Warning: British Airways blocks violas

Warning: British Airways blocks violas


norman lebrecht

August 16, 2016

Message just in from Jennifer Stumm, International Chair of Viola at the Royal College of Music in London:

British Airways is flagging all carry-on instruments at the check in desk in Amsterdam. The musician’s boarding pass is invalid at the gate until they make an on the spot decision about the instrument depending on the number of passengers on the plane.

I have a case that will fit in any commercial airplane and I had to make a huge fuss to get my 430 year old viola on the plane, which was not at all full. What I heard from them is that on a fuller plane, instruments will not be allowed. Suitcases get priority…


jennifer stumm

We have raised the issue directly with British Airways, since the ban contravenes both EU law and BA’s own code. It may be a local misunderstanding by Dutch staff. But be careful of flying BA into and out of the Netherlands until the matter is clarified and resolved.

UPDATE: Jennifer adds: Apparently it’s an ongoing battle in past months. There’s a change.org petition and musicians are in regular contact with the BA manager in Amsterdam and still nothing has been done. 

Yoy may also have read of the cellist who was refused boarding by BA because her carry-on instrument lacked a tourist visa…


  • Steven Honigberg says:

    I just had a horrible experience on Lufthansa traveling with my cello from Philadelphia to Florence. Even though I had purchased a seat for my 1789 Storioni they would not allow me on because Mr. Cello had no passport. An agent from heaven, after 2.5 hours of endless phone calls and arguments, swooped in and got us on the plane last minute. It was an unpleasant and unnecessary experience to say the least. On the way home, Lufthansa demanded I eat my $1300 cello ticket and rebook it under extra baggage for a cool one way price of $6000. Another round of endless confusion, phone calls and emails got the job done. By the way we were seated in front of a crying, kicking the seat baby all the way home. Beware of Lufthansa cellists!

    • Kari Ravnan says:

      Steve, did you book your cello ticket yourself on the Internet as a passenger? I know that with SAS, United, American and BA you MUST do it on the phone with an agent. They now book it as cargo (in a seat) and that can’t be done online. This way the cello doesn’t need a passport or visa. There is a recent story showing up about a BA cellist that couldn’t board without a visa for her cello, and I am assuming she booked the ticket online herself as a passenger. It is a big pain having to call up but you don’t have to pay passenger taxes!

      • Steven Honigberg says:

        Hello Kari. Indeed I did. I booked it like I usually do in America. Although if I’m remembering correctly there was no option – I had to choose either Mr. or Ms. for the instrument. Thanks for the tip. My experience with the airline certainly soured what was a wonderful trip. What would our teacher Leonard Rose think of this madness? Did he have these problems flying all over the world with his cello?

        • Kari Ravnan says:

          I remember a story that Rose used to tell. He said that they had a list of instruments allowed on-board without buying a seat and those not allowed. The stewardess looked at the cello and asked what it was. Mr. Rose answered “This, my dear, is an o-b-o-e.” Right enough, she found it on the “allowed” list and he took it on the plane without problems;-)

          • Susan Raccoli says:

            Are you related to Audon Ravnan of LIncoln, Nebraska?

            Please respond. I have such fond memories of him!

  • Mark Pemberton says:

    It’s important to clarify that there is no ‘EU law’ that obliges airlines to allow musical instruments on planes. A clause in the revised Passenger Rights Directive was passed by the European Parliament, but has been rejected by the German and UK governments at the level of the Council of Ministers. And, of course, after Brexit, EU directives may well no longer apply.

  • Richard Savage says:

    All hand baggage on BA is now being yellow tagged, and there is increasing pressure on overhead locker space. Cabin carriage of anything larger than the standard dimensions was – and still is – a dispensation rather than a right. It is helpful to keep reminding BA staff of the value of instruments and of the business that musicians bring to them – we do so regularly – but as things stand, musicians have to rely on the goodwill of the crew and of airport staff (often not employed directly by the airline). BA are usually amongst the most helpful and sympathetic.
    Cello should always be booked as CBBG and never as a passenger. It is often difficult and sometimes impossible to do this online. But if it is not done, there is always the risk of refusal from every airline – not only Lufthansa

    • Nick says:

      And the reason for the pressure on overhead locker space? Airlines like the dreadful British Airways screw passengers by charging to put a bag in the hold! Once a loyal BA flyer and a Gold Card member of its Executive Club, I have given that lot up and take airlines which actually seem to enjoy my my flying with them.

      • Jefc says:

        Just to clarify, BA don’t charge for hold luggage.

        • tim says:

          BA *do* charge for hold luggage on shorthaul.in economy. You either buy a Hand Baggage Only Fare and pay extra to check a bag or you buy a more expensive fare which includes a checked bag rolled into the base fare.

          Not sure that is a bad thing in itself and they have to compete with Easyjet after all, but it does give passengers an incentive to not check in a bag and consequently there is less space on board. Also they have recently installed thinner seats in short haul and taken 3 inches off the business class leg room which all adds up to a dozen or more seats on many of their fleet. Combine that with a higher load factor and there is simply not space for everyone to take on board their fall allowance. At outstations you get agency staff working under pressure to a perhaps 40 minute turn around and you can see how issues arise.

          It can be done better though. On a recent Air Canada SFO-YVR flight priority boarding was given to those “travelling with small children or musical instruments”. I was travelling with a Mandolin and so took advantage and one less thing to worry about gave me a warm glow about the airline despite the almost 2 hour delay.

        • Nick says:

          Just seen your clarification. You are incorrect! Check the BA site. I have had to pay on quite a few European flights. Check London to Munich in November. Economy Basic is £52 one way with NO hold luggage. With one piece of luggage up to 23kg, you have to take Economy Plus at £67. If that is not charging for hold luggage, I don’t know what is!

  • Anon says:

    Amusingly, BA have a comprehensive guide to strapping in your cello – even in First:

  • Michael Evans says:

    Well put Richard! Was a victim yonks ago…! Best, Michael.