Air woe: Norwegian breaks its own rules, again

Air woe: Norwegian breaks its own rules, again


norman lebrecht

June 26, 2017

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.



  • Steve P says:

    Do they have a carry on size chart or bin where you can test your case size? This does sound frustrating, but I can imagine a violin or viola case failing to meet length parameters for under seat storage. 90x35x20 cm isn’t very big.

    • Max Grimm says:

      I don’t know how many there are but there are cases that do not exceed that limit. A friend of mine has a case by a well know Italian case maker that holds both, his violin and viola ‘side by side’ and doesn’t exceed 90x35x20cm.

  • Eric Carlson says:

    Most airlines have policies regarding musical instruments that specifically allow them as carry on baggage, as long as there is room in the compartment when you board. (ie. first come first served. If you are one of the last to board you may be out of luck)

    I ALWAYS carry a printed version of both the FAA and individual airline regulations with me, so I have something to show the staff in case of a problem. So far I have been lucky, no issues with my trombone, but in case of a problem, better to have proof other than your word that your instrument is supposed to be allowed on board.

  • MacroV says:

    I don’t mean to state the obvious, but did the passengers bring a printout from the Norwegian Airlines website that outlined the policy? It doesn’t sound like putting it in from of this employee – with key language highlighted – would have made a difference, but who knows?

    • V.Lind says:

      A number of people have already written into this site telling us they had produced such documentation and still had it ignored by obstreperous ground and/or cabin crews.

      If this account is accurate — and it is certainly well related — it would seem there is NO training as to this issue for Norwegian Air flight crews. This is tiresome: these are airline employees, not contractors, and are decently paid. They represent the employer, and ought to be trained to do so to the optimum.

  • Gladys Spragge says:

    Why not avoid the problem altogether by having two instruments, one in Latvia and the other in Denmark, if these are your only current locations of activity.

    • Alessandro says:

      Is this ironic? If not, just a few words on tge matter. A part from the fact that instruments (plus bows) can be very expensive, the relationship with his own instrument is very close and one must study hard to understand it completely. You cannot just switch so easily and even if you can learn to do it more effectively, it s not really convenient to do it.

    • Santa Vizine says:

      This is the most ridiculous thing one could say, first of all, to a student, and secondly to any musician who’s instrument is smaller than a grand piano, can be carried around and easily transported. Actually I’m sure that, if possible, pianists would also enjoy having their pianos with them at all times, I even know some that do, but that’s not the point. The point is addressing this issue and not letting idiots make up their own rules!

    • Santa Vizine says:

      Also, I’ve flown near 50 times this year from San Francisco to Taipei, how many spare violas should I keep on each continent?

  • DAVID says:

    Sorry to hear about your experience. I would recommend either getting a BAM “Hightech Cabin” Violin case (no room for the bow) or look into the “Trinity Violin Case” (violin case small enough to fit into a carry on). It’s just not worth it to take a chance and fly with your instrument unless you have a really small case — the stories keep repeating themselves over and over.

  • Craig says:

    It should not be the responsibility of a customer to educate an employee of the company by producing a printout of their instrument policy. These power-tripping individuals don’t care, they know you fly with them because they’re cheap, so they do what they like to you.

    I’ve flown with Norwegian a lot and never had a problem, but their flights are popular and often very full, so the constant stress of wondering whether they’re going to screw you over this time is extremely draining.

  • Laura says:

    I think you just really need to be firm and tell them how important it is. If necessary, why not to record what they are saying about how you can not carry the instrument on board and then go complain to their office? You can’t look at yourself just as a poor student who can’t do anything in this situation. Anger and strong opinion are sometimes good and necessary. It’s unthinkable that someone would throw an instrument with the checked-in luggage. Your instrument is much more worth than the flight. But they don’t know or understand it. You have to make them understand it and respect your rights.

    • Emma says:

      Wow, way to be hugely patronising. It sounds, from the tone of her statement, that she was as assertive and persistent as she needed to be given the prospect of her expensive instrument being crushed in transit…

    • Josh says:

      I agree that this is quite patronizing. Norwegian relies on outsourced check in staff at many locations. I travel extensively (75k+ in 2016) and have dealt with all sorts of characters, but Norwegian check in staff are among the worst. There is no arguing logic with them.

      • Lisa says:

        Anger never works! It just puts them on the defensive. This is very bad advice. And they have all the power. Once they feel that your conversation has taken an adversarial tone they will never cooperate. They do have discretionary powers, after all. So, the Airline is off the hook, if the flight crew (including the check in personnel) decide that your carry-on is too large or a risk. There is literally nothing you can do at the gate, other than be as polite as possible, even beg and suck up to them. Unless they feel they have the power to do good, they won’t do good. She is a poor student. That is who she is. Maybe you’ve never been a poor student. She can’t afford to pay for another flight. When you are flying low cost, or flying period, you get the cheapest ticket possible which means you have to get on the plane orr lose the money. If you are a “poor student”, you cant pay for another ticket or go off to talk to management and risk missing the plane. That is why she said she is a poor student.

        The problem with all off these marginally educated minimum wage employees is that they really are not on the same level as the customer. And can you blame them? They are getting paid what someone who empties the trash at Burger King is paid. It’s a no-win situation. Unless, you make your instrument look like it’s not an instrument. The minute they see a violin case, their antenna go up. So, what I would do is check the empty violin case, and put our violin in your carry-on before you even get to the gate. This can be done safely and I’ve done this before. In fact, there is a new case that’s purpose is to do just this. It has a bow case that doubles as a handle. It fits the overheard requirements for most airlines and does not look like a violin case at all. Nobody will single you out.

  • Jeremy says:

    Email or call Bjørn Kjos – The founder and CEO of Norwegian – he would want to know . . .

  • Jeremy says:

    Oh, and carry a print of their “rules” . . . and board very early too !

  • Josh says:

    I have had aimolar problems with Norwegian. Had a power-crazy gate agent making everyone gate-check bags that we bigger than a purse. Got on the plane (totally full flight) and the overhead compartments were empty.

    I had a different solution. I took the gate check tag and simply walked into the plane with my bag anyway. No one is checking that you actually drop the bag at the gate. Problem solved.

    Stupid problem too, because Norwegian is probably paying for every bag coming off the belt since it is a third party handling company at the airports.

    • Michael Endres says:

      A smart solution indeed, and not only for instruments !

      Apart from that: I do not find that Norwegian is always the low cost airline they claim to be.
      Just booked a return flight from Oslo to Munich in October and found Lufthansa 100 Euro cheaper than Norwegian. It is worth shopping around, particularly when booking well ahead…

    • Steve says:

      Yep, I had that issue with continental. I just tossed the gate check and got on the flight. I was on my way to an audition. It was horrendous. The next leg of the flight I missed the flight because the people at the gate didn’t actually properly communicate that the gate had been changed.

  • Ahureau says:

    Just happened to me, they wont letme board without me paying a special luggage for 180€… for a 50 years old ARP Odyssey. I explained the same rules, showing the website, answer were the same as you. So i have to pay extra 180€ and see my 62*10*30 case going to the cargo bay, such a fragile instrument. I am
    Now angry and stressed, I will see in a couple of hours if my ARP is in good shape.
    I will send a complain asap I’m home, this should not happen. They should not write LIES on their website.