How Alitalia treats a 17th century viola da gamba

How Alitalia treats a 17th century viola da gamba


norman lebrecht

January 05, 2018

Shocking pics and message from Myrna Herzog, music director of Ensemble Phoenix:


This is how Alitalia delivered to me my original 17th century Lewis viola da gamba, after ensuring to me that it would be TAKEN BY HAND into the plane and out of it! It was savagely vandalized, it and it seems that a car ran over it. So, far no luck in contacting any human being at Alitalia, and the only answer got so far is that the company takes no responsibility!

I posted two pictures on Alitalia facebook and they REMOVED my post.

The airport seems to be Ben Gurion, Israel. No response yet from Alitalia.

UPDATE: Alitalia regrets…


  • C Porumbescu says:

    This is heartbreaking – but seriously, what regular traveller believes in the efficacy of “fragile” stickers? No cellist on earth would send a valuable instrument as hold luggage. It’s normal to book a second seat.

    • Sofia says:

      According to Myrna, she tried to book a second seat but they said that it was impossible because the flight was too full. Instead, they promised that the gamba would be transported by hand to and from the plane at all times. It was also travelling in an excellent flight case.

      • joshg says:

        How do you “try” to book a second seat?
        Several unanswered questions here.
        She writes on her Facebook post:
        “It was in a flight case GEWA. They said they could not sell me a ticket, because it was too full. But that i should not worry, it would be taken by hand all the time.”
        If she showed up to to the airport with a ticketed reserved seat for the cello, then I have a hard time believing that the airline could say that the flight was “full”.

        She admits on FB that the damage was done in connection in Italy. If you have a CONNECTING flight, why the hell would you leave your instrument in the hands of airport attendants? This is not a case of carry-on luggage, where they hand-deliver your suitcase on and off the jetway on either end of a single flight. And even then the attendants in one city can’t guarantee the luggage won’t be transported to baggage claim in the arrival city.

        What does “by hand” mean? They can throw your suitcase into the plane, and that’s still by hand. And no matter how carefully the instrument may be handled, you still have no control once the cello is placed in the hold. The plane might be delayed on the tarmac for hours, and there is no control for cold weather conditions. So regardless of the airline’s assurances about transportation, any musician willing to subject their instrument to those conditions is already tempting fate.

        Those pictures do not show a “flight case”. A flight case is a heavy-duty fiberglass affair, or a thick foam-padded bag to fit over a regular case. Even then, it is risky.

        Sympathies to the victim, but there seems to be a fair amount of naivety revealed here. This is not the first time a story like this has been posted. Don’t hand over your cello to strangers, period.

        • Scotty says:

          According to other articles, such as the following in the Strad, she says it was NOT in a flight case.

          My sympathies as well, but yikes, no flight case plus connecting flight is begging for a miracle.

          Traveling once from Chicago to Amsterdam with two guitars in flight cases, I was allowed to hand carry them to the plane and retrieve them from the plane in Holland. In Chicago the door of the plane, where I handed over the guitars, was about 20 meters off the ground. A worker at the aircraft’s door put them on a conveyor belt to send them down to the loading area. He said “you can get on the plane.” I said “I have to stay and watch.” He took the cases off the conveyor and carried them down the stairs to the plane.

        • Bruce says:

          “Sympathies to the victim, but there seems to be a fair amount of naivety revealed here. […] Don’t hand over your cello to strangers, period.”

          Seems like a certain degree of naivety on your part too, Josh. Your advice is basically “don’t travel anywhere unless you are 100% in control of what happens at all times.” In other words, never go anywhere you can’t drive to. (And even then, be prepared for criticism from people like Josh if you get in an accident that wasn’t your fault and you don’t have your instrument in a bomb-proof case.)

          • joshg says:

            No, my advice is buy a damn seat for the cello. As I do every time, as every other cellist does. Sure, you can take your chances with the baggage handlers – they “should” know better – but get real. But thanks for the hyperbolic straw man argument and for putting words in my mouth.

          • TOmmy says:

            Since when Alitalia is the handler of luggage in Rome and Tel Aviv?
            I guess the most of you blaming Alitalia don’t know or maybe pretend not to know that the air carriers DO NOT HANDLE THE LUGGAGE but the employess of the handling companies for each airport.

          • Bruce says:

            Straw man?

            If by “putting words in your mouth” you mean “translating your advice into practical terms,” then yes. If it seems ridiculous, well…

            By the way, there have been numerous documented instances of people purchasing seats for their cellos in advance, only to be told at the gate that they may not bring their cello on the plane regardless. (Not to mention people who get confirmation in writing that they do not need to purchase a ticket for their cello, only to find out at the gate that actually yes, they must; but they can’t because the flight is sold out now.)

            I agree there are several unanswered questions.

        • Eliahu Feldman says:

          I wonder why SHITTY Baby trolleys are allowed to be taken by the parents to the door of the plane and handed back to the parents as the plane lands. Are you serious, JOSHG?

          • Eliahu Feldman says:

            It seems that most if not all musicians suffer from a condition called “Identification with the aggressor”, or Stockholm Syndrome – all of you musicians feel like hostages of the airlines and identify with them. Very poor judgment

    • Mauro Casci says:

      Alitalia has consistently been near the very top of AWFUL AIR LINES. There’s a reason why they are in Bankruptcy for the third time. Although I have a lot of family still in Italy, I stopped flying Alitalia some 20 years ago. Their “service” was consistently terrible.

      • Janis says:

        You don’t seem to understand that the airline has nothing to do with baggage transfer; that is the airport. You are just using this as an excuse to hammer Alitalia, but the same could have happened with any airline.

        Truth of the matter is that is not an air transport worthy case by any stretch of the imagination, and the owner took a big risk checking it through multiple connecting flights. Being cheap on many items; didn’t pay off this time.

    • Marcella Tabuteau says:

      How about not checking your instrument, Darwin? If it doesn’t have a seat, don’t fly. Many musicians have canceled concerts on that agenda.

  • Mike Schachter says:

    Alitalia is bankrupt and will be sold off after the Italian elections. Doesn’t say much for the airport either!

  • Steve says:

    I know some are against historically informed practice but this is taking things a little too far…

    • Sue says:

      That’s what their aircraft and service are; relics from another age.

      • Max Grimm says:

        Nice try, but if their service were a ‘relic from another age’, it’d probably be excellent, as onboard service offered by airlines used to be excellent and has for the most part declined tremendously since the “golden age” of commercial flying.
        Lastly, Alitalia has an “average fleet age” of 12.2 years*, which isn’t considered old, let alone ancient.

        * (for reference, your native Qantas has an average fleet age of 11.3 years, QantasLink 15.2 years)

  • Francesco Fabiano says:

    Please, before attacking the airline take a closer look at other pictures in the original FB post: there’s a white and green tape around the broken case that clearly states “open by crime prevention”. The state security services are primarly responsible for this disaster that 99% happened OFF the plane. Airline’s staff cannot prevent any of this. On the other hand: if you plan to fly with such a treasure you do book the extra seat IN ADVANCE.

  • Simon Scott says:

    Let’s get back to the old steamships.
    Commercial flying is NOT travelling.
    Having said this,I remember reading about Julian Bream buying two seats,one of course for his guitar “But,I take the drinks for both!”

  • Marco says:

    Stop defaming Alitalia since this could have happen with any company, the damage has been done by employees of the airports who handle the luggage either in Rome or Tel Aviv period. The Alitalia hostess may have instructed orally the airport worker to handle it gently but this does not mean that he will do for 100% and the same in Tel Aviv. If you travel with a precious luggage you 1) have proper insurance and 2) book a second seat end of story.

    • Janis says:

      It’s basically racists with an anti-Italian bias if you read beteeen the lines.

      It’s not the airlines fault this happened. Case is grossly insufficient and it wasn’t even. Alitalia that damaged it.

  • TOmmy says:

    Stop defaming Alitalia since this could have happen with any company, the damage has been done by employees of the airports who handle the luggage either in Rome or Tel Aviv period. The Alitalia hostess may have instructed orally the airport worker to handle it gently but this does not mean that he will do for 100% and the same in Tel Aviv.
    If you travel with a precious luggage you 1) have proper insurance and 2) book a second seat end of story.

  • David Hill says:

    Yet more evidence for what I have been banging on about for years:- such damage is being inflicted deliberately, by baggage handlers who see destroying an instrument as a blow against the much more affluent group of society that they associate with serious music. Sadly, musicians seldom inhabit the world of the rich, but that is the association they make. If it was, as is claimed, run over by a vehicle, this is deliberate.

    • Simon Scott says:

      Point taken David. However,in my opinion the handlers just don’t care a damn. They just want the stuff out of their hair pronto and clear off home. Breakages or none,they still get their pay….,..

      • David Hill says:

        Yes Simon, I agree. But I have heard of examples where cases have been opened, necks snapped or bodies punched through, bows snapped, and closed up again, etc. It’s an aspect of serious music that many are reluctant to accept – that some folks simply resent and hate performers for the ‘elitism’ they imagine we represent. As one who did ‘classical busking’ in London in the 80s, I can report that many would be astonished at the level of abuse that gets hurled, just because you are playing a classical instrument. Or even simply carrying one sometimes. Some of the pop music buskers were some of the worst offenders, as anyone who has ever walked the Kensington museums underpass carrying a cello will confirm.

        • Simon Scott says:

          David,you’ve raised some very interesting and,dare I say it,ominous points. Quite honestly,the best way out of all this hassle is,if possible,avoid air travel and go by boat or train as I invariably do.
          I grant you,there have been cases of theft etc. Just don’t let our instruments out of our sight.

    • Scotty says:

      They must hate rock and folk musicians as well. Their guitars are smashed with regularity.

  • Simon Scott says:

    The late,great violinist RobertMann was
    once forbidden to bring his Stradivari into the cabin,so he bought another ticket. Dinner time. Mr Mann put a napkin between the violin case and seat
    belt,insisting to the steward that Mr Stradivari be served his dinner…..
    Ready for a surprise? This was in the 1960s! Nothing new on the face of the earth….

    • Bruce says:

      Piatigorsky has a similar story in his memoir, from the 40’s or 50’s I believe. I think it’s the origin of the line “no thank you, but my cello will have another.”

  • Marcella Tabuteau says:

    This is clearly a ploy for settlement cash. No cellist in his or her right mind would EVER check an instrument. I’m guessing this ax was already irreparably damaged or a crap instrument and she was just pranking the airline for dough. This story has more holes in it than swiss cheese.

    • Scotty says:

      The only flaw in this devious sceam is that the airlines pay next to nothing for this kind of damage.

    • Simon Scott says:

      Marcella,I strongly advise against jumping to conclusions

      • Max Grimm says:

        I’ll add to your point that she should inform herself about the reality of things, before making such brazen claims.

        @Marcella; As Scotty correctly points out above, airlines pay next to nothing…for most airlines throughout the world, the maximum amount a passenger can hold them liable for regarding lost, damaged or destroyed baggage is capped at ~1.200 XDR (IMF Special Drawing Rights) which, at present, converts to approximately €1.424, £1.262 or $1.713.
        Consider as well that most people stand a better chance robbing a bank and getting away with it, than seeing the airline pay full compensation for lost/destroyed items.

        • Marcella Tabuteau says:

          Instrument insurance, hun.

          • Max Grimm says:

            Absolutely! It should be a prerequisite when travelling with instruments.
            You do realize that the prime reason one should get instrument insurance is because the airline’s liability is limited, and you’ll get next to nothing from the airline if they break your instrument….which leaves us with the same responses to your initial post.
            Additionally, even with instrument insurance, if somebody publicly admits having checked their instrument without it being in a flight-case and having signed a waiver to boot (as Mrs. Herzog did), they won’t get anything from an insurance company either.

          • Joe Guarneri says:

            With notable exceptions, musicians don’t navigate the real world with virtuosity. This is an obvious money grab done clumsily.

  • edo says:

    The story hits the Italian newspaper:

    Here it says that 1) Alitalia never received any request for a second sit and 2) the musician signed a form waiving the company from any responsibility.

  • Ralph Fisher says:

    I’m amazed at the number of people here who blame the victim. So what if she tried and failed, or didn’t think, to buy a seat for her gamba? Alitalia promised her instrument safe passage period. Third parties or not, this was promise made and needed to be kept. I’m constantly reading horror stories about these airlines either damaging instruments or preventing musicians from taking them aboard. Air travel in general has become a nightmare for most non-first-class travellers; but, musicians suffer the worst: damage to or lost instruments, constraints on transporting, delays or refusals to allow passage (because the musician is denied bringing their instrument aboard for whatever reason), and therefore missed or shortened rehearsal time, or worse missed/cancelled performances. Yet, for some reason it’s the musician’s fault. Why are we so mean to ourselves as group? What is needed is a (or several) class-action suits against these miserable airlines for not just millions but billions of dollars or euros or pounds (whichever is higher in value) for not meeting their fiduciary responsibilities to ensure safe passage of a professional person and the tools that professional needs for her/his livelihood. So, stop blaming each other and go after the ones who are really responsible.

    • Joe Guarneri says:

      You gotta be kidding. Find a pro cellist and ask if they’d EVER check a valuable instrument. Nope. Insurance scam.

    • Janis says:

      You call the owner the victim. Maybe Alitalia and it’s staff are the victim!

      Owner gambled and now whines to the presss, but as facts come out, the negligence was on the part of the owner. Checking luggage, poorly packed luggage, through connecting flights is never guaranteed. Signing a waiver shows the owner is clueless.

      Stop defending those that whine the loudest.

  • Blair Tindall says:

    Gee whiz, I wouldn’t consider checking my completely replaceable $8K oboe. I wonder what this person was thinking? A case like this devalues those of musicians who have done everything possible to protect their instruments.

  • Vinny says:

    That’s crazy to think that case would protect anything, my $2500. rifle travels in a almost bomb proof custom made Pelican case…why would you carry a $200K instrument anywhere in that case!!! She deserves what she got..

  • Seagull says:

    Here is nobody to talk about real Viol or tuned Cello.
    It is not a traditional genuine Viol but a cello converted to a Viol style.
    It has S hole style and Cello shoulder.
    It is not a Viol.

  • robie says:

    Alitalia is a horrible horrible company to fly with but plz tell me who in their right mind sends a precious or even priceless cargo by a flight company.. use specialized delivery services offered by DHL or other private specialists in fragile delivery. .. sorry to say u get what u paid for . 🙁