Bad air day: British Airways breaks its own violin rules

Bad air day: British Airways breaks its own violin rules


norman lebrecht

December 10, 2017

From the violinist Rita Manning:


Yesterday I was attempting to fly from London Gatwick to play the Four Seasons in Jersey with the Locrian Ensemble at the Jersey Opera House.

We got to check-in early, three violinists and one viola player. I had deliberately taken the smallest shaped violin case possible to be on safe side, but I got a flat refusal from the BA check-in team.

She said BA had recently changed its policy (which we know is not true) and told us we had twp options – to put the instruments in the hold or buy seats for them.We had no option but to buy the seats for £240 each to ensure we got to Jersey on time to do the concert.

We were also told that our return flight back to Gatwick this morning was full so we wouldn’t even have the option of buying extra seats again. We ended up buying new tickets with Easy Jet later in the day.

We’ll leave some space below for British Airways to explain itself.



  • John says:

    Afraid that this is par for the course in 2017, no longer “the worlds favourite” simply Bloomin’ Awful – Vote with all future bookings and fly Anyone But British Airways #flyABBA when you have the opportunity. You’ll probably save money and almost certainly have a better experience.
    BTW after refit (currently underway) BA’s shorthaul fleet now has 1″ *less* legroom than RyanAir. If that simple fact doesn’t convince you to re-evaluate “brand perceptions” I don’t know what will

    • Nik says:

      “…almost certainly have a better experience.”
      Sadly, you are delusional if you think this. Just look at the range of different airlines that regularly crop up on this site for their mistreatment of musicians and their instruments. If you boycott BA it won’t be long until the same thing or worse happens to you at the next shop. It’s the state of an industry where cost cutting is everything and nobody cares about customer service anymore because they’re safe in the knowledge that they’re all as bad as each other.

  • Marg says:

    This kind of post is depressingly common. I dont understand what the problem with a violin is … the amount of luggage people bring on planes would be as much or more, and I would think a violin case could fit under the seat in front in larger planes anyhow. It seems to totally irrational. I’m sorry for my musician friends who have to put up with this.

    • Debbie says:

      I had very bad experience with Ba recently, I would never fly BA again. Flew to India on premium economy, my way back they choose me and my family to sit in Economy,
      They want to give us 75.00£ each, no refund of the difference of fare…I can’t be level wh as Ba has turn to, treated customer with dis respect.Flight attended very rude.

    • Elmira Darvarova says:

      As a violinist (and a frequently traveling one), I am horrified that anyone would think what you just said: that “a violin case could fit under the seat in front in larger planes anyhow”. No, a violin case would not, and should not, fit under the seat. On a recent flight, after I placed my violin-shaped (and very small) case in the overhead bin, a fellow traveler started yanking my violin case from the overhead bin in order to place her own suitcase there, which suitcase would have for sure fitted under a seat. But, no, she wanted me to take my violin case out of the overhead bin, and put that – the violin case – under the seat, so that she can put her own suitcase in the overhead bin. Although I have witnessed (and prevented) hundreds of times the act of a fellow traveler attempting to slam their heavy suitcase on top of my violin case in the overhead bin, I had never before been confronted with a fellow traveler wanting to remove with their hands my violin case from the overhead bin, so that they can put their luggage there instead. It is shocking and bad enough when airline employees act aggressively towards musicians, so we don’t need any fellow travelers to also battle with us and our instruments. Your opinion that “a violin case could fit under the seat in front in larger planes anyhow” is a dangerous one and I wish you thought about it before posting it.

      • Marg says:

        Of course I thought about it before posting it!! Im sorry I made some sort of faux pas. As a frequent traveler and someone who associates constantly with musicians, I would have thought a violin case would fit under the seat. Im more than happy to be enlightened as to why that is such a bad idea.

  • L Leonardi says:

    Most people on planes bring three times as much luggage as a musician with a violin and another small bag. Perhaps we should say that we have a license to carry an instrument because of a special condition. We can give them a perscription from our therapists, much like all the people who have fake service dog licenses.
    And why not? There’s no personal integrity needed anymore in this country.

  • Smartarrrrrrrse says:

    This is just outrageous!!! But one thing I would strongly recommend to all violists/violinists is: don’t ever show or talk about your hand luggage while checking in. I’m an amateur violinist and a frequent flyer. I seriously think that the reason I never had any trouble with any company is because I never say anything about my violin case. EVER. I place it on the floor in a way the check-in staff can not see it. If someone is taking me to the airport, I only get the violin case with him/her after checking in, and away from the counter. Simple as that! If anyone asks about my hand luggage (something that barely ever happens), I show them my handbag or backpack and that’s it. When it’s time to board, I try to be as discreet as possible and just move fast. If any trouble happens at this phase, you can always say that the check-in people told you it was absolutely ok bringing your violin in. And there won’t even be enough time for the staff to argue much against that, for the plane will be about to take off. If many airlines are absolutely stupid, disorganized and disrespectful in this instrument matter, then I don’t feel any guilt at all for fooling them. They deserve it! And most importantly, I’ve never been in a situation where there wasn’t enough room in the cabin for my violin anyway!

  • Dick says:

    There is one thing which is not discussed and it is a very Salient point.
    What was the size of the aircraft? Were you flying in an aircraft that only had 26 inch cabin overheads and you didn’t have a flight case? They’ll let your luggage on if you have a flight case. Obviously, you didn’t have a flight case, and you took a small jet, which I call a puddle jumper.

    • Dr Gradus says:

      BA runs full-size aircraft on its flights to Jersey. This is becoming an increasing problem for musicians, string players and large wind/brass (bassoons, trombones) in particular. Any professional violinist is carrying an instrument many times the cost of a laptop and many times more fragile. Not because we’re precious, but because that is how they are made and what they cost. This amounts to discrimination.

  • V.Lind says:

    What about the fact that British Airways has a policy, apparently has not changed it, and some jumped-up little bureaucrat took a unilateral decision — as so many seem to.

    Do NONE of these airlines ever instruct their staff or contractees on the CORRECT policy in this regard? How is it so many are seemingly uninformed about what IS policy?

    • Smartarrrrrrrse says:

      That is EXACTLY the point. The policies regarding instruments are not so bad in most of the cases. The problem is that the airlines are not reinforcing them with their staff. So it will always depend on the person who’s at the check-in counter. If it’s an asshole, than you’re in a nightmare…

  • David McKellar says:

    The problem is institutionalized STUPIDITY, pure and simple!!!! Little monsters who inflict this kind of idiotic horror on people should have their finger nails pulled out!!!

  • Tony Hastings says:

    Might be a good idea to have on your phone or Ipad the page from the BA website explaining the policy about small instruments as carry-on. And start recording any conversation with check in staff who are being bolshie.

  • Michael Pearson says:

    Always carry a copy of current regulations and if that doesn’t work ask to see a supervisor. I’ve had some bizarre questions and comments directed at me at check in desks over the years such as ‘ is the violin in a soft case’ or ‘ you could take off the strings mid flight and strangle someone with them’ These days I travel almost exclusively with EasyJet, buy Speedy Boarding and never mention the violin. It works.

  • Michael Endres says:

    Here is the solution for violinists: get a case from Bam that fits hand luggage dimensions, and then check in a hardcase with your bow as that violin case doesn’t hold a bow.
    That is in the long run much cheaper and eliminates nerve wrecking experiences due to non cooperation of airline or check in personnel.

  • Rita Manning says:

    Thanks for all your comments and suggestions so far.I am sad to report that I have not heard a squeak yet from BA ,no apology for the prejudice they showed us musicians not to mention the large refund we expect to receive for their mistakes.( £1409.76) to date..We took all the nessesary precautions,payed in advance to check in hand luggage so all we were bringing on the plane was the instruments.Im not in favour of having to hide my violin, I’ve done that in the past but why should we be made to feel like criminals .BA need to stick to their promises and policies and above all educate their staff,one of the ladies at check in kept calling my violin a cello !,, for goodness sake.

    • Smartarrrrrrrse says:

      Good god… Calling a violin a cello!!! Well, I wish you good luck in this! Keep Slipped Disc posted on your case, for British Airways NEEDS to refund every extra penny you guys had to spend. Actually, they should even be forced to pay a compensation for all the stress involved. I don’t know if that is possible, but it would only be fair.

  • David R Osborne says:

    OK so this happened to me flying BA from Berlin Tegel to Heathrow on December 5. I was towards the back boarding the flight (another story) and there was a guy standing by where the boarding passes were being scanned, collecting carry on luggage because apparently the overhead lockers were full.

    This is usually an issue on short haul flights, and is a direct result of the airlines greed in charging for checked luggage. After much discussion in which the cabin staff refused to allow my violin on and I refused to allow it to be placed in the hold, they ended up taking it in the cockpit.

    What works in this situation I assure you is being difficult and standing your ground. It is also the right thing to do. Don’t let them walk all over you. It may not win you many friends among the other passengers but it does get results.

  • Chris Downing says:

    1. The key problem is travelling with an instrument. Expect to have to buy a seat.
    2. BA is no longer a premium airline and pretty much just like the rest (buy your own in-flight food – no free stuff)
    3. When pretty much all passengers discovered you didn’t have to put up with terrible airport service waiting for bags, and they all switched to carry on luggage, our carry on instrument plan was trashed.
    4. Buy the toughest case you can and insure the instrument. Its was hardened pros do. Don’t expect an airline to be accommodating – that’s 1980s style. in the 2010’s air travel is cattle class – try the ferry.

    • Wallace Lockwood says:

      Chris, hardened pros NEVER check their string instruments, for any reason. It’s why cellists have to buy seats.

  • Neil says:

    I am one of the other violinists on the above Jersey flight with Rita. BA ignored all my numerous emails, so I reluctantly resorted to Twitter, on the advice of a colleague. Here’s the latest comments from a BA customer service agent and myself.

    BA: You on the fiddle pal?

    Me: Is this supposed to be a joke?

    BA: No joke fam. How do we know you is not after compo for nothing. Prove to us that you are a fiddler. Fair enough?

    Me: Are you really from BA? I’ve DM’d all the details to you, your colleague is apparently aware of my claim. If you are from BA it would take you just seconds to check that I have a genuine claim.

    BA: Best stick with the colleagues you DM’d This department is happy you are indeed a genuine fiddler. Happy New Year

    I should add, at least one of my colleagues has been refunded already. Any advice?