This airline lost my bass

This airline lost my bass


norman lebrecht

November 02, 2015

Katherine Browning checked in her bass-clarinet before flying from Manchester to Exeter. That’s the last she saw of it. And the airline? Couldn’t care less.

First she tweeted: Not only was flight BE374 delayed by 2 hours (with us actually ON the plane!!) due to fault (unlatched door!!), @flybe crews at MAN lost my instrument. NOT GOING TO STOP SHOUTING UNTIL ANSWERED

flybekat browning


Now she’s sharing the whole sorry saga with Slipped Disc:

I got to Manchester Airport at just after 3pm, and went straight to hold baggage check-in; I was directed straight down the express lane to book in my bass… but at the end it was not obvious where to go. I asked a lady in uniform, and she told me to put it onto the ‘rollers’ just before a conveyor-belt… which wasn’t moving. I turned round for reassurance, because there was NO-ONE THERE to take the bag so it seemed unnatural to just leave it. She nodded and said “yep, put it right there”, then pretty much lost interest in the conversation. Reassured and trusting that she had some idea as to what she was talking about I put the instrument where she’d indicated. Not at any point did it seem like anyone was tagging it up so as to have barcodes attached to it, linking it to my flight… in fact the only labels that I saw on it last were the tags for the previous flight (Exeter to Manchester nearly a week previously)

Really wish I hadn’t trusted her; after being delayed by 2-3 hours (sat on the plane waiting to take off, and before alighting due to diverted traffic), I get to the baggage carousel at Exeter… but that carousel stopped going round, and there was no sign of my instrument.

I spoke to the member of staff in charge of missing bags, and he emailed Manchester airport; a PIR was written –  the Exeter-based staff member is the only person who’s taken the slightest notice that something so valuable is unaccounted-for. No-one has spoken to me since, and short of calling a 13p a minute phoneline I have no means of contacting someone who knows anything about it!

I asked about CCTV even to see if they can SEE me dropping it off, and who picked it up, but they seemed to verbally shrug and say ‘yeah I guess we could… but you need to phone checkins about it, we can’t help’. I called Manchester Airport’ general enquiries line, but the representative said that it was something only the baggage handling company could handle… but that she couldn’t remember who it was that was handling Flybe’s baggage… and she didn’t help me find out either (I’ve found out since that it is Menzies).

Who does Kat have to sue to get her baby back?




  • Max Grimm says:

    Well, I guess you technically have to be in possession of something first, before you can lose it.
    Judging by the recount above and the “lady in uniform”, whose affiliations are unclear and who couldn’t have been less interested in Mrs. Browning’s concern, there’s no way of knowing if the instrument ever made it to the airline or the company handling the baggage.
    As for who to sue Norman, I’d start with oneself for misplaced trust. While I understand Mrs. Browning’s frustration and agony only too well, when it comes to airlines and airports, it is worth asking the same question several times and asking different people as well. Never just place an item for transport without receiving proper tags and ticket-stubs and ascertaining that you have deposited it in the correct location.

  • Robert King says:

    Firstly, I am really sorry that this instrument appears to have been lost but – yikes – fancy putting any piece of baggage (let alone a valuable one) onto any airport conveyor belt and letting it go, knowing that it hasn’t been tagged, and knowing that you have no receipt for it. Maybe this “lady in uniform” thought that the piece of baggage had already been tagged, in which case her instruction was not such a bad one, ie to send it down the belt. Personally I’d have watched it until it moved, and not gone anywhere until it was on its way…

    Assuming that the baggage did make it down the conveyor belt to the baggage sorting area, when it arrived there with no tag on the baggage, the handlers won’t have been able to allocate it to any flight. So it will most probably still be in Manchester, in the [large] pile of baggage off which tags have come (that happens not infrequently). When are you next in Manchester? I’d go there and get a human on the case…

    I’ve been at the check in of thousands, probably tens of thousands, of musicians, and experience has taught me to watch bags and bag tagging like a hawk. My acquired knowledge (both from my own and from others’ experiences) for checking in baggage is this:
    1. Make sure that the tag is really well attached to your suitcase by the check-in person (ask them to tag it more firmly if you are not happy), and have the small rectangular barcode stuck elsewhere on the case;
    2. Have a really good independent label containing your name, email and mobile on your baggage;
    3. Remove all old baggage tags (for a manual read, they will confuse people directing your bag to your next destination);
    4. Know the three letter airport code for your destination and read the tag as the tag is attached (check in people, like any humans, make mistakes, especially when they started their shift at 0430: they will sometimes tag your bag to another destination);
    5. Don’t leave the check in desk or belt until you’ve seen the suitcase go onto the main belt.

    This doesn’t guarantee your case will arrive, but at least you will have taken sensible precautions to mitigate possible loss, and also given the baggage tracers some help if your bag does go astray (it’s infuriating, but bags do go missing, and if you assume that every 50 flights or so your bag will be misplaced, you won’t be so surprised when your turn comes along – I reckon that one bag will be misplaced on each flight with a significantly large orchestral group).

    Despite that airline-world-weariness, very good luck in tracing it!

  • Emil says:

    Who leaves a priceless instrument on a random belt without checking that it is properly accounted for?

    • William Safford says:

      Considering that the flutist Jessica Schmitz was threatened with arrest for trying to carry her flute onto a plane (, this bass clarinetist’s caution is entirely understandable and justifiable.

      Musicians are being bullied left and right by the TSA and airlines.

      One friend of mine, Lew Lipnick, had to resort to suing an airline for how he was treated. (It was discussed on Slipped Disc, but a search didn’t turn it up.)

      What a shame that she had to check her bass clarinet in the first place, rather than carry it on. That stinks.

      If the airlines and the government are going to set themselves up with such power and authority and hegemony, the least they can do is deliver instruments intact to their destinations.

      • Emil says:

        There is a margin between carrying it on the plane and leave it on unchecked on a random belt.

        • William Safford says:

          True. However, as she wrote below: “I asked several times whether this was exactly the right spot to put it, and the representative of the airport was actually getting IMPATIENT WITH ME.”

          Kudos to the fellow who volunteered to help her find her instrument.

  • Jeremy says:

    Getting your plight noticed by the press is the only way to bring pressure to bear on Manchester Airport.

    This story is a great way to start.

  • David C says:

    Can you post a picture of the instrument in its case? I work at MAN and shall be in tonight.
    I don’t work for any of the handling agents but have access to the areas where is should be. Will have a look for it. NEVER leave a bag without a tag.

  • Sarah Watts says:

    Kat’s case looks like this, but a little more compact:

    I’d like to say that Kat is incredibly careful with her bass clarinet and this is a horrible and difficult time waiting for it to turn up. It’s easy to say if only … But as a bass clarinettist myself I must say it is very stressful travelling with a bass and as a student years ago, I often had to leave my bass clarinet on a trolley in Amsterdam airport! I’d never do this now and always have it with me.
    Kat is a recent graduate and very much learning the ropes – she must have been left in an awkward situation to have left it as she did and personally I think the airline should bear some responsibility for making sure ALL items are dealt with as they should be. The person directing her should have helped more.

    Thank you for helping search for it and I hope that a/ it turns up and b/ this report helps shame Manchester Airport and Flybe into responding and helping Kat locate it. So far they have been hopeless and uncontactable.
    Really this is a plea for help to rectify an unfortunate happening.

    • Katherine says:

      The case indeed looks like the case in the pictures, but longer than that. I’ve also customised it with stickers, one saying ‘I [a heart, in red] and a sticker saying “Uley bitter”; there are also strips of sari silk roughly tied on the handles. These are bright YELLOW (possibly with a little pink!).

      Thank you for commenting David, you are one of two or three out of the SCORES of employees I’ve contacted about this. Even if you can’t wave a magic wand to get it back to me, at least you’re willing to actually help!

      And for those blaming me for just “leaving it behind”, how could you? I asked several times whether this was exactly the right spot to put it, and the representative of the airport was actually getting IMPATIENT WITH ME. What on earth was I to do? Of course now I know not to trust airlines to give a sh*t unless I make a fuss, but to BLAME ME OUTRIGHT is uncalled for!

      • David C says:

        As I said, I’ll look tonight, but without any tags, contacting Menzies would be a waste of time as there are several handling agents at Manchester and nobody would know whose responsibility it was.
        I always advise my friends and family to put their names and address on the inside of a case, so if all the tags come off [they can do easily] then it can still be reunited. I know its a worrying time but I’m pretty sure it will turn up.

        • David C says:

          If it does turn up today, or it is located, please let me know so I’m not chasing something that’s not missing.

          • Phillip Taylor says:

            Hi David,

            I’m Katherine’s partner and I’m extremely grateful that you’ve agreed to look for her bass clarinet. I’m still in Manchester and am easily able to come to the airport at evenings or the weekend to help look for/identify it if that will help you?

  • David C says:

    If the instrument went down the baggage system without a tag then it is not here.
    GBS is the company that look after the lost bags and I have searched their stores and there is nothing there that resembles the instrument. All other areas airside have been checked. I will check checking, and Philip could do with checking with lost property ( don’t know phone number) as if it was left landside by check-in then that’s where it may be. Sorry I can’t help anyany more. Did try…

  • David C says:

    It’s found. It’s in lost property in terminal 1 open 0800-2000 ground floor arrivals near greggs

    • Katherine says:

      Oh my God!! that is in credible Mr C! (I really hope I can find out your full name, please I need to sing your praises to the boss!!)
      May I contact you directly?? xx

  • Katherine says:

    Oh my God!! that is in credible Mr C! (I really hope I can find out your full name, please I need to sing your praises to the boss!!)

    May I contact you directly?? xx

  • David C says:

    It appears that the instrument was left at the check-in desk without any identification tags.

    All items like this are classed ad unattended baggage and subject to screening for security reasons.

    It was taken (by security) to be screened for IED / dangerous items etc and at the end of the day yesterday. (20.00) it was transferred to T1 lost property, as T3 do not have lost property.

    If you have been blaming Flybe / menzies or Manchester Airport Group then I think that you want to email them and apologise.

    Obviously there was some communication breakdown when you left the instrument at the desk but I’m glad it’s found.

    Good luck with getting it collected 0161 489 3463. David. T3 engineering.

  • bratschegirl says:

    I’m so pleased to hear that there is a happy ending! It sounds, from reading the full story and all the comments, as though there were baggage tags from a previous flight left on. Perhaps the infamous “lady in uniform” assumed that those tags were fresh, for the flight K was about to take, in which case simply instructing her to leave it where she did would have been the right thing to do. And if there was no personal ID tag on the outside of the case, that would have presented an additional obstacle to reuniting clarinet and owner. So glad I almost never have to fly with an instrument. Kudos to David for solving the mystery!

  • Phillip Taylor says:

    I collected it from the airport this morning and it appears to be undamaged. I’m going to drive it down to Katherine on Friday evening.

    David, thank you so much for your help in finding it!

  • David C says:

    You are most welcome. So happy there was a positive outcome on this occasion.