Latest air woe: Irish airline throws a violinist off their flight

Aingeala De Búrca, who is based in Sweden, was trying to fly from Bristol to Dublin this week when an over-zealous attendant took a dislike to her instrument. Here’s the story in her own words.


On arriving at the gate, I was told that the violin had to go in the hold. No amount of pleading and explaining that it was fragile and would smash in the hold had any impact. I asked to speak to the cabin crew as they are usually cool. I was told I couldn’t. However, I managed to duck into the queue for the plane when the ground crew weren’t looking, skipped to the top (with permission from the folk in the queue) and got onboard. I put my violin in the overhead and sat down in my seat.

When the plane was fully boarded, the guy – the flight dispatcher/controller person (his name is Nick) came looking for me. He informed me that I had to get off the plane or he would call the police. He also told me he had the power to ban me from flying with the airline again. (I found out this morning that is not true). Faced with these threats, and not having any choice really, I left the plane. I made a little speech getting off to everyone. I wanted them to know it was because of my violin that I was being removed and they gave me a little round of applause. It was all really bonkers.

As I was leaving the plane, I asked the Aer Lingus/Stobart Air cabin crew for help and they said it was out of their hands. I felt they would have intervened if they could. I also think they should have tried.

It isn’t primarily an aer lingus issue. I have always found them helpful with the violin. It was the ground staff in Bristol, the people who do check-in and checking tickets at the gate. Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed that check-in staff in many airports are often eager to inform me that my violin will go in the hold. I have never worried about it too much as I have confidence that cabin crew are usually ok.

I managed to get back this morning because I complained in the airport. Ironically it was the guy who threw me off who put me on a flight this morning. But not without an attitude of smiling passive-aggressive ‘look what a favour I’m doing you now’ and with a lot of veiled threats which forced me to stay quiet, resist the temptation to tell him what I really thought, in the hope that I would get onto a flight this morning. He kept referring to my ‘behaviour’ and ‘things that were said’, when all I had done was insist on my rights as a person with a valid ticket for a flight. As he continued to bully and threaten me, smiling all the time like he was a nice guy, I was powerless to do anything but go along with it and keep my opinion to myself. This bullying behaviour is completely unacceptable.

His name is Nick, and he works for Menzies, the company who are contracted by Aer Lingus to do the ground crew work. He wouldn’t give me his last name.

As a ‘favour’ to me, he told me that he would be on duty this morning and would ‘personally see to it’ that the violin was placed in the tail of the plane, and that he would place it there himself. I spent a sleepless night worrying about it.

Now that I am safely back, I am going to complain at the highest levels. It was a traumatic and humiliating experience. And what is my ‘crime’? Being a violinist who wants to have the freedom to travel to do my job. I have had enough of this, as many of us have.

Why should musicians be prevented from being able to travel for work by certain airlines, ground crew, and others? Who are they to decide how our precious instruments, the tools of our trade, should be treated? We are entitled to feel safe flying, to travel without fear of abuse or actual abuse. Imagine a business person having to put their computer in the hold? It would never happen.

I’m back in Dublin now, me and violin both intact. But I really am on a warpath. Any advice and help with spreading the word gratefully accepted!

We’ve asked Aer Lingus for a response. We are not holding our breath.

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  • Violin cases were used to carry Tommy guns in Chicago in the 1920s, so why not just put the case into a carry on bag as long as it fits the overhead locker it should be ok.

    • Disguising the case doesn’t make it shorter. A violin case that also holds bows is too long to fit the pre-boarding sizing checker.

  • Such a terrible story! For myself, almost given up, my “solution” is I have ordered a “trinity violin case” I’m curious to receive it in the next few weeks. Thomas, Sweden

  • Seems to me an airline can set what policy it chooses as to what it will carry and where. What gets right up my nose is employees and contractors who take it upon themselves to countermand these policies at will and at random,even when presented with documentation by the passenger.

    But until the bosses are prepared to PAY and train their staff and contractors, we are going to be stuck with people who have nothing to lose by flexing their arrogant muscles. The business ethos of customer service (let alone the customer is always right, which was always rubbish) is long gone in the interests of maximising profit. And the refusal of airlines to come to grips with what is by no means a rare problem is very disheartening. They need to be shamed, publicly and widely.

    • My understanding is that instruments such as violins exceed the dimensions allowed for carry on luggage therefore you need to book a seat in the name in the instrument if you want to keep it close. Tough and costly I know. I’m not a musician and I know this so . . .

  • Did you have your boarding card scanned or did you breach security and get on the plane by sneaking into the boarded area. If it’s the latter then you deserved to be taken of the plane for breaching security.

  • The issue wasn’t with Aer Lingus, but with Menzies, the company which provides the ground crew at Bristol Airport. Why ask Aer Lingus when they have nothing to do with what happened?

    • Fergus Johnston, because Aer Lingus is who you buy the ticket from, and they’re the one, along with Bristol Airport, who helps to hire Menzies.

  • Each time this has happened to myself, or a member of my family whilst carrying expensive stringed instruments, I have always insisted on a written note from the check in staff stating “We promise to pay 50k (insert figure!) should anything happen to this instrument. So far it’s worked with over zealous jobs worths in BA, Virgin, Swissair. As for Ryanair and Easy Jet, forget taking an instrument, unless in a plastic bag, as recently happened with a friend! Even Vengerov had to put his Strad in a clear plastic bag a few years back, when the restrictions were at its height. That was BA….common sense isn’t common.

    Moral of this story, is that this particular airline should send their employees back for further training. Or employ staff with the vestige of a brain!

  • Far too many security officers are small minded bullies who misuse their power.Airports are anxiety creating enough without their added nastiness.

  • Why is my comment now allowed? Did she board and join the queue having followed correct procedure or did she breach security and sneak past boarding the aircraft illegally. If the latter then, musical instrument or not, she rightly so should have been removed from the aircraft. Complete breach of security and the staff where within their rights. She should have stayed at the gate and addressed her complaint there

  • I recently attended the FIM 4th International Orchestra Conference in Montreal where the FIM Airline of Choice Award went to Air Canada. Senior Vice President of the airline Craig Landry is a former musician. It is worth reading about their positive efforts to help musicians on the FIM website.

  • You expect hearing this kind of thing on American planes, but not ones where the Irish are involved and the most laid back and least neurotic of nations as well as officialdom but yet careful, not careless, which is not the same thing.

    Terrible experience, and it makes me feel ashamed to hear such a lack of humanity.

  • The issue you should be looking at in the security of yourself and other passengers. If any object exceeds ‘carry on’ size it should go in the hold. If you are aware that your violin case exceeds the cabin luggage size you should expect it to go in the hold, pack it appropriately, insure it and comply with the regulations of the company your are using.
    Sorry, but get a grip on yourself, be aware of many ‘irregular’ security measures taken to protect you and fellow passengers and if you don’t comply, don’t fly!

    • This is not correct. There are European Union rules allowing musical instruments that will fit in the overhead bins to be taken on board. In addition, a standard violin case’s total measurements do not exceed the dimensions allowed for carry-on baggage.

        • Too long to fit in the overhead bin? Or too long for the official dimensions? They’re not the same thing, and I think Suzanne’s point was that there are EU rules to allow musical instruments onto planes if they will fit in the bins.

          • I was responding to the second part, “In addition….” Violin cases fit in any overhead I’ve seen but they’re longer than airlines permit. Regarding the first part of her comment, I don’t think those EU regulation have been ratified yet, although similar rules were passed two years ago in the States.

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