‘Mr Isaac Stern may hold his violin on his lap during takeoffs and landings’

‘Mr Isaac Stern may hold his violin on his lap during takeoffs and landings’


norman lebrecht

February 05, 2016

In January 1968, Isaac Stern had some difficulty taking his violin onto a United Airlines flight. On returning home, Isaac called his lawyer, who fired off letters to United and to the Federal Aviation Administration.


stern collection

The replies, shown to us by Tarisio, the instrument auction house, effectively gave Isaac a passports to carry his violin wherever he liked, almost. The FAA stipulated ‘so long as it can be stowed under a seat.’ United suggested that Isaac hold the violin on his lap.

Different times.



  • V.Lind says:

    Those were the days: when the name Isaac Stern on the passenger list probably warranted a frisson of excitement whispered among the flight cabin crew, having already done so when he (or more likely someone on his behalf) made his reservation. Not universally, perhaps, as he reported a problem, but they were times in which top musicians’ names were not only recognised but were sources of admiration.

    Nowadays, the name of Itzhak Perlman would ring few bells among the various staff streams of airlines, from reservations to flight crew. Or, for that matter, Lang Lang. And I would have my doubts about Neil Young, surely one of the most celebrated popular singers of recent decades: not recent enough, as more and more jobs go to people born in the 1990s. This is not a generation to whom the past has any resonance, whether in music, what they read, political trends or, God forbid, history. Nothing matters if it did not happen to them or their peers.

    Respect is dead.

  • Max Grimm says:

    Times may be different Norman, but at least airlines have become much more discerning.
    While – “for your safety and the safety of those around you” – you may no longer travel with your violin/viola on your lap, you are still permitted to fly, holding your up to 2 year old child on your lap.

    • Phil McKenzie says:

      Or a pot-bellied pig as an emotional support animal

      • Max Grimm says:

        Indeed. If I had the choice of either allowing emotional support animals or allowing violins/violas, I’d choose the instruments. In case of an emergency, I’d much rather be struck by a violin than a pot-bellied pig flying about the cabin and so far I have yet to hear of a violin/viola biting passengers and crew or defecating in the aisle.

  • Franz says:

    Fiddle on lap so he could hold the bagels and doughnuts with his hands?

  • flipthefrog says:

    I dont know if it’s on purpose or if it’s just the WordPress template you’re using, but it’s rather pointless to post a tiny tiny thumbnail of an image with no link to a highres. Particularly when a Google search yields this: