Another instrument smashed by American Airlines

Another instrument smashed by American Airlines


norman lebrecht

November 29, 2015

This is what was done to Eli Gilbert’s banjo this week.

eli gilbert's banjo

Eli writes:

It’s a lonesome feeling, when you’re traveling and American Airlines makes you gate check your instrument and then destroys it. So far I’ve been told that American Airlines may not be liable for the damage because there is no damage to the case. Obviously this is a refusal to acknowledge basic laws of physics. This instrument was obviously dropped or thrown, which is outside the realm of standard care. Furthermore, I was told my damage claim will take 10-12 weeks to process, meaning I can’t repair or replace the neck without voiding the claim. This puts me in an unreasonable position, with gigs to play and and album to finish recording.

American Airlines is refusing to accept responsibility for their employees and has left me in an untenable position as a professional musician.


eli gilbert's banjo2

It’s to do with a culture of bad baggage handlers. See here for immediate evidence.


  • Rudiger says:

    We hear about these sorts of things happening in the USA all of the time and I have one dear musician friend who had his clarinet destroyed at the security in Dallas by a very rude security agent, who accused him, before even properly checking, of planning on using his clarinet as a weapon. Whatever that means! I wouldn’t blame American Airlines, but the entire country is to be avoided, whenever possible, as the brutish, thuggish, totalitarian attitudes there and the total lack of respect of the person as being a human being is worthy of the former East German Stasi, or the worst behaviour of the Soviets during their dark moments in history. Story after story from the USA of these sorts of things on a regular and recurring basis just prove that they have lost the plot. Worst of all, when they do destroy or break a valuable instrument, due to their amateurish and brutal actions, they will never resolve the problem, but rather apply some convoluted law that renders them innocent and right in their actions. They do the same things to hundreds of unarmed youth, who are shot to death with little or no recourse for their families.

    • noel jones says:

      This case is not designed to protect an instrument from anything other than what might happen while you carry it back and forth to lessons on a bus. If you purchased an instrument and it was shipped to you by UPS or the post office in this case you’d be furious, since it was designed to protect an instrument while in your possession…this case arrived with the instrument in a cardboard box heavily cushioned and protected.

      Cello cases are the same…the majority of them are built to protect the cello from stupid things we do carrying them with us and are light and affordable. To protect a cello with a shipping case costs more in expense and weight.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      A broken instrument shows the US is no different than the Gulag? This is some sort of parody, right? Because if this deranged view is typical of European thinking, it’s little wonder why you’re doomed.

      Who did you blame for everything before there was a United States? Oh, sorry, I forgot: the Jews.

  • Laurie Andersen says:

    I am so so so very sorry about your instrument which I am sure is so very close to your heart. May a blessing come out of this, I don’t know what it would be, but maybe through all of the support on this post you will at least know that there are people out there that work for this company that are saddened by what has happened here. May God bless you. May God bless your family. If I could fix this I would.

  • V.Lind says:

    How hard would it be for American airlines (all of them, and maybe some elsewhere as well) to train their baggage handlers, making them part of the airline’s overall service promises, with lip-service interest in the well-being of passengers, the reputation of the company, the general decency of doing a job properly?

    Here’s how hard: they might have to pay them decently. And employ them, rather than contract them. Which is why there is no hope of improvement.

  • Jim says:

    It’s a banjo! Google the old banjo Farside cartoons, some of my favourites!

    • Eric says:

      All the banjo jokes notwithstanding, why is that any different than any other instrument being destroyed by these a-holes??!?!!!

      Wonder if a class action suit would be possible & bring about any change in mindset?

      • Max Grimm says:

        Eric says: “Wonder if a class action suit would be possible & bring about any change in mindset?”

        It’s unlikely, as by booking a ticket with most airlines, passengers automatically agree to their “contract of carriage” which often seems to stipulate that the airline shall not be liable or accountable for virtually anything that could theoretically happen before/during/after a flight.
        The most viable course of action for most is to create a (social-)media sh*tstorm and shame an airline into submission.

  • Raea Jean Leinster says:

    Might this be within the jurisdiction of the music unions to discuss with the airlines’ baggage handler unions??? I have no idea.. just a thought….

  • John Mclean says:

    Never check a valuable instrument!

  • David says:

    American Airlines has issues far beyond baggage handling, but that’s a discussion for a broader forum.

    One of the issues with baggage handling is that the handlers are rarely employees of the airlines. They are employees of a business that handles ground activities at the local airport. A discussion with AA will go nowhere as they have subcontracted the ground operations. The responsibility needs to be returned to the airlines, elimination of the sub-contracting is the first step into correcting the problem.

    I like the idea from Raea (Above) that the Musician’s Union should work on this. However the handlers are probably not unionized and therefore it is unlikely to get results.

    The best advice is to not check valuable instruments. I spent some time backstage with Gary Karr once as we waited for our chance on stage (he as soloist and I as tubist). He drove everywhere. Smart man.

  • Dave says:

    Have any of these musicians heard about getting a separate seat on the plane for their instrument? If this is your way of making a living, get a seat next to you and guard your instrument with your life.