KLM get nasty with viola

The busy viola player Rachel Bolt is the latest to suffer the appalling customer relations of the Dutch airline. Here’s what Rachel tells us:
I hope you may take interest in an appalling situation I found myself in travelling to take part in the St Barts Music Festival. I had to fight for two hours with check-in staff who insisted that my viola go in the hold. Quite out of the question of course, the only alternative was to cancel the work and return home. ( No extra seats were available to purchase and my ticket was already $1300.)

Eventually, after a two hour exhausting battle I won. I spent the whole week in fear of a repeat showdown on my return flights.

My KLM flights were London to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to St Martins and then on to the Island of St Barts , I’ve been doing the Music Festival for the last ten years. KLM rules on their website say: 2. As hand baggage
A smaller musical instrument, such as a violin or smaller instrument, you can bring instead of a piece of hand baggage. It needs to fit in the overhead baggage compartment.

The reality is quite different. I have taken this complaint further and had the response:

 

Dear Mrs Rachel,

Thank you for your e-mail dated 16 January 2017, regarding your flight KL1000, from London to Amsterdam on 8 January 2017.

I regret to learn that you were unable to take your violin as hand baggage. Please allow me to inform you that whenever a flight is fully booked, musical instrument is taken as check-in baggage instead of a hand baggage. Therefore, passengers are advised to book a separate seat for their musical instrument in case these circumstances arise.

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  • Isn’t it very considerate of them, not to advise to book a private jet instead? Only a separate seat.
    On the other hand, same rules apply to anyone equally. Fully booked flight: you might have to check in your carry-on luggage. Depending on availability.
    Now a good customer service means check in staff will find a solution and consider the “special needs” of a precise musical instrument.
    On the other hand, it’s true, if you MUST ensure it stays in the cabin, you have to book a seat. I mean, what is check-in staff supposed to do for instance, if e.g. a chamber orchestra with about 25 violin cases turns up on check-in, on a fully booked flight?

    I guess what we need is a “preferred carry-on luggage” option, for a modest extra fee, where you can secure your small instrument in the over-head bin, AND the airlines see by the number of bookings, how many instruments are there. They can limit this option, so in the rare case of an orchestra traveling, they do not run out of overhead bin space.

    • Peter, the cabin crew had absolutely no problem with my viola going as hand luggage. Even though the holdup at the check-in meant I was nearly the last to board, there was plenty of room in the overhead lockers. (My viola was in small ,shaped case). It was getting past the unhelpful check-in staff that was the problem. I have flown thousands of flights with Academy of St Martin in the Fields with no problems, simply because the airline staff have a more helpful attitude when they are profiting on the sale of mass bookings. It’s such a shame that KLM are unable to adopt this attitude to lone travelling musicians.
      Their web site stating that small musical instruments such as violins and guitars go as hand luggage, is in reality incorrect and hugely misleading. It needs to be removed.

      • I see. Check-In staff often is not identical with the cabin crew but from a ground handler company. They often simply do not know the specific rules of each airline (they handle many) and are also in average not the smartest people and often challenged when faced with a problem that that is not standard procedure.
        It often might help to demand to speak to the purser/head of cabin crew of the flight directly.

    • “On the other hand, same rules apply to anyone equally. Fully booked flight: you might have to check in your carry-on luggage. Depending on availability.
      Now a good customer service means check in staff will find a solution and consider the “special needs” of a precise musical instrument.”

      That’s the thing; rules that treat socks and pants the same as something fragile that is both expensive and necessary to put food in one’s belly are nonsense. It’s a false equivalency. OF COURSE an instrument should get priority over indestructible clothing, and that shouldn’t be left up to catching a low paid employee in a good mood on a good day; it should be in the rules. The idea that someone’s work of art and/or means of making a living should be crushed just so that a tourist doesn’t have to wait 10 lousy minutes for a bag defies common sense.

      • well, there are MANY crafts with fragile tools, who would also like to enjoy preferential treatment when it comes to carry-on luggage. Musicians are not the only ones.

        I think my suggestion to sell “Priority carry-on luggage” options, for maybe 5-10% of the ticket cost, should solve this problem, when one MUST ensure that fragile hand-luggage is not going into the hold below.

      • Now you’re speaking non-sense. I was partly on your side at first, as a fellow traveling musician. But now this is absurd. While out of context it sounds logical, logic of a thing can never be considered out of context. The reality is you either failed to or refused to (my guess because it was too expensive) book an extra seat for your very precious and personally valuable instrument. If it is so precious that you use it to put food on the table then it is worth the cost of the extra seat. And think of the time you wasted of all those people having to cater to your refusal to treat your viola as being as special as you say it is. You want OTHERS to treat it so special, but you refuse to by paying for an extra seat. And if it is true, as you claim, which I also strongly doubt, that there were no seats left, then you booked your flight too late. That was the procrastination of the musician that defeated you. Don’t blame KLM. They explicitly state the rules. You could have booked further in advance, having traveled for 10 YEARS! You should have known better!!! Shame on you for defaming this airlines for your own failures. SHAME!!!!

  • The rule says: A smaller musical instrument, such as a violin or smaller instrument, you can bring instead of a piece of hand baggage.

    Since when is a viola smaller than a violin? But it is smaller than most guitars. I was not allowed a guitar as hand luggage.

    I agree the website is not consistent with the letter from the airline. Why can’t these people get their acts together?

    Presumably orchestras, even chamber orchestras, carrying a lot of strings wanting hand luggage status, do not just “turn up.” If arrangements are not made for such groups, they deserve what they get. But individuals appear to be subject to the whims of another individual, which is getting a bit frustrating after all these terrible stories.

  • It’s inexcusable that my friend Rachel had to suffer untold stress particularly when their website states that smaller instruments may be stowed in the overhead lockers !

    • Wrong, the website states “violin or smaller”. So your friend Rachel was just lucky that the staff doesn’t know the difference between a violin and it’s bigger sibling viola.
      According to the published rules, a viola can not be transported as hand luggage on a KLM flight.

      • Actually Peter the rules state ” small instruments such as violins and guitars” along with a photograph of a guitar which is far larger than any viola. Allowable measurements are also given which exceed the size of my viola case.This was not the issue, the issue is that the check in staff are not trained in KLMs own regulations.

  • Fine Music is no more allowed. There is a strong current of explosive, noisy, vulgar, musifications that can be done with instruments which are happy in the hold and hardly mind being knocked about. How dare you playing a viola when you could be carrying a hammer and a steel plate in which to play all your notes and more. For some people great violinists, violists, cellists, contrabassists, shouldn’t exist. Who wants Paganinis when you can just dance about on a stage, often with lewd gestures and get the applause of millions. And their money. As for the imagination of airline designers, boards of directors and business executives, let’s hope one day it becomes active. Right now it is like that Princess in Disney’s film.

  • Part of my orchestra is flying KLM in May , this is worrying for hand-carriers in the band, but at least it gives us time to sort it out before the event … thanks for highlighting it Rachel

    • Hi Steve,

      Please be aware KLM’s policy is
      “Please allow me to inform you that whenever a flight is fully booked, musical instrument is taken as check-in baggage instead of a hand baggage. Therefore, passengers are advised to book a separate seat for their musical instrument in case these circumstances arise.
      This is not stated on their website ,but has been the reply to my complaint.
      Glad I highlighted this and hope this helps you in your travels.

  • Here we go again.

    KLM says that you can travel with your instrument depending on the size and weight of your instrument…..nothing about depending on whether the check-in staff decide to be nice or not.

    Professional musicians need guarantees that their precious and fragile instruments will allowed in the overhead lockers.

    • KLM never asked if my small shaped case contained a violin or a viola. They said musical instruments were not allowed on the flight. Their web site still specifies that musical instruments under 45 inches are allowed as hand luggage on the London/ Amsterdam flight…. I would like to raise awareness that this is not the reality. Thanks.

        • No overhead bins and no hold. The last leg was on a plane chartered by the festival for myself and musicians flying in from the US. All our cases and instruments travelled within the main body of the plane….no problem, and quite fun. The difficulty was within the London Amsterdam leg as justified here by KLM in response to my complaint (copied and pasted)
          Thank you for your e-mail dated 16 January 2017, regarding your flight KL1000, from London to Amsterdam on 8 January 2017.
          I regret to learn that you were unable to take your violin as hand baggage. Please allow me to inform you that whenever a flight is fully booked, musical instrument is taken as check-in baggage instead of a hand baggage.
          They then had the nerve to add a link to the page that says musical instruments under 45 inched go in the overhead lockers.
          A TRUELY SHOCKING AND VERY FRUSTRATING RESPONSE.

          • Rachel, your complaints are unwarranted. According to a website for musical teachers the size of a violin for a person 11 years old to an adult is 58cm and larger. Viola is 63.5cm – 64cm. That is at least 2″ longer than the cutoff. “a violin or smaller instrument” KLM explicitly says this on their website the instrument, in order to fit in the overhead.

            “They then had the nerve to add a link to the page that says musical instruments under 45 inched go in the overhead lockers.” You are confusing the statement about the max size for a seat reservation for an instrument: “Your instrument can be no longer than 140 cm (55 inch) and no heavier than 45 kg (100 lbs). This seat needs to be booked in advance via the KLM Customer Contact Centre.”

            Just stop making excuses and slandering a company that is doing what it says it will do. You are beating up on the wrong people. You should be beating yourself up for procrastinating and booking too late to book an extra seat OR being to cheap to book the extra seat, if you lied and it really was available, which I suspect was the case. In short, GROW UP!

        • Although you are obviously Dutch, Peter( no one else refers to St Martin as Sint Marteen) I should follow Johns advice and give up trying to defend KLM if I were you.Thumbs up to Rachel for sharing her horrible experience with us. I’m just booking with Easy Jet……

  • In general, what I hear from my musician friends, KLM is one of the few airlines they never got trouble with. I also traveled with a violist with her instrument from Paris to Amsterdam, also a fully booked flight, no problem at all. So I guess it must be a nasty incident.

    Rachel, did you try filing a complaint through Facebook? If you do, my advise would be not to be too negative, but sum up first your positive experiences in the past with KLM (if applicable of course 🙂 ) As it is easier to make a ‘positive’ person happy than a ‘negative’ person. 🙂 (Not saying that you’r a negative person, just a tip when complaining. Generally, KLM can be generous with miles when filing a complaint)

    • Thanks Tweettweet,
      I have filed a complaint with KLM but it is obvious from their responses that they have not even read it, and have no interest in it.
      I am not interested in compensation and although a frequent flyer programme member, will never fly with the airline again.
      They said “Please allow me to inform you that whenever a flight is fully booked, musical instrument is taken as check-in baggage instead of a hand baggage. Therefore, passengers are advised to book a separate seat for their musical instrument in case these circumstances arise.”
      The other two flights were not a problem.
      This is in direct contradiction to the conditions under which I purchased the ticket which allows instruments under 45 inches as hand baggage.
      My complaint is that I want KLM to change their website to highlight that this rule is not guaranteed and subject to change, or better still put measures in place that ensure check-in staff adhere to this rule at all times. Thankfully on this occasion I won the battle and journeyed successfully onto St Barts and back without a further hitch, but I really didn’t appreciate the stress caused…

      • I understand. It must be extremely frustrating when KLM is not delivering service according to the information they provide on their website and that your complaint is not recognised on top of that.

        Anyway, I hope this is not an omen for future traveling of my musician friends, who mostly praise KLM for their flexibility!

    • Don’t bother. It was clearly her attitude that got her singled out. Many of my fellow Americans feel everyone should bend to their whims. It is such a shame to see such an utter lack of humility and grace.

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