International soloist: Why I slept on airport floor

We have received a full account from Rachel Barton Pine on why she and her family spent the night on an airport floor after US Airways refused to board her precious Guarnerius violin. Rachel is at pains in her email to point out that the US Airways attendants were never rude. Just bloody unhelpful. Read Rachel’s tale below.

rachel barton pine

On Sunday night, my family and I were flying US Airways from the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport to Chicago O’Hare. Ironically, I had been in Phoenix to film a performance and interview for the upcoming Cremona violin exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum, an installation designed to increase the general public’s understanding of these special antique instruments.

My husband, daughter and I arrived at the airport in what should have been plenty of time to get to the gate early, but we had a “perfect storm” of delays with returning the rental car, checking in, and going through security, so we ended up being one of the last to board which was very unusual for us.

As we were about to board, the gate agent told me that there was no room left for my 1742 “ex-Bazzini ex-Soldat” Guarneri del Gesu in the overhead bins and indicated that it would have to be gate checked.  After I explained that this would not be possible, she allowed us to board the plane to see if accommodations could be made.  We found that there were a number of purses and bags in the overhead bins that could have been rearranged so that the violin could be placed behind them. Unfortunately, the flight attendants were unwilling to assist in rearranging the overhead bins. We didn’t want to make a fuss and delay takeoff, so we exited the plane and the airline booked us on another flight. As all of our luggage was still on the original plane and our next flight was in five hours, we waited through the night in the terminal for our morning flight.

I want to be clear that everyone at US Airways with whom we interacted conducted themselves professionally – no one was rude.  I sent out the tweets/posts because this is such an important issue for all touring musicians. There seems to be a real lack of awareness in the airline industry. I think that their belief that gate-checking the violin was a workable solution might have led to their lack of willingness to help us rearrange the bins so that everything fit.

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17 Comments
  • Eddie Mars
    Posted at 12:02h, 30 September Reply

    It would appear to be more than incompetent, and questionable on grounds of safety, for the airline to have insisted that a passenger be forced to fly on a different aircraft to their checked suitcases. This is exactly the kind of crass safety breach which elaborate and time-consuming measures are intended to prevent.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick
      Posted at 12:28h, 30 September Reply

      Correct. At least on an international flight, they would have delayed the flight and removed the bags. Bags can not fly in the hold unless the passenger is aboard. Not removing the bags is possibly the most shocking part of this sad saga..

      • Marg
        Posted at 22:32h, 30 September Reply

        I agree about failure to remove bags. Even in Australia where the US-style security carryon is largely not followed (we leave shoes, coats on, dont take out every conceivable electronic device from our bag etc) planes are grounded if bags are loaded and the passenger isnt on board. Looking at the photo I guess she is lucky noone walked off with the valuable violin while they slept! All in all, a rather unpleasant and unnecessary hassle for another musician (and in this case her family as well).

  • Milka
    Posted at 13:20h, 30 September Reply

    A bit of clever free publicity

    • V.Lind
      Posted at 15:30h, 30 September Reply

      This looks like your usual rubbishy cynicism. Anything that involves a family, including a child sleeping on an airport floor is hardly “free.” And the previous two posters are correct: the unaccompanied baggage situation is a stunning breach of international air travel protocols.

      Polite or not, the cabin staff ought to have more judgment. Shifting a few objects is not a hugely time-consuming process. And do these people not have ship-to-shore communications? Couldn’t the gate attendant have let the cabin staff know “violin boarding — passenger in Row G — check adjacent bins and see if and where there can be space made”?

      • bratschegirl
        Posted at 16:45h, 30 September Reply

        On full flights, the instructions from the flight crew about stowing personal items *always* include the admonition that purses, backpacks, and other small items should be placed under the seat rather than in the overhead, to make sure every passenger has their share of overhead locker space,so it appears that the airline staff were unwilling to follow their own rules.

        I hadn’t considered the baggage angle, but had the airline removed the bags as they were supposed to, it would have taken vastly more time and resulted in vastly more delay than a slight rearrangement of the items in one overhead bin. I’m glad to hear that they weren’t rude, but it simply defies all logic that this was the best solution either for Rachel and family *or* for the airline.

    • William Safford
      Posted at 17:08h, 30 September Reply

      I’m glad that it gives publicity to the plight of traveling musicians. All the better if it helps bring about further change in airline policies and procedures.

    • Mercedes Lackey
      Posted at 11:05h, 06 October Reply

      Goodness, what a mean-spirited and nasty thing to say! Totally out of line, and totally in the wrong. I cannot imagine what is going through your head to make such an ill-tempered claim. Whatever it is, I am glad I don’t know you, you must be an exceedingly unpleasant person in real life.

  • Walter
    Posted at 15:23h, 30 September Reply

    Indeed, the most shocking point of this story is that an airline in a country as paranoid about security as the United States would allow baggage to fly onboard without the passenger. The second equally as shocking thing here is that the airline would prefer to leave a family with a child stranded in an airport, without their luggage, to sleep on the floor, rather than moving some things around in the overhead luggage containers in order to accommodate a violin case. That is what is shocking. Having travelled throughout the world, both in the past and today, it immediately brings to mind the sort of thing that would have happened in the former Soviet Union. Nowadays, the United States seems to get closer by the day to that sort of totalitarian ‘Soviet’ notion of service, where the well being and satisfaction of the customer is definitely not the first priority. Each visit to the U.S. I am shocked at the utterly abysmal level of service and rigidity of those interacting with the public. Often, it’s like I’m back in the old USSR of Soviet times. These stories and the dozens of others on a near daily basis only confirm this impression.

  • Brad Sicotte
    Posted at 19:44h, 30 September Reply

    I would have happily gate checked my bag to make room for an instrument of this caliber. The flight attendants should have asked and any musician/music lover would have done the same.

  • Herasmus Bedragon
    Posted at 20:13h, 30 September Reply

    Considering that the violin is on loan to her, she made the right call.
    Not going to a hotel with her child; publicity stunt!

    Shame on the airline and others who did not rearrange their carry-on trunk!

    • kuoirad
      Posted at 21:50h, 30 September Reply

      Five hours isn’t exactly a lot of time to leave the airport, get to a hotel, get a room, rest for 2 maybe 3 hours, get back to the airport, go through security again, and get to the gate. For five hours, I probably would have stayed at the airport myself.

      • CDH
        Posted at 22:03h, 30 September Reply

        American airports practically demand you turn up five hours early.

    • Pamela Brown
      Posted at 02:39h, 01 October Reply

      Not at all a ‘publicity stunt’. That is unfair. There was not enough time to go to a hotel and then get back for the next flight. The callousness of US the Airways staff is the issue, and it is a significant one to me…shame on them…:-0

  • Siri Gottlieb
    Posted at 22:47h, 30 September Reply

    Cabin crew will not touch overhead baggage. I have seen them refuse to assist or make accommodations under many circumstances. Once a guy put his downhill skis in the overhead bins across three rows of seats and no one else’s bags would fit in. The crew refused to intervene. They do not care.

    • Dave T
      Posted at 07:52h, 01 October Reply

      What bin is big enough to hold downhill skis? I don’t believe it.

  • Mercedes Lackey
    Posted at 11:10h, 06 October Reply

    “Not going to a hotel with a child, publicity stunt!”

    Another mean-spirited and ill-conceived remark.

    You clearly have not flown very often. Airport hotels are extremely expensive, and often overbooked. It would take the family at least an hour to get to one, and if there was a room, get to the room, only to have to wake up with no more than two hours of sleep in order to get through security and back to the plane. So the result would have been less sleep for the child than she got in the airport.

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