My quartet hits airport cello blockade

My quartet hits airport cello blockade


norman lebrecht

April 15, 2016

From our weekend diarist, Anthea Kreston of the Artemis Quartet:


artemis play

We have all been reading the stories about trouble travelling with instruments.  Somehow, with my small bullet-case, an over-the-shoulder strap, and a scarf covering my strap from the front, I have escaped any problems. A big smile, confident carriage, and a way of agreeing first with any airport personnel, then attentively and patiently listening as the work out the solution has taken me this far without fail.

As I write now, I am covered in a thick patina (wait – isn’t a patina by definition thin?) of sweaty film, looking out the window of our flight from Cincinnati to Toronto. The cello, today’s culprit, sits scroll down, across from the aisle from me. It is 11:03, and our scheduled flight of 10:50 has just begun to taxi.

Why the sweat?  Today as we showed up for checkin, there was, for some reason, an inability to track the cello ticket which was purchased for this flight. The 6 digit code would not produce any results, last names either – and they reported that the flight had checked in full. The quartet kept its cool – each member naturally assuming a different role as things continued to unfold in a negative way, each solution proposed ending in a deadlock.

We are flying Air Canada, and somehow the checkin staff seems lethargic, uncreative and defeatist. I want to say – “come on, Chelsey, Jennifer – we can do this!!”, but I fear this would have a negative reaction. The quartet splits up – at this point they said we would not make the plane in any case. Vineta ran ahead, able to go through security with her gold status, and worked the gate to hold the flight.  Gregor was furiously typing to get any more details about the ticket. I tried to check in the cello on-line while Eckart was on the phone to Germany with Bruno, our mad-genius travel agent.

As the minutes ticked by – now 20 minutes to take-off – Gregor has run ahead to go through as Eckart and I try our last ditch efforts.  I am checking alternative flights – nothing is available – and also drive time (now 10:38, and 8:00 concert in Toronto, and a drive time of 8:27).  We realize we must run – they can only hold the flight so long!

We run to security, and into the TSA pre-check.  I politely, with flushed cheeks and a pant, explained how I am traveling with a famous cellist – there is a concert tonight – can we go ahead?  Everyone lets us go to the front of the line, but of course we do not have TSA pre-check – it was just a trick to get us to the front. The person lets us cut to the front of the regular line, and we take off our shoes and coats in motion as we head to the conveyor belt. The person in front of us says – “please go ahead – anything for a cello!” and somehow we are through.

Vineta and Gregor have held the plane as long as they can – but still the situation remains – no ticket has been found and the cello is heading for a dire fate of gate-check purgatory. We skip the train and run – no time to wait. Thank goodness Vineta has been keeping us (our group of three – Vineta, myself and Eckart) on track during the tour – running her own version of High Interval Intensity Training sessions for us – run, sprint, bursts of push-ups and ab work, and I have added some kick-boxing manoeuvres to the routine.

We make it to the gate as we see Gregor getting on the plane – we are the last ones. Sometimes, when you are really late, and exhausted, and you do the series or spring/run/long-legged walk to get to your destination, you realize at the end that every movement you made was utterly necessary. If I hadn’t run up that last escalator, or ditched re-tying my shoes, I would not have made it. Every little push is integral to the goal.

So we make it – and as we do, they say – we will let you board – you can take the cello. Oh my goodness. Unbelievable. My breathing has calmed, my cheeks still burn with exertion, but we are here. All four of us.


  • RW2013 says:

    Ansonsten Wüste, geistige Wüste, wie man sie denn doch in unserem Europa nicht kennt. (Otto Klemperer)

  • Bruce says:

    Congratulations on making your flight! I remember taking a triple flight of stairs 2 at a time with a 50 (surely it was 85) pound duffel bag to make a train once; if I’d gone single-stairs, we’d have missed it. Always an adventure…

    P.S. I still love reading these, even without the snarky comments 🙂

  • Margaret says:

    Anthea – so glad you can always keep your positive attitude even when things are tough. You are an inspiration to us. Have a great rest of the tour!

  • Julian Reynolds says:

    ==A big smile, confident carriage, and a way of agreeing first with any airport personnel, then attentively and patiently listening as the work out the solution has taken me this far without fail. ===

    She’s smart. Some of the sad travelling stories we’ve heard on this page from other musicians wouldn’t have happened with such an attitude.

    Please more of these reports 😉

  • Judy says:

    Thank you so much for these reports. We in the audiences usually have no idea of what goes on behind the scenes. Best wishes to you all.

  • Marg says:

    Glad you made it. Need to figure out though why the cello ticket wasn’t recognised as legit so it doesn’t happen again.

  • Y.R says:

    A great story, familiar stress.
    However, since it’s getting more and more like this, how about we musicians just… fly a day earlier?? Radical, isn’t it!?
    Leaves a chance of re-scheduling if necessary.

    • Anthea Kreston says:

      Y.R. – I wish this was an option! But – this kind of schedule has concerts in different cities every night, so we return to the hotel by around 11:30 pm, then often wake around 6AM to get to the airport the next morning for that evening’s concert. Having a travel day would have to mean a schedule of a concert every other day, which stretches a 10 concert tour to 20 days plus 2 days travel on either side, as well as doubles the expense of hotel and food (and keeps us away from home and our university positions twice as long). So – tight schedules and discipline are essential to keep things running smoothly. Thanks for reading!

  • Tobi says:

    This article shows us everything that is wrong with the world today, what is wrong with this blog, and what is wrong with classical musicians. I have not read it. I assume it is an full-length article on problems in an airport check-in counter, but that everything was fine? (Well, imagine if every person who experienced problem at check-in would have a blog available for their tears and screams!)

    Why did the the author assume this is interesting for anybody to read? Those who read it, did you find it interesting? Why is it written about?

    I give up.

    • Scott Fields says:

      Shame on Mr. Lebrecht for coercing poor Tobi into scanning this blog entry! Sanctions are called for!

    • Bruce says:

      LOL. I find it interesting because I am a professional musician. I don’t travel much and don’t want to, but I wonder sometimes what it would be like to (a) play in an elite chamber music group, (b) move to a foreign country and live there, and (c) do concert tours.

      This “quartet diary” for some reason has attracted a lot of people who think it’s boring or stupid, and yet can’t seem to stay away from it. They (you) make me think of people who can’t stop watching TV even though “there’s nothing good on TV.” In the end, you just end up adding to the click count and help Mr. Lebrecht maintain (or raise) his advertising revenue. So — thanks for your help! 🙂

      • Tobi says:

        First of all – Mr. Lebrecht may very well have the £0,001 he gets when I click into the site. I don’t have a problem with that. Secondly: I didn’t read the post – which you would have seen if you had read mine instead of bashing me for reading posts I don’t like, haha 🙂

        • Bruce says:

          I didn’t say you had read it, I said you couldn’t stay away from it (i.e. clicking on it & posting comments).

          BTW, your guess was correct. Everybody (including the cello) made it onto the plane. No tears & screams though. I play the flute and the case fits easily into my carry-on, so the hoop-jumping that other people have to do to get their instruments on board is always interesting to me. (My bag always gets X-rayed at the airport and the flute to me always looks like a pipe bomb on the scanner… but the only times airport personnel ever wanted to see inside were in 1979 and 1995. Post-9/11, nobody has cared.)

  • Melie says:

    This is not just about travel with instruments – it is another example of how horrendous an airline Air Canada is for everyone – only last month, they turned away a grandmother trying to fly to be with her brother before he died – she turned up two minutes late at check in, and was turned away. And no, she did not make it in time.–to-bid-farewell-to-dying-brother