Airline imposes a cello tax

Airline imposes a cello tax


norman lebrecht

February 02, 2018

Jacob Shaw tells us that SAS Scandinavian Airlines is now charging an extra 50 Euros to register a cello, in addition to the full-price fare for the seat that it occupies.

Jacob is partocularly upset because he’s a gold member of the airline.

Fly away, SAS. We really don’t like you.


  • Pamela Frame says:

    You’d think they’d also charge extra for handicapped, overweight, blind, confused, ill, and children who are already paying full fare, as well. Oh, don’t forget deaf mutes, cremains, and regular fare paying passengers. Cellos demand so much time and resources…they weigh 25 lbs, too. Really soaking up the jet fuel.

  • Arturo says:

    You cellists should organize an all-cello flashmob at their ticket counter.

    I can’t believe they are doing this in light of all the ridiculous service animals US airlines (who travel free) must consider. This news comes on the heels of the absurd request by a passenger to bring her “emotional support peacock” onto a United flight to LA. It’s gone viral, and people are posting pictures of all the mini-horses, kangaroos & large dogs passengers are bringing on board planes as “emotional support” animals. A kangaroo can ride free but a cello is slapped with punitive fees? Makes no sense.

    • Bruce says:

      By the way, “emotional support animals” by law do not have to be allowed into restricted places the way licensed service animals do, in the US anyway. “I get upset without my piglet (who may or may not be house trained or deal well with other people in close quarters)” is not the same as a seeing eye dog or an animal that senses a seizure coming on.

  • Bruce says:

    I can understand charging full fee for a cello seat — it’s a fair point that the seat should cost the same no matter who or what occupies it — but then charging an additional €50 extra makes no sense. They don’t weigh as much as a person, or require extra time & attention from the flight crew the way a wheelchair user would.

    It would be interesting to know what their rationale is. What it looks like is: “you know we don’t have to honor our ‘promise’ to handle your instrument with care in the hold, and we know that you know. So we’ve decided that by making cellists pay €50 extra for the safety of their instruments, we will make enough money off the ones who agree to make up for the money we lose* from the ones who don’t.”

    *(except that we won’t lose any money, because we’ll just sell those seats to someone else)

    • Sue says:

      If you fly Business this will not be a problem. We took large prints and heavy objects in hand luggage and they took care of everything, including coats, computer etc. Only way to fly, especially long haul.

      • Scotty says:

        It’s a miracle that the left wing snowflake storm troopers didn’t confiscate your furs and diamonds.

      • buxtehude says:

        @Sue: Even less of a problem with your own private jet. On one big enough you can bring your piano.

      • Jacob Shaw says:

        Actually ironically when you do fly business class long haul on SAS they let you take your cello hand luggage and stow it above the seat for no extra cost.
        But this doesn’t apply to most cellists, and certainly not on the short European flights, which cost a fraction of the long haul ones.

      • Anon says:

        Really? Business class? Are you kidding us? First class is the only way to endure air travel in a confined space for more than two hours. Who can live without champagne served ant the seat and fine paintings in the hand luggage anyway for more than a couple of hours? So inhumane to travel economy, shame on these people, how uneducated and uncivilized they are.

      • Thomasina says:

        Sue, your comment reminds me of famous words…Qu’ils mangent de la brioche! (They can eat sweets if they don’t have bread?)

      • Bruce says:

        Sue – Business Class sounds lovely. I wonder, though, if they would be as pleasant and accommodating about a cello as they are about “large flat” and “heavy” objects… or if they would insist that you — meaning “anyone,” not you in particular — purchase a second business-class ticket with an additional €50 fee (or higher, in proportion to the ticket price). And I wonder if they would tell you “no problem” on the phone and then surprise you with “you must purchase a seat, but you can’t because it’s sold out” at check-in.

        And then, having done all that, I wonder if you would still be subject to the whims of gate agents and cabin crews so that it would be a continuous guessing game about how or if your instrument was going to get to your destination with you, in the same condition as when it set out.

        Besides all this, I wonder how many travelling cellists (a) have the money up front to purchase a seat (or two) in business class, and (b) how many travelling cellists are going to earn enough where they’re going to make the expense practical. If you’re Yo-Yo Ma and you’re going to earn tens of thousands of dollars/euros in the next few days, that’s one thing; but if you’re going to make a thousand or two at a music festival for a couple weeks’ work, that’s something else — and the price of the ticket could make a difference between breaking even and losing money.

        • Pamela Frame says:

          Don’t forget the cello mortgage and insurance and that we are caretakers of these centuries old artworks. Having to own one for our work doesn’t instantly enable everyone to buy business class seats. I think an important point here is that travelers would like to be treated equally, in particular that they can know what to expect (and right now that’s often rudeness in economy with cello) or, according to my most recent trip, rudeness in whatever is the latest lowest fare rung. If we could expect that the written rules would even be followed when we arrived at the gate, that would be refreshing. When you have two tickets in hand, it’s very frustrating to be greeted by “you can’t bring that on board” and the ensuing mess.

  • buxtehude says:

    I have trouble penetrating the thinking behind it too, though it does tally with the war against classical music. The soul of this organization seems to be asking, Why are you making such a fuss & hassle lugging this cello around when you could hear that sort of music much more easily on an ipod or smart phone, if you really wanted to…

    • Sue says:

      Rubbish talk. We find SAS very good altogether.

    • Anon says:

      Exactly! And why do we need power stations? Electric currency comes out of wall plugs! And anybody knows that! Silly people, tsss…

      • Sue says:

        Are you always so happy and positive or did I get you on a good day “anon”? Man up and use your own name.

        • Pamela Frame says:

          Well, now that you brought the topic up, I don’t see a lot of full names on here, Sue, as requested by the site. It’s generally known that when writers are not anonymous they tend to write more responsibly. I would like to know whether you enjoy classical music enough to attend concerts. Would you mind telling us that, and your full name?

          • Bruce says:

            Pamela (and Sue, you might find this interesting too):

            Your comment made me go look up the rules. Here’s what it says (on the “About” tab at the top of the page):

            Rules When posting on Slipped Disc, please observe the following simple rules: 1 No abuse 2 No defamation 3 No personal attacks. 4 You may post anonymously or under a pseudonym, but only under one name. Rule violators will be spammed out.

            So anonymous/ pseudonymous commenting identities are permitted, apparently — just don’t post under a bunch of different names. (I suspect that happens fairly frequently, but whatever.)

          • Pamela Frame says:

            Dear Bruce,
            I checked again, too. The site requests your name. When, in modern society, did we suddenly all begin to identify ourselves only by our first names? Unless you happen to be Cher, or Sting, or Bonno…

            But of course you are correct, and I still firmly believe that people tend to behave better when they are not anonymous. Man up everybody.

  • Jacob Shaw says:

    Norman, many thanks for bringing this story to public attention.
    This is a ludicrous situation that SAS have put cellists who fly to and from Scandinavia in. For short European trips, the service charge will cost almost more than the total price of the cello ticket.
    The service charge is an unreasonable tax on those cellists who pay their own tickets – i.e. Freelancing musicians and students.
    If booking through the call center is the issue, why not update their online booking system to allow us to add cello seats to a booking (like you can do for wheelchairs, extra assistance, buggies, etc.)

  • Saul Davis Zlatkovski says:

    It would be swell if a group of expensive instrument cases were flown with cheapo instruments inside and some sort of remote video cameras attached, so all could see, live, just how they are handled. I am betting that certain baggage handlers are making a game of just how much damage they can do to instruments, just because they are nasty bored. Start with Alitalia, and go through every airline.

  • Saul Davis Zlatkovski says:

    Another solution is for concert halls to have a supply of instruments ready to loan so performers don’t have to travel with their precious instruments.

  • Sue says:

    To all the rocket scientists here: it would be cheaper to fly Business than lose or damage a musical instrument. The airline will not compensate unless you stump up extra cash.

    • Scotty says:

      Rocket Science: difference between economy and business class (very conservative) = 1000 euros.

      50 flights per year x 1000 = 50000 euros

      Value of my concert guitar in flight case = 14000 euros

      Cost of carrying on the instrument = should be zero

      Sue ignorance factor = 36000 euros

  • buxtehude says:

    This pernicious rhetoric of Sue’s only serves to obscure the increasing and almost inexplicable disregard by airlines of the needs of string travelers. Why she persists in this is a mystery to me too.

    • Gordon Freeman says:

      Come on, surely it’s obvious by now that Sue is merely some leftie trying to incite further hatred of the right wing by only pretending to be right wing and being utterly petty, having zero perspective, winding up other lefties, making generally inane remarks, being unable to do basic math, chiding others for not using their name while not using a full one herself, and just generally being a sort of privileged, entitled, cliched mess… there’s just no way a real human person would write the sort of schlock she does and actually mean it!

  • Jacob Shaw says:

    Thank you all for your messages of support.

    We urgently need to get this changed back.
    I am very fortunate to have most of my flights covered by whichever concert I am travelling to: But this rule change will leave it unaffordable for any cellist student or freelancer (i.e. those who pay themselves for their own tickets) to use SAS any longer.

    As much as SAS think this only effects a few people, it really does not. Numerous cellists travel around Scandinavia and the world very often, for the reason that they have always been polite, quick, and fantastic service when travelling with a cello in an extra seat.

    The argument from SAS that it is not the cello that charged the service fee, but the person travelling with the cello – is a non argument. Cellos cannot travel alone in a seat obviously, and need a person to travel with them…!!

    I could suggest the following three options to SAS:

    1) SAS return to their “old” system and remove the service charge, just as has functioned (for ever) without any problems.

    2) Cellists book their own seat online (i.e. without a telephone service charge), then booking reference in hand call SAS to book in their cello extra seat without any extra fees

    3) SAS implement an option on their website to allow us to book both our own seat + a cello extra seat!

    Jacob Shaw.

    p.s. @Sue I love SAS – their service has always been FANTASTIC, the cabin crew are polite, and once you get on board with a cello, they are always helpful and kind.
    I don’t really understand what your issue is here. Are you supporting this new extra service charge for cellists?
    Regarding your comments about business class: I can tell you that if you travel with business class on a long-haul flight with SAS, the crew always let you carry on your cello as cabin baggage and store it above your seat (yes it fits) free of charge.
    But this does not solve the problem for a) most travelling cellists and b) european flights, for which this rule change is the biggest problem

    • Scotty says:

      Like Jacob, when I fly to venues the cost is usually covered. But like most free things, the travel isn’t free. Venues have a fixed budget. As travel costs increase, fees will decrease. Some venues already offer musicians an increased fees if their travel comes under budget.

  • Londonpro says:

    Just boycott this airline. And btw Sue, are you really a jobbing muso? I think not. Sorry.

    • Jacob Shaw says:

      Unfortunately, as the airline offering the best connections within Scandinavia – and Scandinavia and most of the rest of the world, its difficult to boycott them….

  • Cyril Blair says:

    I think we’ve reached Peak Sue.

  • Richard Savage says:

    More fake news, I’m afraid. SAS have confirmed there has been no change to their official policy. The cello pays the same fare as the accompanying passenger, plus any local Government tax (which in most cases means no tax). SAS are grateful that we brought this to their attention, are going to investigate who made a mistake, and say they will make an official announcement.
    As with previous fake news about BA and other carriers “changing their policy on instruments” it would be helpful if proper journalistic investigative processes were made before incorrect headlines are printed, which have the effect of alarming many musicians unnecessarily and causing much time to be wasted, quite unnecessarily.

    • Jacob Shaw says:

      Dear Richard,
      This is not fake news.
      Here is the following message from them to me a few days ago, after more than a month of going back and forwards:

      Yes, we have changed the rules and it states one service fee to be charged on the passenger ticket. No service fee on the cello ticket.

      Travel Consultant, Customer Care
      SAS Sales and Service

      Please could you contact me via email?
      Many thanks – Jacob

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Richard Savage, since you persist in finding fake ‘fake news’ on Slipped Disc, your comments will no longer be posted. This site is not a free advertising hoarding for your travel firm.

  • Jacob Shaw says:

    Still nothing from Scandinavian Airlines, who have repeatedly ignored questions on social media.
    The most public statement to date was on Twitter earlier, made to another cellist asking about the fee, where they confirmed that they have started charging a fee.

    “We charge a fee to cover manual handling, that’s correct. This applies to cello in cabin, change of ticket, and some other services. An alternative is to check the cello in of course. Welcome on board! Best regards, Nina”

    As you see, they have suggested we can – as an alternative to paying a service fee – check the cello in as a piece of baggage………………

    • buxtehude says:

      It seems like there is no limit to these arbitrary & outrageous impositions, garlanded with run-arounds and multiplied by the number of airlines.

      I think the classical music industry needs to somehow organize itself into a single constituency, focusing pressure on the individuals at the top — the bosses who have actual full names and addresses — while lobbying politicians, harnessing celebrities to generate damaging publicity and filing lawsuits every whichway.

  • Louise says:

    Air France and Air Canada charge half price for cello seats- you just have to call them to arrange. My new fave airlines!

    • Jacob Shaw says:

      However Air France = KLM
      Which means they may just cancel your seat when you turn up to the airport….

      KLM still owes me money after they cancelled my seat a few months back:

      And I am not the only one, I have heard this so often from colleagues, but we just don’t read about all the times it happens.
      Here we do, another example of foul play by KLM/AF:

      SAS (when they don’t have a service charge) still remain the cheapest on most European – worldwide longhaul routes : As an example, my ticket return Copenhagen – New York – Copenhagen just now cost 3470 (470 euro) dkk for myself and 1050 dkk (130 euro) for the cello.

  • Jacob Shaw says:

    UPDATE: GREAT NEWS – SAS​ have announced today you can now buy an extra cello seat WITHOUT service fee!!
    I am happy that SAS have finally seen sense, after I spent a month trying to get in contact with them. This is entirely due to the pressure from cellists and musicians around the world, sharing and posting on social media. This is a small yet vital victory in the constant mistreatment of musicians by big airlines!

    Cellists, if you have been charged a service fee from the rule being in place from 15th December 2017 and today, SAS will re-imburse you the 375dkk (50 euro) service charge through their customer care.

  • Pamela Frame says:

    A victory!