From Alīna Vižine, a violinist in the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester:
Two years ago I started my studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. I often need to travel from Latvia to Denmark. I did my research and figured out that Norwegian Air is the best airline for me and my violin.
Since it is a low cost airline, the flights are always quite full and I appreciate how the airport staff always offers free check-in for hand luggage before boarding. In this case I explain that I can’t have my violin checked in and ask is it okay if I bring it with me. It has never been a problem for me in these two years. Until today. This morning I had a flight from Copenhagen to Riga (D83320) and I was travelling with my friend, a violist, Zane Šturme .
This flight was more than an unpleasant experience. Both of us know that Norwegian Air has rules about traveling with music instruments. On their website it is written that you ARE ALLOWED to bring violins and violas as your hand luggage and it will be treated as hand luggage. It also clearly states that the instruments can be slightly bigger than your standard hand luggage. That is exactly what we both said to a staff member from the Copenhagen Airport just before boarding, when he said that we’re not allowed to take our instruments with us. We tried to explain him why it is not okay to check in our instruments, we asked if it is possible to pay for extra seats, we even asked if it is possible to hold our instruments (without the case) in our hands for the whole flight, just so the instrument itself doesn’t go into the checked luggage compartment. There was just a dry answer that our cases are too big, the flight is fully booked, we can’t hold our instruments for safety reasons and the captain said that there is no space on the aircraft. I was surprised that there was such an issue.
After reading all of their rules it just made no sense to me. When I asked if it is possible to talk to someone from Norwegian Air, he just rudely said that he is in charge, there is no one to contact other than him and we have only two options: check in our instruments or we can’t board the aircraft. Since we both are students, we just can’t afford to not take this flight, so we had no other chance than to just give our instruments away. I have to say thank you to another staff member (not the ignorant man) that talked to the captain and made it possible to put our instruments separately from the luggage, strapped, in a compartment with heating (where they usually transport pets). We asked if there is a possibility to have a fragile tag put on them, and the rude man said, that Norwegian Air doesn’t have this option. That was the most stressful flight I ever had in my life and I’m more than sure that my friend felt the same. We talked to the cabin crew during the flight and the captain informed the staff in the Riga Airport that our instruments cannot be thrown around like suitcases, so we got them back right after leaving the aircraft and thankfully everything was okay with them. In the end a member of the flight crew told us that we should buy seats for the next time. For the twentieth time that day I was trying to explain that the facts that they all are mentioning and the rules on their website are not matching at all. He even tried to convince me that the size of our cases are too big, which they are not. In the end he sort of gave up and just said in a very annoyed voice, that our instruments will be treated like any other hand luggage, and if it has to be checked in, it will be checked in.
Now, the thing that confuses me the most is how personal and unfair this whole situation ended up being. I’ve personally never seen an airline with such detailed and easy to understand rules about traveling with instruments as Norwegian Air, yet the people working in the airport and for the company just can’t seem to follow them. When I was talking to the flight attendants, they were surprised when I told them that violins and violas are allowed on board as hand luggage. I don’t understand the meaning of these rules if they’re not taken into consideration and if staff doesn’t even know them. Okay, they treat the instruments as hand luggage and the flight was full. Instead we offered to pay for seats, but the rude staff member just lied to us that the flight is fully booked and apparently the captain said that there is no space. There were plenty of empty seats in the airplane. Both me and my friend felt horrible when we saw the empty seats, because there was definitely enough space to strap in a violin and a viola. The fact, that I was constantly repeating their own rules about music instruments on board and the staff members were just trying to prove me wrong, made me feel like a fool. In this case I don’t have that much against Norwegian Air, it is more about how stubborn, impolite and non-understanding some people can be. It almost felt like a personal decision of that one man to make our trip home horrible. Shouldn’t there already be one clear rule about flying with music instruments?
Is it that hard to make sure that the staff knows these rules? Why do I and many other musicians have to go through so much stress after doing all the research to make sure, that our insanely big, dangerous violins and violas would be allowed on the aircraft? Why does it have to be so nerve wracking and complicated?
I know that this is a typical rant of a stressed out musician after having a horrible flight, but I really wish that we all had a bigger influence and power to change something about this. I feel like I’ve signed every single online petition about this topic and I do see some changes in airlines, but do we really have to worry about staff members now too? Do people really not understand what our instruments mean to us? No matter how annoying and stressful these situations can be, I’d never want to be on the other side of this conflict. The cluelessness and ignorance of those people is terrifying to me.