Advice to travelling musicians from the ever-friendly TSA

Advice to travelling musicians from the ever-friendly TSA


norman lebrecht

October 09, 2015

The flautist Jessica Schmitz, whose instrument was cruelly beheaded by over-zealous security agents at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, has engaged this past week in productive talks with the TSA in an effort to ease the situation.

Jessica tells Slipped Disc:

‘Over the past few days, a manager from the TSA and I have spent several hours discussing the recent flute experience at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. He was professional, calm, and respectful, and was fully equipped with both the logic and objectivity necessary to explore the common ground between our fields. I’m thrilled that, as a result, the Office of Public Affairs at #TSA is researching an official blog.’

A small step, perhaps, for suffering humankind. We will keep you posted.

Studio portraits of Jessica Schmitz taken on April 24, 2009. Credit: ©Stephanie Berger


  • CDH says:

    So what’s the advice?

    • Jessica Schmitz says:

      As soon as the TSA releases it, I’ll share!

      • CDH says:

        Thank you kindly. The headline was misleading — a not infrequent occurrence around here.

        Sorry for your troubles, but thank you for following up and keeping others informed. Pursuing accountability form airlines and airports can only help mitigate a situation that must have some very obvious resolutions.

  • Max Grimm says:

    The problem I have encountered when traveling has either been a lack of clearly defined standards and rules, or, more commonly, an utterly uninformed, haphazard interpretation and application of seemingly clearly stated rules by those tasked with enforcing them.
    A lack of advice has never been an issue; one usually receives 10 different (and contradictory) pieces of advice by various employees of the same airline and security agency before even having checked in.

  • MacroV says:

    I still don’t understand why an instrument should ever have to be taken out of its case if it’s going through an x-ray scanner, which, after all, can see through everything. Then swab it for explosives if you want. It’s not rocket science.

    Not directly relevant to this discussion, but why does anyone say “flautist” instead of “flutist?” The former sounds a lot more pretentious, to my ear flouting good taste.

    • Marg says:

      British vs US pronunciation. Coming from Aust I’d never heard flutist before moving to the US. However I did hear it a bit back in Aust these days.

      • MacroV says:

        I’m pretty sure I’ve heard a lot of Americans say it, and I’ve never heard of a “flaut.”

        • CDH says:

          The word “flutist” derives from the French. “Flautist” comes from the Italian. “Flutist” was used earlier. But the breakdown seems to be USA “flutist,” rest of the world “flautist.” (Something like public subsidy for the arts, this breakdown).

    • Jessica Schmitz says:

      Yes, this is not clear to me either, even after many discussions w/ TSA. The gold of a flute is too dense for an X-ray to penetrate, but apparently there was a scanning anomaly the first run through the machine. So it was swabbed. This, however, was still not enough to clear it. So it needed to go back through the X-ray…

      What a second X-ray accomplishes on a metal that is too dense to penetrate even on first X-ray is unclear. And why the gold needed to be removed from its plastic case, that the X-ray would certainly penetrate? Also a mystery. And why two agents insisted the headjoint had to be completely loose in a separate bin, while one agent said it was fine to wrap in paper towels and place next to the case in the same bin? ….?

      TSA did understand & acknowledge that this is a most confusing protocol, but unfortunately I was told that due to aviation security policies, no further details could be given.

      • Dean says:

        If the flute is too dense for the x-rays to penetrate, chances are that the TSA wanted to see if there was anything in the case lining under the flute. To do so, you x-ray the case by itself, then with the flute in it. As for the headjoint, it is the only part of the instrument that has metal inside of the tube and organic material (the cork) inside it as well. Therefore if it showed up as an organic material, and the TSA people were unfamiliar with flutes, we have a recipe for disaster… or a detailed search. At O’Hare, they can be the same thing.

        • Jessica Schmitz says:

          Hi Dean- yes, I agree the headjoint *case* run separately makes a lot of sense! That would have been quite easy. And of course made of durable materials, the case could have withstood even the most extreme of potential accidents.

  • Jessica Schmitz says:

    Thanks all for reading! My hope is that more clearly defined & practiced protocols for traveling with instruments can become standard for both TSA agents and musicians alike. The TSA’s willingness to talk with me at such great depth has me very hopeful.

    Usually I say fluter- keepin’ in classy 😉

  • Matt says:

    Seems pretty clear this is a TSA training issue and no amount of advice to the public is gonna help the flautista.

    What does “researching an official blog” mean, anyway?

    Gosh this I’m not a robot captcha expires darn quick.



  • Jessica Schmitz says:

    I’m not sure if the content of the post will be more geared toward advice for traveling musicians (for example, traveling with an alternate case that could protect an instrument if additional screening is required) or if it will be a mutually agreed upon code of conduct for handling instruments for both TSA and musicians alike. I would love to see a written statement from TSA stating that musicians are allowed to handle their own instruments throughout the screening procedure if it is necessary to open cases/ remove instruments from cases.