It seems the viola falls, as ever, into the ill-defined zone between the violin (welcomed aboard) and the cello (buy an extra seat). From Rachel Roberts:
Support the arts, don’t fly with British Airways!
Had to pay 270.70 euros for a seat ticket for my viola in Dublin yesterday whilst traveling back from Kilkenny festival. My viola ‘needs to go in the hold’.
Sorry for this long post – it highlights incongruence within BA cabin baggage policy.
At the check-in desk the stewardess asks for viola to go in the baggage measurements basket- the dimensions of it are :
The dimensions of my viola case are:
Max Width: 29cm
Obviously it doesn’t fit ‘height-wise’ by 29cm although it’s way under the other measurements.
The time is 18.20 (flight departure 19.50) and I’m given 3 choices:
a) put the viola in the hold,
b) buy a seat ticket for the viola,
c) buy a different flight with a different airline with different cabin baggage restrictions.
Andrew Logan of LoganArts Management kindly spent more than 20 minutes talking the BA line manager on the phone, trying to negotiate a possibility for my viola to come into the cabin with me, but to no avail. (Incidentally, at the adjacent check-in desk an elderly woman was becoming increasingly distressed with the BA check-in steward and after 5-10 minutes she was escorted away by three airport police, sobbing and saying she didn’t understand. Both stewards at my check-in desk and two more at the next desk were laughing and commenting under their breath about the overt distress of this woman.)
The BA senior staff member insists (in her phone conversation and to me) that it isn’t her individual choice not to allow my viola into the cabin and that she is simply upholding baggage rules that have been applicable for years. She asks me to prove that this rule hasn’t been in place for years and prints out and proudly brandishes the Internet page with the baggage size restrictions.
But on 26/6/17 I flew with BA from Cologne/Bonn to Berlin on 26/6/17, flight no. AB6506, and I took my viola with me into the cabin.
On 26/6/17 I flew BA from Berlin to Gothenburg flight no. AB8066, and I took my viola with me into the cabin.
On 3/7/17 I flew with BA from Gothenburg to London, flight no. BA0791 and I took the viola with me into the cabin.
I ask the BA member of staff if she would like her photo taken next to the baggage restrictions but she declines.
After all the discussion I buy a separate seat ticket for the viola which costs €270.70 as I need to be back for work in the morning. The queue for the extra ticket means the time is now 19.05 and I’m aware that boarding closes at 19.30. I go straight to security where there is a big queue.
Separate issue now: When I get to the front the security officer asks her colleagues ‘Will that thing break when it goes through the machine?’ I say ‘what?!’ ..she replies ‘sometimes the musical instruments break when they go through the machine.’ (That’s not true, is it?) I suggest that she doesn’t put it through the X-ray machine if she is concerned.
They ask me to pass the viola through the walk-through scanner and I hand it to the security officer on the other side. It beeps and he immediately whisks it away and starts to open the case and take out the viola. This viola is very valuable to me! When I get through the scanner I ask him twice if I can please do that but he ignores me. His colleague comes over and says that I CAN do it, and she also lets me hold the viola whilst she swabs it.
Back to BA: I’m through security, it’s 19.25 and the gate closes at 19.30. I run to the gate and get there just in time before it closes. I get my ticket and passport scanned (the steward doesn’t even notice that I’m carrying a musical instrument), and I head straight for the flight. As I’m about to get on the flight I realise that I’ve forgotten to get the €270.70 viola seat ticket scanned so I go back to the gate and get that ticket scanned by the steward who is now looking a bit confused.
By the time I get on the plane I am one of the last to board, but yes you guessed it – there is plenty of space in the overhead lockers. As you can see from the photos the viola fits fine into the locker and no-one complains or even mentions anything about it being there. I travel back with the viola in the locker. I also take a photo of someone else’s oversized bag that was in an overhead locker (looks like golf clubs)- I speak to the owner of that luggage and he doesn’t have to pay any extra money for it.
I also speak with the stewardess who is also Customer Services Manager for the flight; she confirms that there were 6 seats free in economy and 4 seats free in club class. (That means there are 10 allocations of cabin luggage not being used altogether.) She says that BA asks you to buy a ticket in case the flight fills up, but she also says she can’t understand why, with the timing being so close to take-off and 6 seats being free, I am forced to pay for an extra seat.
From this experience I’ve reached the following conclusions:
1. Airports and airlines (particularly British Airways and Dublin airport it seems) still have work to do in training their staff in routine procedures – and employees get away with aggressive / passive-aggressive, inflammatory behaviour.
2. There is such ‘flexibility’ within BA musical instrument cabin baggage rules that it still seems down to the discretion of individual line managers or cabin stewards whether or not musical instruments are allowed into the cabin on a flight. There is no formal policy or procedure that can be relied upon.
3. Musicians are discriminated against by British Airways and other airlines. Other customers have oversized luggage but don’t have to pay. BA is just the latest in my experience. United Airlines was another terrible experience.
4. This was a massive waste of a PR opportunity for BA to be seen as an airline that actually supports the arts. It’s hard enough for musicians and other arts professionals to survive in an increasingly harsh business and travel ‘climate’ without being discriminated against.
5. It’s humiliating to be asked by uniformed staff to put your musical instrument into a baggage gauge that anyone can see from 20 metres away it’s not going to fit into, just so that the staff member can say ‘oh look it doesn’t fit- you have to buy another ticket’
6. Support the arts. Do not fly BA.