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British Airways have a new policy for instruments. It’s no, thanks

December 19, 2017 by norman lebrecht

31 comments.


The world’s least favourite airline* has changed course overnight. After months of assuring us that violins and other small instruments are welcome aboard, here’s the latest message from Customer Service (sic).

Hi Norman. It’s true that we’ve changed our policy and we’re unable to allow musical instruments to be carried in cabin as hand baggage without charge. We ask all passengers travelling with musical instruments to contact us for assistance prior to their journey. ^Oliver

Until they change course again our advice is: take another plane.

UPDATE: Alison Balsom has received a similar message.

* See https://www.thesun.co.uk/travel/5149642/british-airways-slumps-to-third-from-bottom-in-annual-passenger-survey-by-which/

See also: String quartet pays homage to British Airways

UPDATE: BA crisis official contradicts instruments ban


Comments (31)

  1. David R Osborne says:

    The website link provided in the October 31 Slipped Disc article is still active: https://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/baggage-essentials/sporting-goods-and-musical-instruments
    Based on that information, I booked to fly BA on January 8 2018. Things are going to get interesting.

    1. Jola says:

      Please let us know what happens.

    2. Fiona Stevens says:

      Hi David, send me a pm on Facebook if you need help with this.
      Best, Fiona Stevens

      1. Moaning_girl;) says:

        Hey, I’m doing a research rn because I just flew with BA and they almost stopped me on the airport, because of changes in the policy. The thing is on their website, u can still see old rules (it’s end of March, policy changed in December?). I have one flight with BA more, we will see..

  2. Steve says:

    I’ve mailed this to my friends in BA and they’re unaware of any change in policy.

  3. Richard Savage says:

    Our staff are present at the check-in of musicians every day with BA at various airports and report no change in policy, either as defined online or as applied in practice. We have requested an urgent response to the rumour as posted above and will report as soon as we have an answer. In the meanwhile, we would request specific contact information for “Oliver”, and that social media desist from posting alarmist and unsubstantiated rumours. As a consequence of this post, our phones have been ringing off the hook from distressed musicians due to travel in the next few days. This is not the first time that false “reports” about BA and other carriers have appeared here, causing unneccessary anxiety, distress and extra work. The call for a “boycott” may sound macho and retaliatory, but reality is that progress will only be achieved by negotiation and not by threats. Unless, that is, you fly First Class, long haul, every week… BA’s service levels are indeed coming in for criticism at present which is a completely different issue; many musicians will need to continue using BA for the foreseeable.

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      This was no rumour. It was a direct message sent to me, followed by another to Alison Balsom, from two named individuals in BA Customer Services. They were clearly instructed to send these messages since they were virtually identical. We are now seeking to clarify the issue with the BA crisis management team. Please curb your indignation.

    2. Hannah says:

      Thanks Richard – we currently have five violinists due to fly on BA (some booked through you!) so extremely grateful for any updates you’re able to provide. We’ve just rung BA and they’re also telling us that there has been NO change to the policy and assured us that all would be operating in accordance with the policy still on the website.

  4. Richard Savage says:

    Norman – you may have unwittingly put your finger on the problem. Customer Services do not make policy. If you let us have the messages and sources, we will get on to the people who do. Different interpretations from different departments in BA has been a problem in the past. We spend a seven figure sum every year for musicians directly with them and I believe are therefore better placed to achieve results than a whipped up social media storm. We are not being “indignant”, thanks, just doing our job of solving problems for travelling musicians rather than inflaming them.

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      The two sources are clearly stated in the original post.

  5. Richard Savage says:

    No they are not, there’s one Christian name – Oliver. We would like both names in full. We’re glad to see you’ve corrected your earlier hyperbolic headline with a new post. We will follow up on all this through the proper channels as soon as possible; our aim, as always, to try to improve the lot for instrumentalists, especially when they’ve been scared unneccessarily. If you want to be helpful to musicians in this matter, it would be preferable for you issue a simple correction that there has indeed been no change of policy at all, rather than criticising BA for “not saying sorry” – for what appears to be a temporary aberration by 2 Customer Services staff.

    1. Nik says:

      This “temporary aberration” – isn’t that precisely the problem though? Whatever policy BA may have isn’t worth jack if 90% of their frontline staff have no clue what it is and make up their own rules on the hoof.

      1. Richard Savage says:

        Nik – fortunately, that’s not the case. The vast majority of BA staff are very accommodating and we are trying to make that consistent across all their operation, even where staffed by agency rather than BA staff. Unfortunately other carriers that advertise a “musician friendly” policy on line often fall short of their promises in reality. A case in point is an EasyJet Captain who reduced a violinist to tears by saying he would not move the plane until she checked in her instrument.

    2. Peter says:

      No, hang on “Richard Savage”. These messages came from staff who (1) are authorised to communicate publicly in the name of British Airways and (2) use the company’s official Twitter account to communicate under the name of and on behalf of British Airways. They are agents of British Airways. If they have acted without authority, then that’s a problem for British Airways to sort out.

      As I write, what you call a “temporary aberration” remains on the British Airways Twitter page: https://twitter.com/British_Airways/status/942871733165543425. It has not been deleted. It is still there as a statement of the company’s policy, written under the name of the company. In replies to that tweet, staff have stated that small instruments can be taken on board, but they have not revoked the unmistakeable and unequivocal declaration that musical instruments cannot be taken on board *without charge*.

      No blame can be attributed to Norman Lebrecht or Alison Balsom. If British Airways’ own “customer services staff” are “temporarily” ill-informed and giving out false information, that’s British Airways’ problem. Unhinged, unprofessional tirades about “hyperbolic headlines” and “rumours” tend to confirm the poor standard of customer service of British Airways.

      1. Richard Savage says:

        BA have sorted it out. Here is the message we had from them:

        The policy for instruments on BA has not changed.
        We had a couple of issues where musicians were given incorrect information by our colleagues at the airport.
        This resulted in negative feedback in the media.
        We have clarified the policy with all the BA teams at the airport.
        Please refer to the policy on the website

        If you prefer to believe old Twitter comments and a misleading headline rather than what is actually happening around BA’s network, that is up to you.

  6. Gravgaver says:

    You just have to pay a charge – what’s the problem?

  7. Tony Brackett says:

    They are not “unable” they are unwilling.

  8. Mike says:

    Richard, your assertion that musicians have been ‘scared unnecessarily’ is simply not true. Even if an instrument fits the specifications mentioned on the BA website, the BA staff can and do refuse to allow it on as hand luggage. There are also instances of musicians being charged for an instrument that goes beyond the specifications for cabin baggage, only to find that other passengers have taken oversized cabin baggage on at no extra cost. Here’s an article to back this up: https://www.thestrad.com/viola-player-humiliated-by-experience-at-british-airways-check-in/7032.article
    BA’s reputation is currently in tatters amongst musicians and that is not down to Ms Balsom or Mr Lebrecht, but down to BA itself. It’s a lot safer to book your flight using an airline that’s known to be musician friendly, rather than taking a risk with BA.

    1. Richard Savage says:

      BA’s reputational woes have been around IT, catering and seat pitch. We would be very interested to know which airline(s) musicians believe to be more “friendly”. BA still allow seat allocation for a whole orchestra on long haul flights, something most other carriers now refuse to do. It’s difficult to formulate a blanket policy that covers all the aircraft types in a fleet, code shares etc. We believe that giving staff discretion is about as good as it will get.
      The original headline in this blog proved to be totally incorrect and did cause much concern amongst orchestras and musicians. We have the call log to prove it.

      1. norman lebrecht says:

        Richard, you must stop carping out our headline, which accurately reflected the official message we received from BA.

        1. Richard Savage says:

          Norman: you mocked BA for not apologising – you might consider setting a good example by doing so yourself. In future, you might ensure you’ve talked to the correct authorities before posting something you claim to be “official”.

          1. norman lebrecht says:

            Richard, I think you’ve done enough apologising for BA on this site. If you want to promote your travel business, talk to our advertising manager.

      2. Mike says:

        Well done in avoiding addressing the point I made in any way Richard. Your statement that, ‘We believe that giving staff discretion is about as good as it will gets’ is exactly what musicians are taking issue with. They have no idea which rule will be applied on the day if they fly with BA. This is what causes concern amongst musicians and this is what your call log indicates. You can continue to argue that you’re right and everyone else has got it wrong, but it’s the customers’ opinions that matter here, not yours.

        1. Richard Savage says:

          Norman – personal jibes are a strange way to try to attract advertising revenue. I assume you just want to have the last say? I will respond to Mike with a call for positive suggestions on just how to approach this issue, in everyone’s interests.

        2. Richard Savage says:

          Mike – if you want to contact me directly, we can have a proper discussion about possible ways of improving the lot for travelling musicians. I do not hide behind anonymity. The challenge is to come up with short definitions of instruments and size (think about lutes, archlutes, chitarrones), that will work in all aircraft types including small commuters, code shares etc. It’s not an easy task.

          1. David R Osborne says:

            Richard, that is a little silly. How often do people travel with lutes? This is really about violins and violas- common instruments that are compact, light, totally (as acknowledged by the airline) unsuitable to be stowed in the baggage hold, yet easily accomodated in overhead lockers. It is not a difficult problem, and was never an issue until the airlines decided to make it one, for no good reason.

          2. Mike says:

            Richard, I’m going to send Nicola Benedetti to speak on my behalf, hope that’s ok! (I think she wants to speak to the boss though)

  9. Neil says:

    Richard, I was one of those unlucky violinists that flew (eventually) to Jersey on 10th December, that sparked off this latest media frenzy. As you know, I was forced to pay £236.44 for an unnecessary extra seat for my violin. As it happened we put our violins in the overhead lockers, there was plenty of spare capacity as expected, as it wasn’t a full flight. What a complete waste of money and time.

    Ten days ago I submitted my online refund claim as advised by BA. I have not received any acknowledgement, nor any reply to my subsequent messages, to ask what the status is. Why do we have to go onto social media to get any response out of BA?

    After the atrocious way I was treated on January by BA after they broke my expensive suitcase and then fobbed me off, I vowed I wouldn’t fly with them again. But somebody else booked my Jersey flight, so on this occasion I had no choice.

    It’s clear to anyone that BA’s policy regarding violins is, they might allow violins in the cabin, but there again, they might not. Therefore, if you are not risk adverse and fancy a gamble, then take your chances. For most people that’s not an option. Had we had missed our Jersey flight, it would have been a disaster. We were performing in a theatre, the audience had already booked tickets, the props had already been transported by ferry the day before. If we couldn’t fly the concert couldn’t have gone agreed, and thousands of pounds would have been waged. No musician can take this kind of risk with BA.

    For your information, and in answer to your previous question, Easyjet is one such company that allows violins in the cabin, and communicates this fact effectively with airline staff.

    1. Mike says:

      There you go Richard. Your statement that, ” The challenge is to come up with short definitions of instruments and size (think about lutes, archlutes, chitarrones), that will work in all aircraft types including small commuters, code shares etc. It’s not an easy task” is complete nonsense. Neil’s example also highlights this. The negative press BA are getting regarding musicians is based on numerous cases, is not unwarranted and it’s obvious BA are not adhering to the T&C as stated on the BA website.

  10. bratschegirl says:

    A few years back, an American youth orchestra I know of flew BA on tour. Despite rigorous pre-tour work, including submitting the dimensions and weights of each instrument case that BA had agreed would be allowed as hand baggage, upon connecting at Heathrow all violins and violas were confiscated from musicians and placed in the hold while accompanying adults were distracted; thankfully, all the instruments survived. BA refused to provide any assurance that this would not happen on the return flight, because no matter what a higher-up promises, the whims of gate staff on the day take precedence. I’d never again fly BA with a violin or viola.


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