New horror: Cello is thrown off US flight as ‘security risk’

New horror: Cello is thrown off US flight as ‘security risk’


norman lebrecht

April 05, 2017

John Kaboff was thrown off an American Airlines flight from Washington to Chicago after his cello, sitting in the paid-for seat beside him, was declared to be a security risk.

Kaboff says, ‘I was mortified to have to be removed from a flight, like I just committed a crime.’



He has flown AA 40 times in three years with his cello and without incident.

It’s getting nasty out there.


  • V.Lind says:

    Boy, that’s profiling with a vengeance. And the trouble is, all them damned cellos look alike!

  • Scott Fields says:

    The article says “safety risk,” not “security risk.” It’s because the cello wasn’t strapped down.

    • JoshG28 says:

      It’s because the flight attendants didn’t know procedure, that’s why the airline apologIzed. If the cello isn’t strapped in, you get a seatbelt extension and strap it in. No that difficult.

      • John says:

        they refused me a seatbelt extension. The decision was made before i had the option to strap the cello in

        • Scott Fields says:

          Yes, it’s understood that it was the crew members who didn’t understand cello-flying procedures, not the cellist.

    • JoshG says:

      It’s because the flight attendants didn’t know procedure, that’s why the airline apologIzed. If the cello isn’t strapped in, you get a seatbelt extension and strap it in. No that difficult.

      • Anon! A Moose! says:

        “It’s because the flight attendants didn’t know procedure,”

        This is such an annoying problem. I know someone who flies with an oversized instrument, and as much as they try to work things out ahead of time, employees not knowing their own rules is a big problem. One person tells you the seat has to be in a certain place, a different employee insists it is supposed to be somewhere else. They simply aren’t up on procedures for things that happen rarely. The stupid thing is that instead of allowing that the passenger might know more than them because they fly this way all the time, they double down on their own ignorance because they have to be The Authority In Charge.

  • Tim says:

    This comes as no surprise to me. The frightening direction that the US is going in and has been going, even before the election of Trump, makes everyone and everything a probable suspect, probable cause for suspicion, guilty on sight. Fascist and totalitarian systems have always functioned like this. That a cello, that has a paid seat, can arbitrarily be deemed a “security threat” by an employee of a major airline shows a society in meltdown and moving towards fascist totalitarianism. Recently, on another US airline, two female passengers were removed from their flight because their pants were deemed too tight, too sexually suggestive and a threat to others safety on the flight. The best thing concerning the US is to avoid traveling there unless absolutely necessary. As a person who appreciates freedom, I prefer to spend my time and spend my money in places that respect freedom, the right to self expression and not in a place where every person is scrutinized as a potential threat for wearing tight pants, or where a cello is seen as a potential weapon, instead of the beautiful musical instrument that it is. Two years ago, my partner, a violinist, was made to remove the strings from her violin during a security check at Dallas Airport. They insisted that she couldn’t fly with the strings on the instrument because, as they told her, she could remove them inflight and strangle a fellow passenger or a member of the crew with a violin string. When she protested and jokingly said that she could do that with her bare hands and didn’t need a string, she was banned from the flight and held and interrogated for three hours before being released. These sorts of stories are becoming more commonplace and I wonder how long it will take for people to realize that what is happening is the descent into a pure fascist and totalitarian society, one that will only get worse in the coming years. As Trump would say, “Sad, very sad”

    • Michael Endres says:

      I hear you and I am no stranger to be critical of the US in certain areas.
      But to implicate the US is near a fascist or totalitarian state is completely over the top.
      Just looking at recent developments there, it seems an exceedingly tough spot for any dictatorial behaviour…

    • Scott Fields says:

      Tim, there’s sure a mess of problems in the USA nowadays, but suspected cello terrorism isn’t one of them. You got set off by the misleading headline. It was a case of flight attendants not know how to secure a cello to a seat. And the teenagers in stretch pants were tossed because they were flying on employee-or-family tickets and United Airlines enforces the employee dress code for those passes. Still silly, but not an indication of repressive politics.

      There are more than enough real troubling issues with American politics worth ranting about. I do it myself. But these two aren’t a hill of beans.

      • Lilian says:

        There is still something wrong with this. If the issue was one of “safety” versus “security”, then instead of throwing a fare paying passenger X 2 off the flight, why wouldn’t the attendants seek the assistance of a person knowledgeable about fastening a cello into a seat or, if the seat was a bulkhead seat or near an emergency exit, have the passenger change places with two passengers further back, who would certainly prefer the legroom of a bulkhead seat. I have seen hundreds of cellos flying on the thousands of flights that I have taken throughout my life on dozens of different airlines, so the sight of a cello shouldn’t be a first-time experience for flight attendants. The fact that the airline sold a ticket for an instrument, already means that they have procedures in place to deal with a cello. I sadly also believe that this is more a case of an over zealous flight attendant, showing the all too often bossy, robotic, militarised side of the American character, than an issue with fastening a cello on a seat. Remember, they threw a paying passenger off a flight because if this, even though they had already pre-sold a ticket for the instrument.
        Nowadays, I too avoid travel to the United States, as I find the entire experience far too often reminiscent of travel to the former Soviet Union, East Germany, Romania and the other closed East bloc countries of the 70’s and 80’s. There is indeed something very sad there, a feeling of mass fear and suspicion wherever one goes and so many poor and sad and armed people in every city. It can at times be very off putting and downright creepy. There are so many other places in the world that are less dangerous, happier, friendlier and free. The United States isn’t that way anymore. Also, U.S. airports are amongst the worst in the world, with infrastructure, layout, decoration, amenities and shopping areas looking like something out of the 70’s.

        • Jaybuyer says:

          A 70-year-old friend of mine booked a holiday to the US last year. She applied for a visa and was told she would have to travel to Frankfurt (over 2 hours by train) to be ‘interviewed’ by some American ‘authority’ because she had once been on an organised trip as a tourist to Iran. She refused, lost her deposit (hundreds of euros) and has vowed never to go to the USA again.

        • Ernest Low says:


        • Ken says:

          Lilian, you must not get around much when you travel in the US. Your description doesn’t match life in most of the country. Sounds more like you’re listening to Fox News and assuming they report things truthfully.

  • Anon says:

    Nope. The article clearly states “safety” risk, NOT “security”. Similar words that imply two very different things these days. I’m appalled at the horrible way we musicians are treated on airlines; however, the instrument wasn’t strapped in. If there was turbulence, it becomes a safety risk. Pretty clear.

    Lebrecht, your post is misleading, incorrect, and it’s shameful that you’ve posted and worded in this manner of “clickbait”. If you have any decency, you will fix this.

  • jonathan dunsby says:

    ‘Cello thrown off…’ is a bit misleading when prefaced by ‘Horror..’

    The instrument had to be removed. It wasn’t as violent as the header of this dramatic article suggests

  • Anon says:

    I have personally witnessed John Kaboff treat service staff in the most horrible way. He snaps to anger instantly and is a total a$$hole. Take this article with a large fistful of salt.

    • Lorenzo LaRue says:

      Anon says he ‘knows’ John Kaboff, I’ll take that with ‘a grain of salt’. Folks get treated like this by the ‘airlines’ all the f’ing time.

  • Slava says:

    OK, this guy was expelled from the US musicians’ union 17 years ago, so he’s not doing any mainstream work. The American Federation of Musicians lobbies for airline rights and could have helped him, but he chose to be a cheapskate and not pay dues. If he’s traveling with his cello, he’s presumably working? I am constantly mystified why $200/year dues is not acceptable to musicians, who would have NO work without the union — which does so much more for us. Not much sympathy for this guy.

  • Scott Fields says:

    This thread is great! It’s gone from “poor cello victim tossed onto the tarmac because idiots think cellos are a security threat” to “complete jerk, picket-line crossing scab, dues-withholding cheapskate excluded from flying, is yet more evidence of America’s descent into a pure fascist and totalitarian society populated by poor, sad, and armed people who must use airports that are amongst the worst in the world.”

    Don’t stop now!

  • Walt says:

    There are so many things wrong with airlines- aside from instruments, be sure your medications are each endorsed with a signed letter from your physician detailing why they are medically necessary to you. I’ve know cases of people who through absolutely no fault of their own had their medications confiscated, whether we are talking run of the mill prescriptions such as antibiotics etc., as well as supplements that were “medically necessary.” A detailed signed letter from your doctor will still not guarantee your meds will be ok, but it will help. Travel safe, travel aware and you can’t pre-plan enough. Very sorry situation in a very sorry age.

    • Jaybuyer says:

      Musical instruments banned, shoes and belts off at security, medication under suspicion, enforcing certain travellers to observe modesty regulations….and now computers bigger than small smart phones banned. OK, I don’t want to be blown up either, but ISIS must be laughing their socks off.

  • bratschegirl says:

    If one reads the article, one learns that he requested a seatbelt extender to secure the cello in the standard manner for air travel, and was refused it. One also learns that the pilot told him he and the instrument would have to leave the flight because “bass fiddle” is not a permitted instrument in the cabin, and would not listen to explanations that it was in fact a cello. Hard not to sympathize with anyone who lost their cool under such provocation, if indeed he did.

    One also learns that the airline allowed him, and the cello, to fly on the next available flight on that route, which was an identical aircraft, on which, magically, there was no longer any risk.

    • Scott Fields says:

      You’re completely whitewashing the decline of American society, his failure to pay his union dues, the deplorable state of USA airport food courts, Trump’s insanity, and the cellist’s personal hygiene.

  • FlowerPower says:

    After 3 years in the US I moved back to Europe. I do not feel my rights as a human being are respected and valued by the US authorities – another things is the loving and friendly people I met in the US -. When you deal with immigration, TSA at airports, and police you are NOTHING, and your rights do not matter. I am so happy to be back in Europe. The US can add my name to those other artists who have decided not to perform in the USA ever again.

  • William Safford says:

    “Safety risk,” not security risk, according to the linked article.

    It’s still stupid, just in a different way.

  • Gerald Martin says:

    (Sigh). When at age 10 I flew alone with my kid brother in the ’50s, all that separated the pilot’s compartment from the passengers was a blue cloth curtain. Also I got to sit on the pilot’s lap and “fly the plane”. I got off the plane with a pilot’s “wing pin” and the complimentary pack of cigarettes that came with the inflight meal.

  • Jo says:

    I remember that time when AA failed to place our bags on the plane because they were “too heavy and too military ” on our way to Iraq in 2004 We were deploying out of St Louis. As the plane was backing out of the gate I jumped up out of my seat (as the senior ranking-a USAF Captain) and approached the flight attendant. She was obviously irritated by my actions. She was on the intercom with the pilot. The pilot asked if everything was ok…she said…umm there is some woman coming up to me. I said…”excuse me…all of our bags are on the tarmac !” She said…”umm…yeah…those bags were really heavy so we decided to leave them here.” I said…”do you know where we are freakin going?!?!! We’re not going on vacation!!!! We are going to Iraq!!! She said…” yeah they were heavy so we left them off the plane…we hope to get your stuff to you before you deploy “…I have flown American Airlines 2 times since then…they have lost my luggage both times…I am not a fan… I fly to Africa every two weeks with no issues…it is not a coincidence…it is horrible service…I filed an online complaint…never got a reply..,