Now airline loses a cello

Now airline loses a cello


norman lebrecht

January 09, 2018

We’ve had issues with LATAM Airlines before, but this appears to be a case of staff callousness elevated to a business model.

From Annie McGee of the Sydney Conservatorium:

I am so enraged by my experience travelling LATAM Airlines that I thought I should share.

My flights have been delayed, staff have refused to make themselves available to speak with, I’ve missed connecting flights, I’ve queued in line for four hours to arrange new flights, I’ve been given measly food vouchers as compensation that aren’t accepted by the airport, I’ve had to stay at the airport gates overnight rather than in a hotel. The list goes on.

I would have put up with all of that, no complaint, had they not lost my luggage – my suitcase and my cello. Only with the help of my gorgeous Brazilian friend on the phone could I communicate with airport staff in São Paulo to complete a lost baggage form.

After they informed me my luggage had been located in Santiago and would be on the next flight to São Paulo and delivered to my accommodation, I calmed down a little. Alas, after 30 hours here in São Paulo my luggage status is now ‘missing’. After initially saying they would get in touch with me, customer service says I should call back after 36 hours as there’s nothing they can do for me before then. Otherwise I should just keep checking online using my luggage reference number. No apology for the inconvenience has yet been given.

I’ve come to Brazil to play in a music festival with fabulous musicians, teachers and conductors. I arrived a week early to adjust to the time zone and continue preparing some very difficult repertoire. Now I’m in doubt whether I will receive my cello before the festival and even get a chance to play.

See also: World’s worst airlines, 2018


  • Sara says:

    I think we’re approaching the point — or perhaps have already passed it — where mass action is needed. Musicians, with the cooperation of their unions, should simply refuse to travel unless the organizations hiring them provide transport, for them and their instruments traveling together. I realize this would reduce their income in the short term: that’s what happens during a strike, which is what I’m suggesting. Losing one’s instrument can mean a much larger financial loss, and in the case of irreplaceable instruments (e.g., anything not being made now) it’s a loss to all of music.

  • Luis Andrade says:

    As s Brazilian I would like to apologize for such inconvenience and sadly tell you that we are living one of the worst experiences possible as a country, underlined by corruption and total disregard of people’s rights and needs. I really hope you can come back some other time and God willing, yeap it’s only in His hands, have a more enjoyable time. Also let me tell you that a small number if citizens do really try to do what’s right and show due respect and consideration towards others.

    • Rgiarola says:

      Dear luis

      It is not just in Brazil that issues with airlines are happening, but around the world in any place. I cannot see a point for your apology concerning political situation of Brazil as a reason for the problem here. Latam is a private company that belongs to a Chilean group. The instrument was lose in Santiago. Major airports in Brazil do not belong anymore to federal government, but they are administrated by private companies. Most of then international companies from Europe, North America or Asia.

      You won’t see any Yankee saying sorry for their airlines nor a English for BA or Italians doing it for Alitalia (that smashed recently a very rare viola da Gamba, also reported here), specially saying that the reason is country/social/political enviroment. The reason is pure simple, the lack of proper services provided by private company that doesn’t care about customer with special requirements.

      I’m quite sure you got your opnion about your country, based on your political bias. However, please do not misconfuse an international issue affecting all musicians around the world in any place with many different airlines with it.

      As the great Brazilian writer Nelson Rodrigues said about Mongrel complex: “ Por complexo de vira-lata entendo eu a inferioridade em que o brasileiro se coloca, voluntariamente, em face do resto do mundo. O brasileiro é um narciso às avessas, que cospe na própria imagem. Eis a verdade: não encontramos pretextos pessoais ou históricos para a autoestima”

      • Luis Andrade says:

        Dear Rgiarola,
        I really can’t make out where you’re from but it seems to me that you’ve got a good knowledge of my country. The sad thing about you is to think that I don’t. I’m not gonna get into a debate with you regarding politics as my note was not directed for such. When I apologized to Mrs/Ms Mcgee I did so because knowing as I do that airports do not belong to the government and Latam is a Chilean airliner people in Sao Paulo (working for the company, who happen to be Brazilians) could’ve done better to help her. I’ve live more than a decade travelling around the globe to know that such things happen everywhere. The fact is not to have focused only on the government but on the population itself. I know how Brazilians in their majority are and that’s why I sympathised with Mrs Mcgee, trying to clean up a little bit the image sold outside by our corrupt people(and that goes way beyond those in the government) who think that being courteous is to belittle themselves. Btw, I don’t like Nelson Rodriguez . To my personal taste, he represents the real kind of Brazilian that I despise: o verdadeiro Kalahari (the real conman). That’s why we’re going down as we are and that’s exactly why I apologized to the musician. I really hope we don’t get into a debate. First, i’m not really into it. Second, my note was directed to the musician. Thanks for your “enlightening lecture”.

        • Rgiarola says:

          Italian. I won’t apology for any lack of professionalism of certain people working for Alitalia smashing any instrument, neighter Fiumicino staff etc. I will attack then as much as I do to any other incompetent every where. As you can see, even Fox news is now spreding the news about a similar thing happening with a Italian airline (? Ethihad is the owner in fact). It is the newest news here in slippedisc.

          The reason is just because a serious person won’t do it. Can you figure out Pollini, Muti or karabchevsky and N. Freire smashing a rare viola da Gamba? I don’t think so.

          Brazil do no deserve the right to get all stupid people. It’s a decease that affect many people, not nacionalities.

          By the way, I will support Brazil in the World cup as my team. Now that we smashed the ball during the qualifies.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    I find it unbelievable that you (Annie McGee) would put up with such a disaster in so quiet a fashion. Had anything of the sort happened to my violin I would have gotten straight to the LATAM president or his bosses and my violin would have been found within an hour. It’s whom you know and how you push those buttons. These people are human beings and they do have buttons which you can push. Why do you put up with such abuse? I hope you don’t think I am blaming you (the victim) but please, do us all a favor and speak up loudly next time – that will help the rest of us get respect too. Institutions are a mirror image of the public they serve. Unfortunately, if you do not demand good (or great) service, you won’t get it. Scream if you have to.

  • Sharon says:

    How do the big name conductors, singers, and players manage? Do they take private planes? Do they pay for them themselves or is it part of the contract?

    • Robert King says:

      What a sad story to read: many commiserations, and let’s hope the cello and baggage are soon located. Re Sharon’s comment above, the “big” names of music do exactly the same as the rest of us mere mortal musicians: we all fly frequently because that is part and parcel of the job, and we are usually time-constrained, and certainly destination-constrained. Given any choice, by and large we know which airlines are more likely to get us, our luggage and our instruments to our destination. But in the end, we have to fly, because if we don’t, we can’t earn our living (the idea above of going “on strike” would surely harm no-one but ourselves).

      We make sure that larger instruments travelling in the cabin (notably cellos) always have seats in the cabin that are booked by a specialist travel agent who is proven to know how to do this (we’ve worked with the same company for 30 years, and many other orchestras also work with them). You [rightly] pay a small service fee to the travel agent for booking that seat, but £15 or so extra is a small price to pay for knowing that you and the cello will travel together. We have learned how best to handle check-in staff (who are usually underpaid and hard-pressed, working awful hours and rarely getting much goodwill from passengers – it’s amazing what service you can get for making a check-in operator laugh). When booking in 50 people we will usually spot any grumpy check-in operator and send only the most charming of our players to that desk. And so on, and so on (I’ve been touring for 38 years now!).

      What no amount of technique can avoid though is how to avoid luggage being lost. But labelling a bag really, really clearly, and making sure it looks individual (one of my tour managers taught me to tie a ghastly coloured ribbon to my suitcase handle so that another sleepy passenger with a similar coloured bag is less likely to take it off the belt by accident) will help. But it can’t always work: bags still go astray, frustratingly frequently (one of our front desk violinists is still missing his suitcase, checked in with the rest of the orchestra at Gatwick on a Vueling flight on December 14). And it is the baggage handlers, not directly the airline (though of course they sub-contract to the baggage handling companies at each airport), who are at fault.

      Someone will one day make a fortune when they invent an affordable tracker that sits inside every suitcase and enables the owner of a lost suitcase to activate the tracker and say: “My suitcase is within 1m of this location: go to XYZ”. There’s a challenge for SD readers!

  • Kristaps says:

    I am just wondering why do you people check in your instruments? These things happen every day in airports. Buy an extra ticket and stop complaining after something happened by luggage handlers. The moment you check your bag in(doesn’t matter is it suitcase, cello, painting or fridge!!!) nobody cares about the size or fragile signs on the package. It is just box which will be handled accordingly. Sometimes it gets lost or broken. it is decision of the owner to check-in valuable things with normal luggage..