwest Airlines at BNA not understand that this can be someone’s livelihood?

smashed cello2

h/t: Holly Mulcahy

Oh, and here’s how SouthWest handles your baggage.


  • Paul Mauffray says:

    I believe Southwest Airlines should not only pay for the repairs to the cello, but they should also at least sponsor an entire concert for the orchestra as an apology and gesture of good will.

  • CDH says:

    The answer to your question in the headline is “Because people will keep flying with them.” It would be funny if it was not so serious.

  • Peter Freeman says:

    Plus an internal inquiry and whoever was responsible either sacked or have repair cost deducted from salary

  • Ericv says:

    I’d like to know why these jacka$@es have to be so fornicatingly careless & abusive with baggage!!!!
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen ANY of them handle ANYTHING with the slightest bit of care & respect!
    What is it going to take to remedy this? A class action lawsuit?

  • Cellist says:

    Dear Mr. Gold,

    I’m sorry to hear this, I hope you don’t mind I have an additional question: On the picture I see a broken cello, not a broken case. Where/how did the case break? I find it interesting because my suspicion is that the cello inside the case is more likely to break than the case itself, but I have no proof for this.

  • Brian b says:

    Union protected employees who have no fear of their jobs.

  • David Hill says:

    As I have mentioned before, Norman, although some breakages undoubtedly occur as a result of baggage falling off the conveyor belts onto tarmac, a situation that is bad enough in itself, the nature of the damage seen on many instruments themselves, cellos, theorbos etc. often seems to be of a type that could only occur if the case itself had been opened and the instrument deliberately damaged by hand (or foot). The breakage that is frequently recorded, as here – snapped necks or crushed and split soundboards, occuring when an instrument is already inside a strong, well-padded, protective travel case, strongly suggests that these incidents are likely to be a form of direct protest against what serious music represents to some people.

    It is performed deliberately by a minority of baggage handlers, who see it as a political gesture against those they perceive as “elitists”, symbolised by these trappings of classical music. We need to wake up to the fact that some people really do think this way. It’s tragic that these ‘protests’ happen, but there are a number of people who actively despise what (they think) classical music represents, i.e. ‘rich people’s music’.

    We must recognise this fact, both musicians and airlines, and deal with it as best we can. The handlers know that they can get away with it with little chance of being held to account, because the airlines do nothing to prevent it – they know it’s simpler to just cough up compensation for the few cases where it happens.

    Some people do not simply dislike classical music, they actively despise it, or at least, their idea of what it is, and what/who they believe is associated with it. We are so far removed from this notion, that few even imagine that this opinion exists, but it certainly does, and I am not just inventing this.

    When a music student, back in the 80s, before busking on the London Underground became regulated, the mere act of walking past one of them in the tunnels whilst carrying an ‘elitist’ instrument such as a violin, cello or a theorbo was like running the gauntlet, and would invoke a torrent of the most shocking abuse from some buskers, as other practising musician readers will, I am sure, confirm. “That’s right, you f***ing well ignore me, you toffee-nosed c***”, and so on. This saddened me more than angered.

  • BD1315 says:

    Despite being a popular airline, SW has an interestingly high baggage complaint rate. Did you research that before you flew, or did you just buy the cheapest ticket? You get what you pay for.

    Did you file a complaint with the Dept of Transportation?

  • Nicholas Gold says:

    Thank you for your support. I’m hoping this horrible tragedy will at least alert the airlines to change policy with handling instruments. Not just for celli, but for all musical instruments! This happened while traveling to Nashville: “Music City USA”

    A reply in regards to the cello case: the pictures are posted on FB. The top of the case was cracked in half. The case company was shocked to see this type of force used. Also a steel latch was completely broken in half.