Just in: American Airlines throw off an international violinist

Just in: American Airlines throw off an international violinist


norman lebrecht

April 28, 2016

The Chicago-based soloist Rachel Barton Pine tweeted earlier that AA had refused to board her valuable violin despite having notified her that she could carry it on.

Here’s the full story, from Rachel’s people:


rachel barton pine1

photo Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Internationally acclaimed violinist Rachel Barton Pine was denied boarding her April 27 American Airlines evening flight #3542 because she was carrying on the “ex-Bazzini ex-Soldat” 1742 Joseph Guarneri “del Gesu” violin, on lifetime loan to her from an anonymous patron.

The plane was to take her from her hometown Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Albuquerque, NM for her engagement this weekend with the New Mexico Philharmonic.

Pine was the first passenger down the jet bridge.  However, the captain (who would not give his name to Pine) refused to allow her to board the plane with the violin case because “its dimensions were not correct for a carry-on”. Pine flies over 100,000 miles a year with American Airlines and has flown the same plane configuration on numerous occasions, placing the violin case in the overhead compartment.

Pine shared with the captain the American Airlines policy stated on their website:
“You can travel with small musical instruments as your carry-on item on a first come, first serve basis as long as it: Fits in the overhead bin; or Fits under the seat in front of you.”

According to Pine, the captain replied, “It is not going on because I say so.”

Pine is scheduled to perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the New Mexico Philharmonic, conducted by Fawzi Haimor on April 30. She was flying the evening of the 27th to attend events the next day with students in the New Mexico Philharmonic’s Young Musician Initiative program as part of her community outreach schedule.

According to Pine, agents at the American Airlines ticket counter were very apologetic about the crew’s behaviour and worked closely with Pine to locate and rebook her on a flight option that would get her to Albuquerque in time to honour her commitment to the young musicians.  Rather than a direct flight arriving at 10:30pm that evening, Pine took a 5am flight with a connection through Phoenix the next day.

Unfortunately, these experiences are common among musicians traveling with fragile instruments, even after the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that required U.S. carriers to allow passengers to carry on a small musical instrument, like a violin or guitar, provided it could be stored in an overhead compartment, closet, or under the seat.

“The Department of Transportation and the airlines have established important policies to protect musical instruments.  However, those policies are meaningless if they are not enforced or if the airline staff and crews are not properly educated and trained.” says Pine.


  • Sara Nathan says:

    Goodness puts our whinges about the BA ground staff in Berlin being inconsiderate with our four cellists (each instrument had its own seat) into perspective: we had about two dozen violins/violas carried on as hand luggage each way and no queries either way. Indeed one air hostess turned out to be a RCM graduate and part-time music teacher

  • Emil Chudnovsky says:

    The captain’s name and the disciplinary actions AA takes against him must be made public or the airline tacitly endorses their employee’s unwarranted, illegal behavior and, as such, is complicit in breaking the law.

    • Brian B says:

      He should be fired. Not only violated AA policy but FAA policy. As a pilot.

      • An Airline pilot says:

        That wasn’t an AA flight. The captain on that flight was barely making 70k a year. These writers need to do a little better research. The flight number was correct, but it was NOT on AA.

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          Yes, it’s a code share with Envoy Airlines. But, I think AAL needs to assume some responsibility here.

          That said, the Captain is the boss on an airplane, as you know. I have seen this before involving an armed guard for VIPs who had FBI clearance. The Captain decided that no guns were traveling on his plane and we waited on board at the gate for several hours for an international flight departure. The Captain proposed the resolution: the body guard had to surrender his gun to the Captain who returned it to him upon landing after all the passengers had deplaned. At first the guard refused, but relented when it became clear that the Airbus 330 was going nowhere unless he did.

          In the case of this valuable violin, I believe that the Captain, who isn’t a direct employee of AAL, will keep his job, but will probably receive a bit of instruction concerning the care and feeding of important AAL passengers on code share flights.

          I hope AAL offers an apology and benefits to the Rachel Barton Pine.

          • Larry W says:

            Robert, a pilot told me that until the doors are closed, the crew has control of the plane. (See below.)

        • Belinda Flanagan says:

          So are you saying that the pilot’s salary gives him the right to be rude and flaunt the law?

        • Catherine McClain says:

          Well, Rachel is actually a friend of mine. It was indeed an AA flight. She was posting on Facebook and Twitter about it with pictures too. https://www.facebook.com/rachelbartonpine/posts/10153377783685807?pnref=story.unseen-section
          Nothing but the story of having to nearly cancel her series and how she was kicked off the flight is on her timeline right now. We are all pretty peeved.

      • Ed says:

        Actually, the Captain, while being inflexible and imperious in his judgment, did not break the law. It is explicitly stated in Federal Aviation Regulations that the Captain is the final authority in the operation of the aircraft–in every respect. Unfortunately, it sometimes happens, (usually following come kind of internal conflict), that some crewmembers take that authority too seriously.

  • Respect says:

    Instead of laying the blame on the pilots and crews ( who are grossly underpaid and under Pressure), why not look yo the real problem, the corporate masters who create these policies yet always come up with a, “we’re so regretful” every time it hits the press? They dodge responsibility every time.

    • OhGlorioso says:

      The median pay for pilots of commercial airlines in the US is $121,408.00. Grossly underpaid….I think not.

      • Stacey says:

        Smaller Envoy Pilots make less than Flight Attendants. He’s lucky if he hits 50 thousand a year.

      • Robert Bielawski says:

        “Median” income is the key. Try commuter captain, lets keep apples and oranges separate. I think we should pay the guy “guiding” the 50 ton tube at 5 miles and 500 MPH like say minimum wage that way the 1%ers can have even more. Well, unless that tube crashes on their Mcmansion.

      • Sky_Muffin says:

        Regional carriers pilots, like Envoy Airlines, top out at less than 1/3 the amount of a large carrier like American, Delta and United. They start at as low as $16,000 a year (paying their dues).

    • Brian B says:

      Underpaid? Corporate “masters?” 90% of AA pilots make well over six figures a year. The least they can do is follow company policy set by the “masters.” Enough with the socialist bs.

      • Philip D McKenzie says:

        Whether pilots are paid “only” $70k or $120k on average, they are trained well enough to fly a plane safely. How much should they be paid before learning existing rules (in this case rules that are completely aligned with common sense) regarding customers?

  • CDH says:

    Pilots are underpaid? On American Airlines? I don’t think so.

    This is beyond a joke. Can’t companies that have a policy, or have to adhere to laws and regulations, let staff know that their decisions are not arbitrary? Does nobody train staff at all any more?

  • Enion says:

    Respect, this particular case was clearly the fault of the pilot. American’s policy is such that Rachel should
    have been allowed to board with her violin. I always pay to pre-board, as I’m sure she did in this case, because space for a violin is on a first come first serve basis. The pilot violated his company’s own policy.

  • Sam Smith says:

    Yes, pilots are underpaid and overworked.

    • Nichole says:

      You’re incorrect, period. These guys pull in at least a healthy six figures a year. As someone who IS underpaid, I feel perfectly fine saying that, if THAT much money is too little for you, you clearly have a highly inflated sense of self-worth. Period.

    • Gene in L.A. says:

      Whether they are or not is irrelevant to this issue. Rules are rules no matter what your salary is.

  • DB says:

    This was an “AA flight” but operated by Envoy Air. All the major airlines contract out their regional flights to smaller carriers, and those pilots are not at all well paid.

  • William Méndez says:

    I travel frequently with my violin, I am an exec platinum on AA (that means I fly > 100k miles/yr) I travel frequently in these smaller jets from envoy (as recent as 2 weeks ago) and I have NEVER had a problem with my violin. That said, this pilot was obviously arrogant and abusive and inconsiderate with whom is obviously a loyal customer in that airline. Being “underpaid” is a problem of the pilot, their union and the airline. Its unexcusable to use passengers as scapegoats if you are unhappy with your paycheck. He should be fired indeed, because if you are unhappy with your job, then quit it, but dont take it on the very same people who pay sometimes extravagant fares so the pilot can get paid.

  • Avery McDaniel says:

    First, pilots have our lives in their hands and I don’t believe they could ever be overpaid. And like a captain of ship, a captain of the airplane has complete control of the vessel. However, should this authority be abused the captain should be held responsible.

    Second, AA has a corp. culture of their employees (usually flight attendants) being above the law. I’ve seen flight attendants quote laws to passengers that I knew (I’m a lawyer) was blatantly false. I have little issue with a captain making a decision, but 99% of the time, flight attendants are the ones making these egregious decisions and usually to just satisfy their own ego.

    Third, our govt gives “carte blanche” to flight attendants and there are no repercussions for their actions or for the airline when violating the law.

  • Larry W says:

    I had the reverse situation when traveling with my son and his cello, for which we had a paid seat. It was a Continental sub-carrier, and the cello was in front of a bulkhead, as required. The stewardess refused to allow the cello to stay on the plane, even though we had flown on the very same plane on the first leg of the trip. After several threats to have us thrown off the plane, alternatives were given, which included checking the cello or my staying behind with the cello and my teenage son flying alone. I explained about the new FAA ruling regarding instruments on planes, a copy of which I had with me. I had gotten to know the captain before the flight, so I asked to speak to him. He had no objection to the cello, but said that until the doors are closed the crew had control of the plane. After 45 minutes, the captain left the plane and got a higher up person to come and allow the cello on board, but in a different seat. I found out that the stewardess wanted to sit in the cello’s seat because the jumpseat in front was broken.

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      When flying in America, always make sure you have duct tape with you. You may need it to keep the plane from falling apart, irrespective of any instrument you are legally carrying with you.

  • Stacy Anderson says:

    Even if the pilot is underpaid, what does that have to do with not following company policy or bullying a traveler?

  • Jack says:

    Why so much babbling about pilot salaries? That’s utterly irrelevant. This pilot was (is) a dick and ought to be severely disciplined and AA has an interest in seeing that this happens since it absolutely reflects on them and their service.

  • Brian Hughes says:

    I’m trying to understand what the hell this “underpaid business” (if at all true) has to do with anything. It’s an FAA regulation and Ms. Pine was following the law and airline policy. The captain’s “because I say so” attitude is illegal, childish and unprofessional.

  • Frank says:

    If you’re a musician, try to avoid AA. And never fly any regional jets in the US if you can possibly avoid them. They are statistically much less safe, the crews are poorly trained, and (obviously) don’t care who’s paying their salaries (whatever they are). Further, if an outsourced AA “captain” chooses which FAA rules he/she would like to observe, one must assume that also applies to issues of airworthiness/safety.

    • Airline Pilot says:

      As a regional pilot, I have to say that your comment is bleeding with ignorance. The planes and crews are just as safe as mainline and our training is IDENTICAL. The average pilot at my airline has been there for 10-15 years with 10,000+ hours flying commercially.

      When it comes to customer service and AA policy, Pilots aren’t taught or required to learn much outside of policy that is related to safety and security. Flight Attendands, Gate Agents, and Customer Service Reps are the go-to for AA policy. Pilots have too much on their plates during pre-flight to have to worry about memorizing or reciting from memory AA policy that doesn’t have to do with the actual flight.

      With that said, I agree, he was being a jerk. We are still there to give our passengers a pleasant and accommodating experienced. However, the Captain does have the final authority on things and it’s his job to back up his crew (which is most likely what happens).

    • Mike Sailors says:

      Please post these statistics you’re referring to.

  • bratschegirl says:

    This is infuriating. It is now settled US law that any musical instrument that will fit in an overhead bin, regardless of whether it meets the airline’s usual measurement standard for carry-on suitcases, MUST be allowed on board if there is room for it. Airline personnel no longer have legal discretion, as they used to, to refuse boarding to instruments that will fit. This airline needs to retrain its personnel pronto.

    • Susan B says:

      @Bratschgirl — Absolutely. The pilot was in the wrong, end of story, but likely will receive no more than a slap on the wrist. That said, AA is no worse than the other US based airlines; this is the first AA anecdote I’ve heard in years and certainly the first since the new FAA regs went into effect some months ago, to great jubilation. The regional lines with AA flight numbers are sometimes a wild card, but they must be held accountable. As an AA million miler I’m writing to Customer Service to complain. A drop in the bucket, but if others do the same AA might notice.

  • Jozo says:

    The captain is the leader not the boss! Rules and regulations are the boss!

  • Slider says:

    Here is an idea: why didn’t she just take the violin & bow out of the case and check the case. She could have held her instrument or placed it under her seat for take off and landing. It would have been in her control during the flight.

  • DW says:

    Remove violin and bow. Check the case. Take violin and bow on plane. Get case at baggage claim. Place violin & bow back in case. Get to ABQ on time. Sleep in the next morning.

  • Paul says:

    Once again, the headline of a Slipped Disc article is misleading. Ms. Barton was not thrown off, as the title implies. According to the article, she was not allowed to board the plane. There is a difference, is there not?

    Hold yourself to a higher standard, Mr. Lebrecht.

  • Mike Blake says:

    Fire the bastard!

  • CG says:

    This is unfortunate and I believe something similar has happened to her previously. It must be very frustrating. If I were a traveling violinist and I had the budget, I would charter my own plane so I would have more control of my destiny. I would like to think there is a business opportunity here for an airline or charter service to provide a solution that works for musicians.

  • Milka says:

    Could the pilot have been responding as a music lover especially as one
    who appreciates the art of the violin .

    • Larry W says:

      If that were the case, you would have nothing in common.

      • Milka says:

        Was referring to the pilot’s good taste…which obviously escapes you, whether the pilot
        or Milka have anything common is a failed exercise in trying to be clever .

        • Larry W says:

          Your previous comments about Rachel leave little doubt as to your meaning.

        • Larry W says:

          Your “observations” are almost uniformly negative. You say art is a matter of taste. In that case, it can be observed that your taste is only in your mouth.

          • Milka says:

            It is evident you have trouble with the difference between the spoken and written word
            As for your observation on my taste – Yes I do dine out at the finest restaurants in the
            world while I suppose you must make do with hot dogs .

          • Larry W says:

            Poor Milka, your invectives are depleted. The trouble is your written words, as none here are spoken. Oh, I do relish hot dogs.

  • AA regional pilot says:

    It’s obviously that none of you commenting here know the true facts of what happen that day. Now, the law clearly states that the music instrument can come onboard if there is space available and/or the instrument Fits.
    Who knows what really happened that day and I really doubt the captain or the crew did this on purpose.
    In regards to pilot pay, yes AA underpays and overworks their regional airline pilots. People think we make lots of money flying for AA but we don’t. Believe me when I say this, we don’t make more than six figures and our co-pilots start at 20,000 dollars a year.

  • shannon says:

    Many savvy musicians PURCHASE seats for their EXTREMELY VALUABLE instruments then put a seat belt around them. MUCH SAFER THAN OVERHEAD BIN!!!!!!!

  • Colby says:

    If that was an Envoy Flight .. Overhead space is limited and “Carry-Ons” are not permitted !!!
    The Captain was following the airlines rules !! END OF STORY !!
    I am a flight attendant for them !!

    • Scott Fields says:

      Congressionally mandated FAA regulations do not allow airlines to block the carry on of small musical instruments, with violins and guitars mentioned specifically, if they fit in the overhead or under a seat.

      That you don’t know this indicates that Envoy has an education issue to address.

  • daykamp@gmail.com says:

    you just confirmed my boycott of AA I had numerous problems when I was flying international a lot, so what a crap airline they lost my money hope they lose you’rs and if enough people respond correctly they might clean-up their act.

  • Rachel Barton Pine says:

    The American Airlines statement regarding the incident is misleading, at best.

    It is unclear to me what factual basis was used by the captain to “determine” that my violin case “could not be safely secured in an overhead bin or under a seat.” I was the first passenger to arrive at the door of the airplane, and the overhead bins were empty. My violin case was never permitted aboard the aircraft and the captain and flight attendant denied my request to demonstrate that it fit. In fact, they told me “it doesn’t matter if it fits” and that “it’s not going on because I say so.”

    The American Airlines agents and representatives at the O’Hare ticket counter were exceptionally helpful in rebooking me. However, the only consideration was my arrival in Albuquerque in time for my obligations. The size of the aircraft was never an issue. The first leg of my flight was a 737, which is significantly larger than the CRJ-700 on which I was originally booked. The connecting flight from Phoenix to Albuquerque was a CRJ-900, which is only slightly larger than the CRJ-700.

    I have flown both CRJ configurations, storing my instrument in the overhead, on many occasions in the past. A photo of my violin in the overhead of the CRJ-900 can be seen on my Instagram account. My violin case would have fit without any problem into the overhead of my original flight (incidentally, its dimensions are 32.5 x 11.25 x 6.75 and the dimensions of the CRJ-700 overhead bins are 52.5 x 14 x 9.5 according to the American Airlines website).

    Thank you to those who have suggested purchasing a seat for my violin rather than using the overhead bin. The federal law and the American Airlines policy recognize that the safest place for a small instrument like a violin or a guitar is in the closet, in an overhead bin, or under a seat. I suspect that these rules exist for both the safety of the instrument and the safety of other passengers. A violin case would be even more difficult to secure in an airplane seat than a rollerboard suitcase and could dislodge and injure someone in an emergency situation.

    It is important to remember that American Airlines is not the issue – this happens on other airlines. This issue also extends beyond me – this kind of thing happens far too often to other musicians traveling with their instruments. And the issue is definitely not the value of the violin – a $50 violin is just as breakable as the antique violin which I borrow. The issue is the awareness of and adherence to Federal laws and airline polices established to ensure the safe transport of musical instruments on airplanes. Employees of all airlines must be educated about these policies and must abide by them.

    Rachel 🙂

    • Andrew says:

      Just adding to this: I often travel with a viola, and I’ve flown on CRJ-700s before. If my viola case fits in the overhead bin of a CRJ-700, then every violin case I’ve ever seen does too.