Look what they did to my bass!

Look what they did to my bass!


norman lebrecht

December 05, 2015

David Stark, principal double bass of the BBC National Orchestral of Wales, has sent us pictures from their recent tour of South America.

On a Jetcargo flight from Argentina to Chile, this is what baggage handlers did to the beautiful Neuner Hornsteiner bass belonging to section member Richard Gibbons.

damaged bass3damaged bass2

Richard and the rest of the section are distraught.

damaged bass1

When will airlines be held responsible for mishandling precious instruments that cannot be taken in cabin?


  • Robert Roy says:

    Oh my god. How terrible! I do the BBC will pursue a claim on his behalf.

    My sympathies.

  • Prewartreasure says:

    If one ships delicate musical instruments around the world in a case made of something as crush-proof as compressed cardboard, then what can one expect?

    Should’ve bought a ‘Pelican’ or similar.

  • Susan Bradley says:

    why on earth are people so damn enthusiastic to blame the musician? How much does Mr/Ms Prewartreasure know about instrument cases and design? What in Thor’s name gives you the right to snottily pontificate? The musician had no choice about where or how to stow the instrument. The case is adequate, the handling is not. What the hell else do you want the musician to do, travel in the hold with the instrument?

    • Scott Fields says:

      Indeed. Prewartreasure appears to believe that Pelican makes a case that would contain a contrabass. They don’t make a case even half that size. It also looks as though the bass was travelling in a 5000-euro carbon-fiber case. That’s the best thing available. The airport staff screwed up. The musician was a victim. Again.

    • V.Lind says:

      The case is clearly NOT adequate, though I have no disagreement with you about the handling. This is happening too many times, so it’s time to consider that, given the way cargo is handled, a new way of packing instruments MUST be found. Wadding, foam rubber, towelling-type materials jammed in all around it to absorb shocks — whatever. There should be experts for things like this.

      As Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

      Another possibility is a special handling fee for delicate cargo. This to be removed from the general trucks and dealt with in an entirely different way, for an extra fee. It would cost less than buying a seat, and would come with an insurance cover — doubtless inadequate for ancient and rare instruments, no use if a player was left without ANY instrument for a performance, but a step in the right direction. Airlines must begin to step up to their responsibilities — and liabilities — when they contract to transport people’s property, especially when it is of extreme fragility and value.

      • Scott Fields says:

        The case might be adequate. It doesn’t appear to be broken. A common problem with checked instruments is security personnel opening cases and then not positioning the instrument correctly afterwards. For example, a bassist who works with me and a cellist I met both received their cases with the hinges removed after a flight that originated at Heathrow.

  • carlos2bass says:

    The note mentions that it was sent in a “Jet cargo flight” Sending a bass CARGO even on Stevenson trunck is irresponsible. They use forks to handle all items.

    • William Safford says:

      Several years ago, a Heckel contrabassoon appeared on eBay, at an exceedingly low price.

      It was severely damaged by the forks of a forklift, which were driven through the side of the case, thus splintering part of the instrument.

    • Susan Bradley says:

      These people making smartypants comments have never played large instruments that cannot be taken into the cabin. I’m just grateful if it gets on the same flight as me! It’s not always possible to send instruments anything other than cargo.
      My large orchestral tuba weighs exactly 32kg in its flight case. One piece of foam extra, and the airline refuses to fly it as baggage, and insists it goes cargo.
      And before you snarkily comment “take out the extra foam”, I did and am now at the mercy of the next airline check-in person who can’t be stuffed dealing with a large, oversize case, and insists, that due to its dimensions, that it must go cargo. What am I supposed to do? Shrink it?
      So now I have to freight an instrument in a case with no extra foam, no wadding, no “towelling” ( are you seriously suggesting bath towels will cushion my instrument?) and if anything goes wrong, it’s MY fault?

      • V.Lind says:

        “Towelling” is a type of fabric. Grow up and stop being so petulant. If you know it is going to go cargo, pad it. If you can get it aboard with a lighter case, go for it. But if it is going freight, you know its fate, and it is time for musicians to take some responsibility for protecting their instruments.

        I packed a Christmas gift within an inch of its life in protective coverings to get it from one city to anther, though it increased the shipping cost substantially due to both greater weight and greater dimensions of the package. And it was worth considerably less than some of these instruments that are frequent flyers.

        It is not good enough to brag about a branded case and bleat about the activities of others. But it would appear from these increasingly frequent reports that musicians are aware of the danger. They might be better employed in doing their own best to supplement protection from the ministrations of airline contractors rather than stand on their brand names and then gripe about the outcome.

        There has to be a long term solution. But until you get one, you have to work around the problem, not just whinge about it.

        • Scott Fields says:

          Bravo to V.Lind for meticulous Christmas gift packing. If V.Lind could teach us how to extend this expertise to touring musicians, I would be grateful. I have indeed invested branded flight cases. I have sparred with check-in agents and baggage handlers. I have driven musicians from the airport where their instruments were supposed to arrive to the airport where their instruments actually arrived. I have wadded up fabric (“towelling,” huh?) to tighten the fit in my cases. I have skirted airline weight regulations and carryon limits. I have had a guitar, in a branded flight case, follow me on tour, always one city behind, because the airline set it to the wrong coast. But there is always something to learn. That it came in from the field of Christmas-gift packing was unexpected. The world is full of surprises.

          • V.Lind says:

            My point was that I took the trouble over something (relatively) inexpensive but fragile. I would have thought it was in the interests of musicians to take at least as much over their much more valuable property rather than continually send the items off in packaging proven again and again not to work given what we know about the care they will receive at airports.

            The issue of arrival at wrong airports is another one altogether than handling problems, though it comes from the same stable of incompetent, uncaring, unaccountable thugs. And the people who contract them. The airlines MUST be forced to take more responsibility, and it starts with staffing carefully and with a company ethos to serve.

          • Susan Bradley says:

            ya know, ya right. I do just throw my tuba in any old bit of plastic, and hope that it just survives. I mean, who cares, anyway, it’s just a fucken tuba. Not a Christmas gift.
            You, however, pack one Christmas gift, that makes one journey, and it miraculously survives, totally due to the power of your packing (and your “towelling”).
            What the hell would I know, I’ve only travelled with my instrument for forty five years. I couldn’t be arsed getting a custom-made case, with customised padding and shaping. I couldn’t be arsed to carefully pack something I spend six to ten hours a day with. It’s not a Christmas gift, ya know?
            VLind: you do not know what you are talking about. You have successfully shipped one parcel once. We do this all the time. It’s our living. We know how to pack our instruments. But, AND THIS IS THE KICKER, it is BEYOND OUR CONTROL once it leaves our hands. Until you solve that problem, shut up and go away before you look even more foolish. Oh, did I forget the /sarc tag above?

        • Auntie says:

          What sort of reply is that? This damage is usually done by ignorant people throwing these instruments around before they get loaded onto a plane.

  • Marg says:

    I can only imagine the heartbreak. I hope he gets some compensation.

  • Scott Fields says:

    Your assumption, is wrong, V.Lind. Most seasoned travelling musicians buy the best protection they can find. They then jerry rig the cases further to improve them. With the best available carry-able case, they do battle with the airlines. Accusing musicians of being cavalier or whiney shows an underestimation of how much effort people are putting into protecting their instruments.

    Often damage to instruments, especially basses, cellos, and guitars, occurs when cases are opened out of sight of their owners. It is not permissible to lock cases. Encasing the cases in additional packing only results in the additional packing being cut open if security wants to take a peek. Occasionally one will see a broken flight case (it happened to me). But more often the case looks ok but the instrument inside has been damaged by mishandling. In Slipped Disc recently there have been two cases of, err, bass cases being destroyed. They were the 40-kilo fiberglas type that, if you were armed with a sledge hammer, would leave you huffing from the effort of trying to crack them open. Clearly mechanical devices were employed. And the bass case in the photo above looks unblemished. Who knows what happened there.

    • V.Lind says:

      Okay. I’ll take your word for it. In which case, there has to be a much harder lobby of the airlines to lift their game. There are several possibilities, of which up-training the handlers would seem to be the most obvious, but the least likely. Another is a separate channel for checking instruments, where the passenger would be present for the examination (tricky if there are changes of flights/airlines, though normally I think the signoff by the originating airline would be accepted as I suppose it is for regular baggage). This would present some logistical problems, but not insoluble ones; it would doubtless incur extra costs, the reason why airlines do not contract decent, responsible people to handle baggage in the first place.

      The whole thing is preposterous when this is a several times a week report here — and that’s just the ones Slipped Disc hears about. I doubt it heard about a student whose not rare or valuable but still expensive, and treasured, viola arrived in pieces, leaving him in a quandary for a coming recital and the rest of his term.

      It’s very depressing.