More air woe: British Airways cracked my double-bass

More air woe: British Airways cracked my double-bass


norman lebrecht

May 04, 2017

Barry Chan, a musician with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, flew to Vienna with his double bass for essential maintenance and repair. When the work was done, he flew home on British Airways, landing in Hong Kong on May 2. Here’s what Barry tells Slipped Disc.



‘I was shocked when I saw my instrument at the extra large luggage counter, total of six locks on the case were all opened with only one lock half broken but still trying to hold the case together. The case was opened, with lots of serious scratches, and I could see the powder of the case stick near the scratch which prove that it is new and obviously had a hard crush as few places the varnish had been cut away. The feet has gone, together with the botts behind the case are all gone, and the case can no longer be closed because of the deformation.

‘I report this immediately to the British Airways counter located between the baggage claim counter seven and eight and got reply from them that British Airways does not have to bear any responsibility on the damage caused and I can only ask the insurance company for further claiming procedure.

‘Inside the case, was a 150 year-old double-bass worth around $300,000, covered with a thick bag which can give the bass the highest protection. After I arrived home and tried it, I discovered a huge crack on the scroll which make the instrument no longer playable, a big repair is needed again. The scroll was original, made 150 years ago and kept very well until the day I came back. The only way cause this damage is to give an enormous force from the back of the head, at the same time I found the horrible scratch on the head of the case too, so I am so sure my double bass has been dropped onto a hard surface from a high position with the head pointing down.

‘It brought me so much trouble on handling it and huge loss from the repairment, time and instrument value while the broken place is at the most expensive place of the instrument.’

We have asked British Airways for a response.

Does anyone have further suggestions?

UPDATE: British Airways contacted Slipped Disc less than 40 minutes after we posted this report. We have put them in direct contact with Barry and hope for a positive outcome.

2nd UPDATE: Statement from British Airways:

Our colleagues take great care with our customers’ luggage, so we’re very sorry to hear about this. Our customer service team will be in contact with Mr Chan to help resolve his issue.



  • Maria says:

    No point raging at the airlines, culpable though they are. The hard truth is that musical instruments have no special significance to most of the handlers or their management.

    Time to rethink the design of instrument cases. My other half used to travel with delicate optical equipment which was sensitive to shock. Never had a problem. It can be done, but it will cost. I don’t see any alternative.

    • Max Grimm says:

      “No point raging at the airlines […]”

      Considering that most airlines declare themselves unaccountable for virtually any- and everything that could theoretically happen to you or your belongings before/during/after a flight, in addition to their tremendous propensity in giving passengers with problems/claims the runaround, raging at them (especially publicly) seems a viable course of action.
      Somehow I doubt the good people at British Airways would have been this keen on contacting Mr. Chan, had he submitted his damage claim on their website, waiting for the inevitable “truly sorry but not liable” e-mail.

    • Scott Fields says:

      Cases continue to improve and musicians continue to buy them. But great cases won’t solve the problem of security inspectors opening the cases (usually out of sight of the owners) and either damaging instruments by mishandling them or failing to close the cases properly. Colleagues of mine have received their cases with locks broken off rather than opened with the tool attached to the case and labeled clearly (contrabass), will all of the latches unlatched (cello), with the case closed perfectly but the instrument missing (saxophone), and with the instrument badly damaged inside an unscathed case (also saxophone).

      • Maria says:

        “and labeled clearly (contrabass)”

        Seriously? How many baggage handlers know what that means? How many actually care?

        Never said there isn’t a problem, but too many people here assume that the whole world thinks they are special. Time to adapt to the real world folks.

        As I said, other types of delicate equipment get through unscathed. Better research is needed.

  • Bruce says:

    “Our colleagues take great care with our customers’ luggage, so we’re very sorry to hear about this. Our customer service team will be in contact with Mr Chan to help resolve his issue.”

    Translation: We treat everybody’s luggage like this, and occasionally fragile expensive things that nobody cares about get broken. We would have preferred that no one heard about this, and are sorry that this incident came to light. Our customer service team will eventually be sending Mr. Chan an e-mail reminding him of the fine print in his ticket contract that empowers us to treat his shitty belongings any way we like and there’s nothing he can do about it.

    • Max Grimm says:

      Don’t forget the voucher (“to be used towards purchasing another ticket with us”) coupled with the notional pat on the head and swift kick in the rear, all of which usually accompany those e-mails.

  • Marg says:

    At least we can be glad a posting by Slipped Disc brings some sort of response and lets hope the best outcome for Mr Chan. But to shrug your shoulders and let airlines off the hook in terms of responsibility is pretty ridiculous – when you pay for carriage of your gear and you have invested in high quality packaging of it, fragile stickers all over it, you have a right to expect that it will be treated with care. Keep the pressure on BA, Norman.