Airline shocker: Norwegian refuse to board orchestra violinist

This just in from Ari Vilhjalmsson, principal second violinist in the Helsinki Philharmonic:

ari vilhjamsson

About 2 hours ago, I was refused to board flight DY 3160 from Copenhagen to Helsinki, because I would not agree to put my violin in cargo. I’m a professional violinist, and was travelling with my instrument valued at EUR 200,000.

At check-in, the attendant said that I had to buy a ticket for the violin. I replied that I’ve been flying for 25 years with my instrument and never had a problem. She called the gate and was told to let me up, and they would see whether I could board or not. Then, she put a comment in the computer system about my violin. When I reached the gate, my boarding pass would not let me through the scanner (due to the comment, I’m sure), and the gate agent told me that I would have to put my violin in cargo. Since I would not, he said that I couldn’t fly. When I asked if he or someone could check if there was room on the plane, he just said no.

I have flown many times with Norwegian in the past, and have never had trouble with my instrument. Many of my friends and colleagues regularly fly with Norwegian with their instruments and have not encountered problems either. I don’t know why this was such an issue this evening. Honestly, I felt as if the check-in attendant and gate attendant were on a crusade not to let me board the flight with my violin.

When buying this ticket, I had the option to fly SAS or Finnair. I chose Norwegian because the departure time was convenient and the price was lower. But due to the seemingly arbitrary action of your employees, I will certainly NEVER fly with Norwegian again, and I will encourage all of my musician friends and colleagues to do the same. Every day, thousands of violinists and violists get on planes. Our instrument cases fit perfectly well in the overhead bins, even when orchestras go on tour and there are 30-40 violin/ viola cases on board. This policy, which obviously is only enforced depending on which employee is working, is completely ridiculous and in essence discriminatory to the unlucky few who are refused to board.

I paid DKK 400 / EUR 50 in overweight fee for my suitcase. I would at least like a refund of that.

As far as we are aware, Norwegian was in contravention of EU law. There may be other remedies open to Ari. But in the meantime, beware of flying Norwegian.

 

 

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  • Jon says:

    I had a problem with my Norwegian flight last weekend and my customer experience was awful too.

    Norwegian cancelled my flight 4 hours before departure and I called the customer call centre. First they had me waiting for over 20 min and suddenly they dropped the call, connecting me directly to the satisfaction survey.

    I called again and the second time my call was answered by a rude and authoritarian person, who didn’t help.

    It seems they’re trying hard to lose their position as “World’s Best Low Cost”.

    Apologies for the off-topic, this is a classical music blog, but every bit counts to generate awareness and change behaviours, I guess.

  • AJ says:

    Out of curiosity, what EU law was Norwegian contravening?

    For me, the biggest issue is WHY was this being discussed at all at the check-in/security phase? This is the responsibility of the flight attendants on board, who are the ONLY people who can realistically say if there is space in the overhead compartments or not. Even if there is a full flight, the thin profile of a violin case is almost always possible to fit in somewhere. I have flown for years with violin cases of varying sizes, and even on the fullest of flights on the smallest of planes, it is possible to find a solution if the staff wants to!

  • Holly Golightly says:

    I can thoroughly recommend SAS as a great airline!! VERY professional.

  • mark says:

    I had exactly the same problem with Norwegian in Copenhagen a couple of weeks ago. I am a professional trombonist and have a case which easily fits inside the overhead lockers. Just like you I was told at check in that I would be allowed to take the instrument to the gate and then should be able to take it on board if there was space.

    The attendant at the gate was very rude and refused to let me take the instrument on to the plane. In the end I kicked up a huge fuss about the fact that I had been told I could check if there was space and was allowed to have a look. To my amazement the plane was half empty when I got inside.

    I have a job in a touring orchestra, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, and I fly somewhere around 50 times a year, I never had a problem like this before (apart from when trying to fly with Ryanair) and strongly encourage musicians not to use Norwegian in the future. Horrendous customer service and deceptive treatment when checking in. Atleast Ryanair make things clear when you are buying the ticket online and you can take your decision.

    • Yi says:

      well said Mark! so called “the world’s best low-cost airline”..ps. you get Nok 500 if they broke your luggage,that’s all.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    It’s a ‘case’ of things going too far. It is sad to see this happen in the 21st century, but it is a case of people losing trust in so many ways. Perhaps the airline industry, globally, could adopt an online form for instrumentalists to fill out (unless this already exists–I would not know as a pianist because we do not take instruments in the cabin) which allows them to enlist their instrument as a safe part of their travels on board, with exact dimensions to fit like any other item in the overhead bin. This form would be sent for approval and a copy taken with the owner for each flight as proof of permission. Does this sound farfetched? Does this already exist? So, I have to assume the 1980s were ‘the good old days’ when Isaac Stern put his violins in the overhead bin when we were on the same flight. It wasn’t an issue at all.

    • Gerhard says:

      As far as flying is concerned, the 1980’s certainly were the “good old days” in every respect. I remember looking forward to any opportunity to fly, while now every excuse to avoid a flight is most welcome.

    • Max Grimm says:

      Your idea regarding the online form sounds far-fetched to me if only for the reason that I have a difficult time seeing an airline doing something for passengers’ convenience, without seeing a (financially) worthwhile result for themselves.
      Quite a few airlines have metal frames or stands with baggage pictures drawn on to them and if your carry-on fits within the frame or doesn’t extend past the drawn outlines on the reference poster, your item is within allowed limits.
      That doesn’t change the real problem, which in my opinion is an arbitrary application of standards coupled with double standards regarding people traveling with instruments.

  • thekingontheviolin says:

    I was considering using the cheap option of going to Fort lauderdale instead of Miami with Norwegian from London Gatwick last week. I checked their musical instrument policy which is clear in dimensions. A violin will not fit.
    I ‘phoned to check and waited the twenty minutes or so and was ‘man handled’ with great hostility and arrogance by a female, rude and young whippersnapper who sounded like an enraged Nazi.
    She screamed
    ” VI DU ALLOWE EEINSTRUMENTS LIKE VIOLIN/ IT IS VERY EESSIE. YOU BOOKAN EX TRATEEKET.”
    Then she slammed the ‘phone down….

  • Kreeta-Julia Heikkilä says:

    I have never had problems with Norwegian before but I think this thing could happen with almost any airlines. How about taking the name of the attendant next time and say that you will take this thing case forward to his boss or something like that? I have had so many issues with different airlines considering cancelling my ticket, lost luggage or what so ever and the main problem seems to be that no-one wants to really take responsibility of doing their work and really SERVE the customers. Many attendants just follow the orders like soldiers (in this case the allowed measures of the hand luggage) and “refuse” to use a common sense. The best customer service I have got so far is from Finnair!

  • Patrick says:

    I had a similar problem in London Gatwick last week when flying to Warsaw. This was the first time I have taken my viola with me on Norwegian. When boarding the plane I asked the flight attendant if they had a cupboard I could put the case into (I always ask, and do this with BA, and AA), Norwegian do not have a coat cupboard, so I was not able to do this. The attendant told me that it was fine to put it in the overhead. I put the case in the overhead storage, and took my seat. Another flight attendant came along, and told me that I was not allowed to put up there, and that “no airline allows this.” She informed me that it should either be put in the hold, or I should have bought an extra seat (must be a window seat). I told her that if she really wanted to put it in the hold, they would have to find my checked suite case, and remove it from the hold, as I would not be flying. She referred me to their website, and again said it was not allowed in the overhead, and that that her colleague was “just being nice” when she said I could put it in there. In the end, the case was strapped into the window seat, and the flight was taken. This is not an experience I would like anyone to repeat. It does cost £30 to purchase the extra seat, but I do not know if there is a booking fee, and it must be done over the phone (I presume this is not a free call). So a cheap ticket may not be quite so cheap at the end of it.

    One thing we should all remember this that one violin/viola case does take up two and a bit carry-on suite cases. I understand why they want to pack in as much luggage into the overhead as possible, and that instrument cases really do not help. However, first come, first served. If you are last on the plane, and there is no space, hand luggage is routinely check for free. Therefore I see no problem with instrumental case. We just have to make sure we board first.

    Also, is it no federal law in the USA that the cases are allowed as luggage?

    Having posted my story on facebook, a number of friends told me I was simply unlucky as many of them had successful flights. Perhaps the tide is turning with Norwegian.

    Long live the nice flight attendants!

    • bratschegirl says:

      A violin/viola case actually does NOT take up the space of “two and a bit” carry-ons. I know European planes sometimes have smaller overhead lockers, so this might not apply to them, but in standard lockers on US-based planes, a violin case can go lengthwise in the back of the compartment, and two rollaboard cases can then go lengthwise in front of it. Presto, all 3 items fit, in the same amount of space taken up by 3 rollaboards placed crosswise with wheels out. Nobody is infringing on anyone else’s overhead space at all.

      • Patrick says:

        If the allowance is 55x40x25(cm), so the width of a carry-on is 40cm, my viola case is 90cm long. If the luggage is place in wheels first, the viola case will be longer than two carry on cases. My partner did put her carry-on in front of my case, as you say you do, but this was not allowed either.

    • bratschegirl says:

      And yes, it is now US law that any musical instrument that will fit in an overhead locker must be permitted on board, regardless of whether it fits within the airline’s sizing device or not.

  • Peter says:

    Probably that was not Norwegian, but the GROUND HANDLER company, here Menzies, who demonstrated such stupidity?
    A common mistake in the public perception, even the journalists have no clue, that most of the problems at airports have to do with the ground handlers, not the airlines themselves.
    And that those ground handlers employ more than the average share of morons, is due to the traveling public not wanting to pay sustainable fares that would allow paying ground handlers a life sustaining wage… nevertheless they should be able to follow the rules at least.

    https://www.cph.dk/en/flight-info/airlines/

    • Peter says:

      A quick google search for Norwegian’s ground handler MENZIES at CPH airport turned up this:
      “Menzies Aviation recently attempted to get established at Copenhagen airport with working conditions that were well below those paid by other companies. Thanks to solid and effective trade union action the company was forced to sign a collective agreement at the same level as its competitors.”

      Probably not the best company to both work for and not to be “mishandled”.

      Maybe requesting Norwegian to drop them as their ground handler in CPH would be prudent.

      • thekingontheviolin says:

        It is stated clearly in the dimensions’ description of Norwegian that objects larger than blah will not be carried. Violin cases are simply too long…
        Nothing to do with Menzies. They (Norwegian) say that musical instruments may be carried but this will only allow for mouth organs and possibly piccolos according to the dimension rules.

        In this they are the same as Ryanair, viz a no go area for violinists. They are up front about it and also obnoxious in their customer relations. (Same as Ryanair)

        • Radu Bitica says:

          I took the Norwegian plane from Copenhagen at 19 to Paris yesterday. The 1 st problem I got, was that I didn t have a seat on my ticket, so I kindly asked for it when I arrived in the plane, but they started to explain to me that I should go to the desk to ask for my seat number, or wait until the plane is full to choose one, AND that my violin case is not suitable, so I should have an extra seat or it s not going to the cabin… I tried to negotiate at this point, so I said that I was not aware of this (which was true) and that I ll know for next time, but I didn t get any approval from them for me just to stay somewhere back and let the other passagers get in… After waiting for 2 minutes out of the plane with my violin, duty free bags and a backpack,while looking the queue full of people with hand luggage,my common sense made me run and ask for my seat number before the plane gets full. In the meanwhile I had a little talk about the flight attendant and my violin. They told me, that it should be fine and they ll talk to him. I said that maybe it s better to don t and see what s going to happen next. So I run back with a seat number and the flight attendant let me in! While I sat down, the other flight attendant sayed: “No more luggage!” Despite of having the duty of carrying the violin most of the time, I will not be taking my instrument on a flight with Norwegian anymore.

        • Peter says:

          Thanks for the info, but maybe if you have a workforce that has remainders of common sense, and also a basic understanding of culture and music, rules are applied sensibly, not robotically. Unfortunately common sense is a rare commodity these days.
          Or is it just the social media affect, that these incidents are reported more even, while having happened all the time?

  • Daphne Georgiades says:

    I was organising a trio concert and my violinist phoned from Stansted to say that Ryanair were refusing to let her take her violin onboard unless I bought an extra ticket. So I reluctantly agreed. When she got onboard, cabin crew said it wasn’t safe to put the violin on a seat since it couldn’t be strapped in properly so would she please put it in the overhead locker!! Eventually I got a refund of the extra seat but what a nonsense it all is.

  • Tom says:

    The fact that “it fits in the overhead compartiments” is of no importance here. What is important, is that a violin case is larger than the standard maximum dimensions of hand luggage. Non-standard luggage should *always* be cleared or approved before check-in. You can’t just turn up carrying something you normally can’t, and demand to get on the plane. I do not know about Norwegian, but at Brussels Airlines and KLM, you have an option while buying your ticket announcing that you will carry an instrument or “non-standard sized luggage” in the cabin. As with pets or other luggage, there will be no problem to take it on board, as long as you warn them before. If you randomly show up demanding to be treated differently than the rest of the plane, well…

    • Peter says:

      In Europe there is still no unified legislation regarding small music instruments as hand luggage. Individual company policies come in all shades. It has nothing to do with low-cost or high-cost. It’s all about ignorance and target customer groups among the policy making forces in said airlines. Easy jet for instance has the most sensible and real world reflecting musical instruments policy among all, and is a low-cost carrier, even though not as low (as far as lack of humanity is concerned) as Ryanair.

  • Radu Bitica says:

    I took the Norwegian plane from Copenhagen at 19 to Paris yesterday. The 1 st problem I got, was that I didn t have a seat, so I kindly asked for it when I arrived in the plane, but they started to explain to me that I should go to the desk to ask for my seat number, or wait until the plane is full to choose one, AND that my violin case is not suitable, so I should have an extra seat or it s not going to the cabin… I tried to negotiate at this point, so I said that I was not aware of this (which was true) and that I ll know for next time, but I didn t get any approval from them for me just to stay somewhere back and let the other passagers get in… After waiting for 2 minutes out of the plane with my violin, duty free bags and a backpack, I decided to run and ask for my seat number before the plane gets full, meanwhile I had a little talk about the flight attendant and my violin. They told me, that it should be fine and they ll talk to him. I said that maybe it s better to don t and see what s going to happen next. So I run back and I could sit and put my violin where I wanted and lucky me, because while I sat down, the other flight attendant sayed: “No more luggage!” Despite of having the duty of carrying the violin most of the time, I will not be taking my instrument on a flight with Norwegian anymore.

  • Lara St John says:

    I wrote this Violin Plane post back in 2011. It seems that no matter which country or year, we always have to be prepared for arbitrary assholicism on the part of airline employees. Perhaps these little tricks can help a few traveling fiddlers!
    Lara
    https://sauriansaint.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/tricks-for-getting-your-violin-on-a-plane/

  • Sarah says:

    What annoys me more than anything is the size of some carry on suitcases. And what is in them ….. Knickers and socks!
    Why can’t common sense prevail – Underwear in the hold and valuables in the cabin.
    It’s become a farce.

    • Peter says:

      Indeed, that’s what common sense dictates. But “common sense huh”? “What is that”? “Can I buy it at Walmart”? “It’s not on TV, so it can’t be for real”.

  • Jan Matthiesen says:

    Norwegian changed their policy about 1,5 year ago. They are now like Ryan Air and Air Berlin. Try to avoid them. EasyJet are the hero amongst the lowfare companys, they have a clear possitive statement concerning violins (and violas).

  • Susanne says:

    We had a similarly bad experience returning from Copenhagen to London with Norwegian last year when the flight attendant tried to stop us taking our cases on board with us (one violin, one viola). Since we had both not only travelled with Norwegian before on many occasions but also flown out with them, we felt we could reasonably argue that this seemed a bit unexpected and possibly unreasonable. The attendant simply kept saying that we were wrong, we had never taken our cases on board before and we were making this up to make his life difficult. In the end we managed to enlist the help of another member of the cabin crew but as the initial comment had been that the airline were “cracking down on this sort of behaviour”, I don’t see us ever using Norwegian again.
    This is a continuing battle which has been fought for at least the last twenty years or so, and the one real success story has been Easyjet, who back in 2002 collected measurements of common instrument cases and have ever since published an official hand baggage policy listing those instruments on their website. You still get the odd ignorant member of check in staff but as long as you can refer them to their own company website you can’t lose.
    Maybe it is time for a ” Musicians against Ryanair”-type boycott of Norwegian Airlines?

  • Luke says:

    Norway is not part of the EU…

  • Chris says:

    Just wanted to share this in case anyone gets charged for carry-on baggage even though it’s within weight & size limits.

    *** Recent interaction with online Norwegian Air Agent (27 Jan 2016):

    Johanna: Hi, my name is Johanna. How may I help you?

    Chris: Good day and hope you are doing well! I have a question regarding
    policy and baggage.
    According to some excerpts from Hand Baggage section 10.6.1 “Objects that exceed the permitted limits or items that we consider will not fit in the cabin must be sent as Checked Baggage.” & “You may be subject to the applicable baggage charges if the item exceeds the allowable limits. “

    Am I correct to assume that if I arrive to the airport with hand-baggage within allowable limits for weight and size as a carry-on, according to current Norwegian policies, and a gate agent state I need to check my baggage because there is no room inside the airplane, I will NOT have to pay the fee since the policy states I’ll only be subject to fees if it exceeds the allowable limits, correct?

    Johanna: Correct

    Chris: Understood, thanks for your time!

    ————————————————————————————–

    Hope this helps someone down the road.

  • Ah says:

    Norwegian clearly says on their website that if a musical instrument exceeds the allowed dimensions you have to buy an extra seat or check it, so we should all do our research before traveling. I fly on average once a month and I avoid airlines that does this (Ryanair, Norwegian, Swiss, sas…) so why is this kind of ‘news’ still being reporte?. Doesn’t matter how expensive the violin is, the problem is just the dimension.
    Let’s not be a bunch of winey complainers, us musicians. Just don’t fly with companies that want you to pay extra or want you to check your violin. We should be worried about problems like this when we are buying the ticket not when we are already at the airport

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