Alitalia regrets the smashed viola da gamba

Alitalia regrets the smashed viola da gamba


norman lebrecht

January 08, 2018

We have received the following message from the airline:

We regret what happened with Mrs. Myrna Herzog and we are carrying out all necessary investigations. However, generally speaking we would like to remind that for all bags exceeding the size limits allowed for cabin bags (8kg and 55 cm high, 35 cm wide and 25 cm deep), such as the musical instrument mentioned, it is necessary to purchase an “extra seat” during the booking procedure in case the passenger intends to avoid checking-in such delicate and/or valuable items. The extra seat, which is normally dedicated to passengers, allows to secure the item with the appropriate procedure.

According to a preliminary investigation, no such request has been presented by the passenger neither during booking nor at the time of departure from Rio de Janeiro. During check-in operations, according to the information available at the moment, the passenger was presented with the possibility to buy an “extra seat” but she refused and signed the limited release form (a disclaimer of liability) after being informed that the best solution for such a delicate item was to bring it with her in the cabin. That said, Alitalia deeply regrets what happened to Mrs. Herzog and will proceed, having established the facts, with the reimbursement in compliance with the international regulations in force.

Slipped Disc addendum: Ms Herzog insists that she tried to purchase a second seat for the instrument but was told that none was available.


  • Bruce says:

    Translation: “Alitalia does not give a shit about the instrument, but regrets the negative publicity.”

    • Markus says:

      This simply means she had to buy an extra ticket in advance as any musician does.
      Second she had the chance to buy a ticket and refused to do so to save probably some money (on a 200k worth violin LOL) and even subscribed a limited release liability form.
      If you gamble and lose you just can’t complain later, end of story.

    • Mauro Casci says:

      Absolutely! There are very good reasons why they are in Bankruptcy for the THIRD TIME! While I have a lot of family in Italy, I stopped flying Alitalia more than 20 years ago: they are that bad. I can relate a large number of negative personal dealings with them. They are SIMPLY AWFUL!!!

  • David R Osborne says:

    Just want to update the BA situation, personally relevant because I’m currently sitting at Heathrow waiting to board the last leg of my journey from Brisbane to Berlin. I’ve been checking the website for their policy regularly and did so again just before and this time it has definitely changed.

    We no longer have: “We will make every effort to accommodate your violin or viola in its hard case in the cabin, even if the case is slightly larger than our maximum baggage size, as we know temperature and pressure can damage these instruments in the hold”…

    This has been replaced by: “Our airport staff will make every effort to find space in the cabin for musical instruments that are within the dimensions of 80 x 30 x 25cm (31 x 11 x 10in), as we know extreme temperatures can damage these instruments in the hold”. Those dimensions, by the way, are ridiculously small.

    Just where I stand given I booked my ticket based on the previous policy (publicised on this site) is anybody’s guess. Things are going to get interesting. Avoid this airline at all costs. Qantas by the way, are fantastic.

    • Markus says:

      Dear David, the dimensions 80 x 30 x 25cm (31 x 11 x 10in) are almost standard with slight differences for every european airline as for British Airways.
      So you just you know you are going to avoid all EUROPE at a whole if you have a bigger instrument than the aforementioned dimensions and pretend to board on the plane your instrument.

      • Scotty says:

        Eurowings is the exception. They allow instruments “no larger than a guitar” to be carried on for no extra charge.

  • Robert Hairgrove says:

    “Slipped Disc addendum: Ms Herzog insists that she tried to purchase a second seat for the instrument but was told that none was available.”

    Of course, I am just as sorry as the next person about what happened to this old and valuable instrument. But, given the circumstances, the sensible thing to do (IMHO) would have been to only purchase both passenger and instrument tickets together, or none at all. If this wasn’t possible, I would have waited to take another flight where it might have been possible, or tried to go with different airlines.

  • Ruth Rose says:

    Our suitcase was totally emptied by an employee of Alitalia and arrived empty to BenGurion Airport. This happened in July 2017. After numerous emails , which included a police report, and a lawyer’s letter, we have heard NOTHING.

  • Lewes Bird says:

    I’m not sure why this irrelevant piece of news won’t die. I have zero sympathy for this woman and all the sympathy for Alitalia.

    As others pointed out, this woman essentially was a cheapskate who wanted to save on her instrument’s travel. She no doubt hoped to sneak it as hand luggage, and when that turned out to be inevitably impossible, and it was too late to get a seat for the instrument, instead of refusing to travel herself she just put it in the hold. Unless she’s never flown before, I don’t know how *she* had the heart to do this to her own instrument.

    A connecting flight from Rio (of all places) to Tel Aviv (of all places) via probably Rome or Milan (of all places). Automated luggage handling throughout dealer with by foreign handling agents (obviously Alitalia doesn’t handle luggage itself at Rio or Tel Aviv; some guy who lives in a favela took her instrument off a rubber belt and put it in a metal crate that went into the plane; did she think some senior member of Alitalia staff was going to personally accompany the instrument in its travel through the airport’s bowels? Seriously?).

    Instrument packed in a cheap plastic case.

    Frankly, this woman is [redacted: abuse]

  • simone says:

    I hear this incredible stories daily! I work in airport with alitalia! we are used to treat ANIMALS and special instruments with EXTRA Care! that said accidents still happens and for sure the lady didn’t care about her instruments! we have lots of passengers buying extra ticket for their loved instruments so is practically impossible she didn’t face reality! most probably she didn’t want to pay extra and she decided to take it up to luck!
    and also let me remind you that every airline have some ground operation managed by another company… here in roma alitalia has ground staff taking care of bags and these things does NOT happen… I don’t know who is handling ground services for alitalia in Rio!

  • David R Osborne says:

    Just love the various commenters making the claim that because the airlines outsource baggage handling, they are therefore somehow justified in washing their hands of any responsibility to not smash rare and valuable things into tiny pieces. The case is not great so therefore it’s ok to break the instrument- What the hell is wrong with you people?

    • LEWES BIRD says:

      Dude, perhaps it’s Alitalia’s moral responsibility since they have to take responsibility for their outsourced handlers particularly at airports away from their home base. But legally it’s not, because of the release any idiot passenger would be required to sign by any airline at any airport anytime in the history of time, when checking in such an object — as indeed this idiot woman has signed. And for good reason.

      So all we’re discussing here is Alitalia’s moral responsibility. Your comment reveals a woeful (mis)understanding of how large airports operate. There is no way in hell any airline could ever safeguard the handling of a fragile valuable object in its travels through the bowels of an airport. None. Ever. It’s really a matter of crossing your fingers and hoping you get lucky.

      Actually there is a way. Transport the instrument as valuable fragile cargo. That’s how paintings and sculptures travel for international exhibitions. It’s very expensive of course. For that money they’re handled by professionals and have a separate, climate controlled compartment. They don’t get checked in at the Economy Class check-in desk on a rubber belt and aren’t labelled with a sticky barcode.

      Would you put Fabergé eggs in the hold as ordinary luggage? A complete set of Sèvres porcelain plates and cups and whatever? A Lalique chandelier? No? Why not? If you did, would you hold the airline responsible if they arrived broken? Why then do you see this situation as normal and defensible?

      I mean, Jesus Fucking Christ, it beggars belief how naive and thoughtless both the passenger and some of her fan club here can be. Checking in a XVIII c. viola da gamba in a plastic case at Rio, expecting it to transit via Rome and to Tel Aviv and wanting it to travel on a silk cushion with personal assistance? It’s just another damn piece of luggage to the handling company. Get off yer high horse!

      This doesn’t even account for the other elephant in the room, which is that this woman’s behaviour towards her own instrument is irresponsible even if it had come in one piece. That’s because of instrument of this type has to be kept at all times in a temperature controlled environment. Airline holds are not climate controlled. The temperature there can get below freezing, outside the airplane in flight being —40C, and that’s after leaving Rio in December after being on the tarmac for an hour in +40C temperatures. Perhaps you’d expect Alitalia to have a fan for the instrument on the tarmac, and a personal heater once in flight?

  • EricB says:

    What I read is not “regrets” but a lousy attempt at reversing the blame and responsibility on the passenger. Very LOUSY indeed.
    Imagine if we all passengers had to book an extra seat to secure our luggage from being tramped over and smashed by people in charge of handling it ???
    This is TOTAL nonsense !

    • simone says:

      ericb.. you should really start to read what’s written when you buy a flight ticket… is everything written there, it’ll open up your eyes!

      • David R Osborne says:

        Gee Simone, you really want that promotion don’t you? Seriously, do you want to live in a world in which whatever a company chooses to include as fine print overrides decency and justice? If the airline had reserved for itself the right to deliberately smash people’s checked luggage would that be fine with you?

        This is about all airlines, not just yours. And for those criticising the quality of the case, I know colleagues who have had irreplaceable instruments being transported in the best possible, most secure flight cases reduced to match wood by baggage handlers. That right there should nobody’s responsibility but the airline’s.

        • David R Osborne says:

          Should be

        • Simone says:

          David, sorry but you didn’t get my point !
          Before being an employer of alitalia i’ma TRAVELER myself and i’d get VERY MAD if my bag get destroyed ! That said i’d NEVER send anything so VALUABLE knowing ( cause if you ship something so delicate YOU GET INFORMED prior to ship it… ) that i need to pay an extra seat to carry it on board !
          Alitalia itself gives baggage and cargo and mail to an handling company ( in rome we do it ourself and if that would happen here,i’d say impossible, someone would been already fired!) unfortunatelly when things goes through too many hands ( and handling companies ) sooner or later something goes wrong ! i’m a ramp agent i work on the ground DAILY under any sort of weather conditions so i’m not looking to get any promotions but what i can assure you is that NONE working on the ground is willing to ruin others people property !
          In this exact case Alitalia (or any other airline) should refund money to the traveller ACCORDINGLY to baggage policy, nothing mroe than that ! The lady KNEW what to do to send securely her beloved Viola but she wanted to take a chance , i’d NEVER take a chance on something so valuable she decided to threat that as a normal bag to send in the hold and now she will be get her case treated just as a damaged bag !

  • Amaz says:

    if Alitalia is so bad, why all FCO-TLV flights are (almost) always overbooked? some just don’t like El Al. yes… them…

    and yes Lewes, I totally agree with you [redacted: abuse]

  • Raffael says:

    It is a completely absurd that an airline company (any airline company) can public assume that people should buy another ticket to transport whatever it is because they cannot guarantee or assume responsibility over its integrity. Doesn’t matter if it is a common procedure. It is a testify of incompetence and it’s worst than failure as a company. It is to failure as a human being. That’s all.

  • YoYo Mama says:

    I wonder if musicians need to hide their cases inside ordinary luggage or boxes, so they do not attract unwanted attention, hate and jealousy.