How to board a trombone when the airline says, NO

Nice story here from Peter Moore, co-principal trombone of the LSO:



I’ve just had a fantastic few days in Dublin coaching and playing on the brass week. (For the brassers amongst you who don’t know anything about this, I’d suggest checking it out for next time!). Anyway, on my arrival to the airport (at 5 30 am…) the man behind the BA desk takes one look at my trombone case and tells me I’ll have to check it in to the hold. This has happened before – it usually takes some calm reassurance from me that it fits in the overheard lockers no problem, a little banter about it being my portable motorbike when asked “what is it?” and after a few laughs (hopefully) and a friendly smile they agree to let me take it on board, no problem at all.

It was an instant flat-out no from this jobsworth and after speaking to two of his superiors they told me that their policy changed last year and instruments will have to be checked in if they’re slightly above the required measurements given and that if I didn’t comply with this I wouldn’t be able to board the plane. The silly thing about this is that my trombone case is A) very narrow, B) very shallow and C) quite long, so logically it doesn’t take up anymore space than a regular suitcase as it can be pushed right to the back of the overhead locker.

Anyone flying with British Airways and their instruments or any other airline for that matter, be sure to check their policy before you fly and ring ahead to clear it with them if you can! You never know when the workers are going to throw the rulebook at you and show no understanding or empathy for your situation, like my scenario this morning when I explained that this piece of scrap metal was my livelihood and I depend on it being in top condition to work and earn my money. I explained that I travel around the world with it and it’s never been to big to fit overhead – I have probably averaged 30 flights per year over the last 8 or so years and on the three occasions in my life I have been made to put my trombone with the hold luggage, have collected it at the end to find it:

Either with a whopping great new crease in the bell of slide which made it unplayable and have to be repaired, or best case scenario, the lovely baggage handlers who take great pride in chucking the cases which are littered with “fragile” stickers even harder (I’ve seen them do it) have gifted me with a big dent to add to my growing number of dings due to sometimes being careless and clumsy at work!

They told me I could wrap it up at the excess baggage desk for 20 euros, so I wandered over to find the desk doesn’t open until 7 am (the time of my flight!!!!). I eventually got them to agree to me leaving it with the staff at the gate so it didn’t have to travel along the whole luggage belt. I rushed to the gate as now with all the arguing and back and forth to the desks, I’m now concerned about missing my flight. I arrive at the gate and have one last try to appeal to another dead-eyed jobsworth’s better nature. He goes onto the plane to check with the crew and returns swiftly to almost gleefully tell me that he’s checked with the crew and that I’m not allowed to take it on the plane and that I would have to give it to him right now. At this point I refused and said I wanted to speak to the crew myself, to which he reluctantly agreed.


The nice lady onboard took one look at it and said kindly “If it fits overheard, that’s fine with me…” and by some MIRACLE it fitted (as I knew it would because it always does!)

I took my seat and smiled genuinely for the first time since stepping foot in that airport – I was pleased that I had won!!! But it was a horrible experience up until then.

So. Folks. Before you travel with your instrument, PLEASE read up on the airline policy to avoid all of this palava and if possible phone ahead if you can to clear it! And if all else fails, argue like mad!!!

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  • Don’t just read up on the airline’s policy; print it out or bookmark it on your phone and show it to the gate staff. Don’t just call ahead; get an email from whomever you talked to confirming that you were cleared to bring your instrument and print it out and bring it with you to the airport.

  • Boarding any aircraft with any instrument larger than a flute or clarinet has always been, and seemingly will always be, subject to the whim of whichever overworked and underpaid peon you happen to encounter at the counter/gate/cabin. It doesn’t matter what the airline’s website says, it doesn’t matter what any other airline employee has said, no matter how senior they may be, you are completely at the mercy of whoever happens to be on duty and whether they’ve had their coffee or a fight with their spouse. Recent legislation has made this somewhat better for domestic flights within the USA, but internationally, it makes no difference what you print out.

    On one tour with a youth orchestra flying British Airways, the entire orchestra was boarded first so they could be sure of getting instruments into the overheads; at another airport on the second leg of that same trip, the gate staff for the same airline confiscated and checked every single violin and viola. For the return flight, orchestra staff tried mightily to get written confirmation of the acknowledged agreement with the airline that violins and violas would be allowed on board – that is, after all, why each musician has to document the dimensions and weight of their cases in advance – but the department that had made this promise, which they didn’t dispute making, simply refused to provide written confirmation, because the gate and cabin crews reign supreme.

    I’m glad Mr. Moore had a happy ending to his ordeal; I wish there were more such endings to these stories.

  • The world’s favourite airline? Ask the thousands who were recently stranded at airports all over the world when BA systems crashed. When profits come before people, nasty things have a habit of happening.

  • Never heard the term “jobsworth” before this. (Familiar with the concept, of course, just not the term.) Thanks!

    Also, this might be a good tutorial on how to deal with recalcitrant jobsworths whose only response to pleading, tears, or anger is to get more & more tumescent recalcitrant: a little humor might go a long way (might), and a request to speak to an actual member of the cabin crew might just do the trick when all else fails.

    That said, I hate flying and try never to do it; but when I do, I’m glad I’m a flute player. (Funny side note: I used to get pulled aside all the time when my flute showed up on the x-ray machine looking like a pipe bomb, but since 9-11 it’s never happened once.)

  • It also helps to be familiar with the types of aircraft in use. Some have big cargo holds, but with tiny doors, meaning a harp or double-bass might not fit in the door inside a trunk.

  • We are so happy you AND your trombone made to Dublin as we heard your spectacular performance at the Pepper Canister Church last night! Bravo!

  • Put underlings in a uniform and they turn into beasts. Or sadist concentration camp guards. Your persistence is commendable, as is your speaking directly with a flight attendant (due to a brief surge of indifference of the unuformed gate underling, which allowed you to encounter the first human being after enduring relentless humiliation). I hope you and your instrument are safe on the return from Dublin.

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