The airline that charges string players extra when they check in

The airline that charges string players extra when they check in


norman lebrecht

July 21, 2015

We’ve had complaints before about AirBaltic. Sarah Niblack got hit by them today:

I asked expressly in Paris because they have a sketchy “violin policy” on their website – and they said it would be no problem. This morning in the airport in Tallin, Estonia, they said that not only was my viola not included but it counted as extra hand luggage and therefore cost 60€ extra at the airport – or I could check it for 40€.

AirBaltic doesn’t accept American cards so it was impossible to pay online. The ticket ended up costing me 140€ more than originally.

AirBaltic – your endless appetite for marginal revenue is appalling. AirFrance – maybe it would be in your interest to pick a new partner in Estonia.

sarah niblack



  • Max Grimm says:

    Unfortunately, AirBaltic is like most, if not almost all airlines today. One is allowed a small personal item and one piece of hand baggage that must conform to stringent dimensional and weight limitations and if it doesn’t or one has an additional item, they outright refuse to carry it or they hoover up the contents of ones wallet or purse.
    I learned to loathe US Airways, after I had traveled to the US without any problems and on my way back, was told at check-in that the viola could go into the cabin but the case couldn’t. The agent then placed my case in my suitcase and kindly handed me a trash-bag with which to wrap my viola.

    • The King's Consort says:

      There’s another viola joke coming on here, isn’t there?!?

      That said, there are various good airlines (BA remain one of our top choices) that seem to want to take orchestras and their instruments, especially if you book a group through one of the firms that specialises in moving orchestras, and who know what to write into the computer reservation so that there is something with which you can hopefully challenge any adverse situation at check-in. For the airlines that are known to be awkward, there could be a very large book written on the tricks that have been played to get violins and violas on board (but then they’d find out what we have been known to do!).

      For near-Europe, Eurostar gets a star for recognising the value to them of regularly transporting orchestras and their musical instruments: they also acknowledge that musicians are efficient and frequent travellers (Eurostar’s baggage handling service even give a small discount to MU members checking in large instruments).

      So – roll on the advent of yet more fast trains across Europe! (Though that won’t help you avoid US Airways, I fear…). And are you still using the trash bag as your viola case???

      • Max Grimm says:

        I have been absolutely steadfast and successful in my resolve to avoid US Airways since then and I have resumed the use of my regular viola case. This was the only time I’ve encountered someone telling me that I could take the instrument on-board but not the case. I mostly fly LH and other *Alliance airlines and have never had an issue with my viola.
        I too would have actually thought the agent was attempting a viola joke, if it hadn’t been for her referring to it as a violin and giving me the trash-bag with a quirky “I have an idea” look on her face, saying “to keep it clean”. I ended up buying a trolley case and padding materials for a makeshift viola case inside of the terminal.

        • The King's Consort says:

          Yes, it’s definitely not a joke when they think that a violin (not just a viola) should go in a trash bag (!)…

          More seriously, there is an amazing violin case that one of our violinists has recently bought (and it was apparently not expensive) that does sit within the hand-baggage measurements of the low-cost airlines. I’ve not checked it out in detail, and I don’t know the make, but the violin somehow sits diagonally *across* the inside of the bag, and you can even pack clothes in the sections around it (and he plays a very good violin and is perfectly content to use this case for it). Being an average “hand-baggage looker”, it doesn’t arouse suspicion as an instrument case, and anyway, it is OK for hand-luggage size, so those airlines we won’t name who are taught at check-in-charm-school to repeat after me “We don’t like musicians and we are going to make you buy another seat now” don’t even see that it’s a violin case. The case cost him less than one extra seat. Another violinist has one of those really tiny cases that is not even long enough to take bows: they instead travel in a small tube that can detach if necessary.

          I’ll see if I can find some more details of this new “diagonal fit” make of fiddle case as it does seem to be really ingenious. Whether this will fit a viola and still sit within airline hand-baggage regs, I don’t know…

      • bratschegirl says:

        British Airways’ gate staff at Heathrow terminal 5, despite advance agreement that violins, violas, horns, bassoons, and all small woodwinds would be allowed as cabin baggage, forced an entire touring US youth orchestra to gate-check their instruments in June. Miraculously, no damage, but we’ll never book with them again.

    • SoCal Dan says:

      The “US Airways” brand is disappearing – to be replaced on October 17, 2015, by “American Airlines.”

  • Martin says:

    Why complain about the airline? Their rules are mentioned on their website.

    Complain about the lawmakers who allow these silly rules!

  • Robert King says:

    Actually, I’m going ever so slightly (about 2%) to defend AirBaltic: certainly not because of their policy of charging for a violin (which is distinctly unfair as they don’t charge for someone bringing on board a wheely bag) but because Air Baltic’s website page on transport of musical instruments at does make it clear that a violin is accepted in the cabin only on payment online of €40 (or €60 at the airport ticket office).

    Like it or not (and I wouldn’t fly an orchestra with them, because they make this charge) they do state that they will make that charge. And so they did.

    There’s a contact form on that same Air Baltic website, asking for compliments. Could someone advise if it could be counted as a compliment that Air Baltic’s “musicians policy” looks to be delivering business straight to their rivals?

    • Martin says:

      Compliment them to the fact, that their website offers you enough vital information to decide that they won’t be your airline of choice.