Airline confirms: We won’t board violins

The young Viennese violinist Daniel Auner has written to Air Berlin, seeking clarification of a Slipped Disc report this week that the airline is insisting violinists buy an extra seat for their instrument.

Air Berlin sent him a polite reply today, stating quite firmly that they will not accept a violin as hand luggage:

Betreff: Re: Re: Gepäck / Sondergepäck / Handgepäck – Anfrage über das Kontaktformular
Datum: Fri, 5 Feb 2016 10:05:02 +0100
Von: airberlin Service Center <service-center@airberlin.com>
Antwort an: service-center@airberlin.com
An: info@danielauner.com

Sehr geehrter Herr Auner,
vielen Dank für Ihre E-Mail.
Aufgrund der Abmessung wird Ihr unschätzbares Musikinstrument neben Ihnen Platz nehmen müssen.
Bitte kontaktieren Sie die Mitarbeiter unserer Service Hotline, um eine Neubuchung mit Extra Seat anzulegen. Für den Extra Seat ist der Nettotarif für einen Erwachsenen plus Kerosinzuschlag zu zahlen.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen

Ihr S. Kalaica
Service Team airberlin group

Air Berlin PLC & Co. Luftverkehrs KG
Saatwinkler Damm 42-43
D-13627 Berlin
Germany

Moral of the story: Avoid Air Berlin.

airberlin

UPDATE: Airberlin commented: ‘As our service team stated, violins can be brought on board by buying an additional ticket for the netto fare price plus kerosene surcharge. We forwared (sic) this issue to our colleagues to review our policies regarding instruments on board.’

To which we replied: ‘At present, you are the only airline that requires violinists to purchase an extra seat. Plus gas surcharge. No musician will knowingly fly arberlin again until these penalties are removed. NL’

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  • “Ihr unschätzbares Musikinstrument”! It’s not just “firm” but pretty sarcastic as well. A reply like that alone would be a good enough reason to stay away from them, also for those who never carry any instruments.

    • I do not believe the comment to be sarcastic. It states simply that the value of the instrument is unpredictable. As the airline is responsible for safe transport and therefore liable in case of damage. I find it quite understandable that te airline won’t take such a risk.
      Air Berlin does in fact board violins, just not for free and not along with regular luggage. You would want your instrument to be transported intact, wouldn’t you?

  • There goes that broad brush stroke again, Norman.
    AirBerlin’s response to Mr. Auner begins with “Aufgrund der Abmessung”, which means ‘based on the measurements’ [of your instrument + case].
    For a long time, the rule with most airlines has been that one can bring an instrument aboard if the instrument in its travel case conforms to regular cabin luggage size limits. If it does not, one must buy an additional seat or agree to have the instrument placed in the hold of the plane.
    The only thing that has changed in more recent times is that airlines have stopped trying to accommodate passengers by slightly bending some rules and have started enforcing said rules more strictly.
    Yes, it’s a pain in the posterior for those of us traveling with instruments, yes, it’s a chore sifting through all of the rules that influence our travels and yes, airlines will try to fleece you for all it’s worth. This doesn’t change the fact that in many, if not most cases of “I/my instrument was denied boarding” the blame for that situation rests squarely on the insufficiently informed shoulders of the traveler him-/herself.

    • And no violin or viola case has ever conformed to those limits, nor ever will, but that has no bearing on what ought to be the primary consideration, namely whether violin and viola cases can be accommodated without depriving anyone else of their fair share of overhead locker space.

      The idea of buying a seat for a violin or viola is ridiculous, because given the geography of the cases, and the lap-only seat belts on airplanes, there’s really no way to secure them in a seat so they can’t potentially fly about the cabin in the event of extreme circumstances. It’s too ironic that some airlines won’t allow cellos in seats, for “safety” reasons, although they actually can be secured there, and others are trying to insist that violins and violas go there, when they can’t be.

      • I agree with you and based on your pseudonym, you and I share the same problematic when traveling.
        The big problem with airlines is simply that many of us are dependent on them and they know it and charge accordingly. Couple that hunger for profit with the frequent unwillingness to address potentially costly problems (remember, this is the industry that in the past largely refused to increase minimum rest periods for pilots to save on cost until several deadly crashes due to pilots’ “fatigue” and considerable government pressure and lobbying brought them to their knees) and I doubt musicians or people in general who are required to travel will see any significant positive change in the near future.

    • Max, I’m curious. Are you a musician who travels? You comment frequently on travel issues and defend airline policies vigorously.

      It so happens that I’m a guitarist who travels and often my ensembles include violins, violas, and cellos. That means that I have to consider their travel as well. Some airlines are accommodating. I’ve had good luck with the three Lufthansa airlines: GermanWings, Austrian Air, and Lufthansa itself. Air Berlin was always hit-and-miss. It appears now it is miss-and-miss.

      • What ever exactly gave you the impression that I “defend airline policies vigorously” is beyond me. I’ve time and again said that airlines know very well that they’ve cornered a market and get away with arbitrary, even nonsensical rules, while shamelessly milking the proverbial cash-cow.
        Where I get confused is being presented with incensed travelers who have been mistreated by an airline, being asked to share their outrage, only to find out that they didn’t inform themselves and could have taken steps to avoid the problem or, to a lesser extent, that particular airline altogether (I’m not speaking of Mr. Auner, who’d have good reason to be indignant toward such a snide response to a valid inquiry).

  • On US and many foreign airlines, my TravelPro rollaboard measuring 22″x14″x8″ – totaling 44″ fits and is allowed in the overhead. Total dimension of my oblong violin case = 44″. Obviously, airlines’ decisions regarding instruments are insane and certainly arbitrary. In the US, the AFM, LAO and other musical organizations have supposedly worked things out with the FAA and TSA. Nonetheless, problems remain.

  • Air Berlin is not the only one that requires you to buy an extra seat for violins and violas. There’s: Ryanair, Swiss, sas, Norwegian air shuttle, and possible others.
    I think all these airlines have clearly written regulations on their websites, so us violinists/violists should just do ou homework and check before we buy our tickets.. And it wait til boarding time! And then go home and complain on the Internet. I fly all the time without problems because I choose airlines like Lufthansa Alitalia easyjet Brussels etc.
    I do miss the days when there are no limits on how much you can bring onboard, but the situation is like this now and we don’t want airlines the hold grudges against us.

    • Hi AH!
      Sorry, I have a different experience (tourmanager): extraseats for violins and altos are clearly required by Ryan and Vueling at the moment. We use to travel with SAS and SWISS without extraseats, and never problems. We had troubles sometimes with Easyjet, but it depends on the airport ( just in London, because of the “hard cases”..??).
      BTW it is absolutely true that if they want to strictly apply the rule about the allowed dimensions for the cabin baggages no violin could fit (at least for the bow-case)! Few companies decided to allow a violin like 1-piece-cabin-baggages, not considering the dimensions. It is simply ridicoulous to obligate a musician (or the orchestra) to buy an extraseat for each instrument, especially when they have “normal” fares (Ryan and Vueling could be very cheap, we must admit).
      Everything depends on the people at the airport at the end, but when you represent an orchestra you can’t “bet” on that. It is really a shame!

    • Norwegian had recently changed their policies to accommodate violins/violas. And I have personally never had a problem with SAS (nor with Finnair, Lufthansa, etc), even though their guidelines don’t specifically make an exception for violins/violas. The ones I know of to definitely avoid (if you don’t want to pay an extra seat) would be Ryanair, AirBerlin, AirBaltic, and Veuling (probably others missing, but they don’t run the routes I fly).

      • Hi all:

        I guess I am just accounting for the actual regulations the airlines have posted on their websites. Of course we could just buy a ticket from those airlines that technically don’t accept instruments in overhead bins, and try to board with instruments anyways. If you get lucky (and probably would) then kudos. Personally I never take that risk, If these airlines (SAS, swiss, etc) show me their policies when I try to board, I am screwed.
        I have recently emailed customer care of SAS and Norwegian Shuttle asking about violin/viola cases on board, and they both say NO, WE DO NOT ACCEPT THEM, unless I purchase an extra seat.
        Anyway, it is frustrating, but I usually stick with the big airlines like Lufthansa, Alitalia, of course big international ones like Air Canada or United, so I dont run into problems (Or even ryanair because sometimes buying 2 seats is actually cheaper than a single seat from other airlines).
        Another interesting about Easyjet: One time I had to put my violin (shaped case, super light and slim) under the seat in front of me, which is a hazard because it stuck out, but the stewardess said she didn’t care, as long as I don’t store it overhead which took up 2.5 spaces for suitcases

  • This whole obey-the-regulations idea can be tricky, even if you check before buying. Twice I’ve booked expecting to follow the rules only to find that the rules were changed after the booking. And I know two musicians who booked Air Berlin flights before the rules changed in December and then were stuck purchasing last-minute seats for their instruments in January.

    • He he, but actually the airline starts to scare customers away under the new CEO Pichler, who is Bavarian, biggest share holder is Etihad.
      There is a long tradition of people from Southern Germany who made it big in Berlin and screwed it up for the rest of us. 😉

  • Hi AH!
    Sorry, I have a different experience (tourmanager): extraseats for violins and altos are clearly required by Ryan and Vueling at the moment. We use to travel with SAS and SWISS without extraseats, and never problems. We had troubles sometimes with Easyjet, but it depends on the airport ( just in London, because of the “hard cases”..??).
    BTW it is absolutely true that if they want to strictly apply the rule about the allowed dimensions for the cabin baggages no violin could fit (at least for the bow-case)! Few companies decided to allow a violin like 1-piece-cabin-baggages, not considering the dimensions. It is simply ridicoulous to obligate a musician (or the orchestra) to buy an extraseat for each instrument, especially when they have “normal” fares (Ryan and Vueling could be very cheap, we must admit).
    Everything depends on the people at the airport at the end, but when you represent an orchestra you can’t “bet” on that. It is really a shame!

  • I am a bassoonist and have fortunately, never had a problem with carrying my bassoon on a plane, actually I usually stow it underfoot, and keep my feet over it to avoid notice that it is technically, slightly too long. It seems strange to me that you can bring your 2 year old child on a plane without a seat, and that child is bigger, heavier, and more cumbersome then a violin!

  • It’s unfortunate when musicians who are unaware of their rights are foolish enough to send emails to random customer service agents or, even worse, to make a scene at the gate when boarding a flight. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! See Amendment 33, Recital 29 regarding Musical Instruments, which was adopted by the European Parliament in February 2014. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&language=EN&reference=P7-TA-2014-0092

    Just flew four flights on Air Berlin in January, including two on turbo props between Berlin and Krakow, with no issues bring viola case onboard as cabin baggage.

    Here’s a few tips:
    1) Security
    As long as you remember to remove extra strings, tuning forks and any sharp objects (including nail clippers) from your instrument case and place them in your checked luggage, you should not encounter any issues passing through security. If security personnel ask you what type of instrument it is, say violin — if you say viola they may not be familiar with a viola and you could open up a proverbial can of worms!

    2) It’s all about the gate agent
    Don’t waste your time speaking to airline personnel on the phone or by email, as you will receive wildly different answers. It’s all about the gate agent. When you are in the gate area, do not draw attention to yourself and do not have excess carry-on luggage. The main thing gate agents are looking for are people with excess carry-on luggage. In additional to your violin/viola case, have only one small soft-side bag that can easily fit under the seat in front of you. Do not, under any circumstances, engage in an argument or heated discussion with the gate agent about your instrument case — you will lose this argument. Carry print-outs of the European Union ruling mentioned above should there be a question about whether your instrument case is allowed on board. In the highly unlikely event that the gate agent will not allow you to take your instrument case onto the aircraft, be prepared with 2 pillowcases: wrap your instrument in these, check the empty case, and sit with the instrument on your lap for the entire flight.

    3) Know the aircraft equipment and overhead bin space for your flights
    Check to find out the actual airline that is operating the flights you are traveling on as well as the aircraft type that will be used for your flights. The challenge you will have for short-haul flights, especially within Europe, is the use of smaller aircraft that may not have overhead bins large enough for an instrument case. You can find more information about the overhead bin size on seatguru.com as well as flyertalk.com. If it turns out that you are on smaller regional jets that cannot accommodate the instrument case, don’t blame the airline — book on an aircraft that has appropriate overhead lockers or take the train.

    • That EU regulation has not been ratified, has it? As far as I know it is not binding yet. The one in the USA is, but not so far in the EU. I think.

      • Yes, it was ratified by the European Parliament in February 2014 and it is now EU law. Comments accompanying the ratification documents show that it is intended to be interpreted that as along as the instrument case can be securely stowed in the overhead locker or under the seat, it goes on board.

    • Technically the airlines who require you to buy an extra sear for your instruments are following the rules; They do allow instruments! but you have to pay $$
      I agree with the fact you should never draw attention to yourself carrying a big ass violin/viola case. Usually I never turn my back on an gate agent or a stewardess/steward greeting people boarding the plane.

  • They are adding insult to injury, by charging not only for a ticket, but also “kerosene surcharges”.

    What a joke that airline has become under its new CEO.
    Kerosene surcharge for a 5 kg item, of course.
    How much kerosene surcharge for my coat?
    Gold teeth? (they are heavier than real teeth!)

    The “kerosene surchcharge” is about the same then the actual price for the ticket, btw!
    And only they know, why in times of extremely low oil and kerosene prices, they ask for this surcharge…

    Can I get a discount, if I go to the bathroom before the flight?

    And what kind of evidence you need, that I am actually a bit lighter after a visit to the toilet?

    Way to go Air Berlin! We have options elsewhere fortunately.

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