Airport security bashes a viola

The latest travel horror comes from the London violist Morgan Goff, who was subjected to extraordinary aggression at Dublin airport.

Here’s what he tells Slipped Disc.

1. I was told that my Viola would not go through the normal scanner as it was too big and would need to be manually searched and scanned.

2. For this I had to empty the entire contents of my viola case with the exception of the viola and two bows before proceeding to the manual check.

3. The security guard (whose name I wasn’t allowed to get) asked me to open my case, which I did for him.

4. He immediately went to grab the neck of the instrument to pull it out. I quickly stopped him and told him that it was a very valuable and old instrument. I would handle it and hold it for him so that he could inspect it. I asked him to be really careful due to it’s value.

5. After looking at it and getting me to rotate the instrument, he got his swab wand out and in what looked to me like aggression, hit the front of the instrument hard, making a sickening crunching sound and leaving a very visible dent. Obviously this is only speculation, but it seemed to me that he had been offended by my not letting him handle the instrument himself and maybe this was a lesson for me?

6. I yelled at him – what did he think he was doing? I said to him, this instrument is 300 years old, worth a quarter of a million pounds and you have just dented and possibly cracked the front of it. He looked me calmly in the eye and said “I don’t care”

7. My Colleague – Simon Chalk, found the head of security who took me aside and got my details. Below is his report form. He told me the airport would contact me within the next few days (not happened yet). I have copied in his report below. I had to ask him to change mark to dent.

8. During the interview, he went off to get some paperwork. At this point the security guard who had damaged my instrument came up to me and started taunting me (in front of another colleague) asking what my problem was.

Morgan’s luthier has told him the instrument can be repaired, at a cost. Will Dublin Airport apologise and pay up? He’s waiting to hear from them…

UPDATE: Dublin Airport’s response.

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  • “in what looked to me like aggression, hit the front of the instrument hard”

    Sounds a bit like criminal damage to me.

    • Clearly deliberate and indeed hostile. I can’t believe this man is allowed to work around the general public, he’s as much a threat to security and safety as any would-be evildoer. Anger management issues doesn’t even begin to cover it. What happened should be cause for immediate termination.

    • What a jerk. clearly he doesn’t understand the value to posterity and history. This man should not only be allowed to work in an airport (where fragile objects are often contained inside bags) but should not be allowed to work in any place where fragile, valuable objects are frequently handled. This is a sad sight for any member of the musical community.

    • Totally agree. Why not involve your Union in this and make a stinker, with lots of publicity? Would send a message to those animals. Everyone is allowed a bad day, but to destroy artifacts, seemingly out of spite, no. He should be terminated, pronto.

  • Wow. I feel like lots of people in American society hate the arts, but I realize now that it’s more in a contemptuous/ dismissive kind of way (“liberal snowflake crybabies crying because they made a bad career choice and now they can’t make a living doing something nobody cares about,” etc.). Damage to instruments usually seems to take place due to apathy and inattention. But in the UK, the arts-haters act as if the artist personally did some injury to them, and they are getting their revenge by destroying something the artist holds dear.

  • Airport security is both a domestic competence but also in international one (ICAO or such); after all, certain airports can effectively be blackballed for inadequate security procedures. In this regard, you’d think there should be protocols about handling of any valuable items, musical instruments being one of just many that go through airport security. The security people themselves should be asking travelers to handle their own valuable items during inspection. There should also be standard rules about liability for damage caused by security personnel; otherwise the potential for impunity seems great.

  • Airport security appear tough until they happen upon a passenger much tougher. The they begin to sing a different tune when called out of their element. Your friend should’ve recorded the incident. I see a jealous airport security guard. You play the viola and he plays the security wand.

  • Terrible! Yet, I am not surprised, as sadly many similar sorts of Kafkaesque things happen on a regular basis nowadays in more and more places, especially in the United States. I was recently flying out of a mid-sized U.S. airport and had my flute inspected at the airport security. When I was asked what it was, I said, “it’s a flute”. The reply, “what’s that used for?” I replied, “to make music”. Reply, “why do you have so many of them?” (the agent believing that each part of the flute that was taken apart in the case were individual and different things). I replied, “the instrument is taken apart when put in the case.” He replied, “sir, you said that you had a flute, like one thing. I don’t see that here. I see what looks like parts of a weapon! Until you can clarify exactly what this is and why you are travelling with it, you aren’t going anywhere. We now need to do a thorough search of your carryon bag and check you for explosives.” To make a long story short, I missed my flight and was only released after about one hour and 10 minutes and only when one of the other security agents explained to his colleague what a flute was and that his daughter played one in a marching band. Only then was I released and allowed to go and have to pay $485 to purchase a new ticket. No apologies, not one excuse from anybody and the airline said that it was my fault that this happened, as “many musical instruments look like weapons.” The way the world is going this can only get weirder and sicker and air travel will be an ordeal to be done only if absolutely necessary in an ever encroaching police state run by uncultured morons who view culture and everything associated with it as a threat to their rules and regulations.

    • Why didn’t you do what my wife does in similar situations (even though this one seems particularly stupid)?
      Assemble the flute and play a tune for them. Takes no time and is utterly convincing.
      Choose between Bach for a nice staff and Density 21.5 for a grumpy one. Works every time, most often with an applause.

      • She takes a serious risk when assembling the flute – if the thug is stupid enough he could shoot her in “self-defence”, claiming that she was “fast and fiendly assembling her weapon”.

    • It’s funny — I travelled a lot with my flute for years before 9/11 and would frequently be asked to open my flute case (never had to play it, but I guess they just wanted to see that it was a musical instrument and not a pipe bomb).

      I also flew many times with it after 9/11, and was never asked about it once, even though it would show up clearly on the screen as they ran my carry-on through the scanner.

  • I’ve been through airport security and lost very expensive handcream which was summarily consigned to the rubbish. The tube had an excess of allowable amount on the front of it yet it was half empty and would have been ok. A blind man could see it was half empty and didn’t have the content amount listed on the front but,no, it was flung into the bin. No excuses, no apologies. Not all security people are big thugs, but I guess they deal with pretty aggressive and angry passengers in their day too. It’s increasingly unpleasant travelling by air these days because you get to the boarding gate thinking you’ve been through a washing machine. And customer service? Zero, as far as I can tell.

  • I’m not surprised at all by airport staff.
    I think whenever they see a valuable instrument there first reaction is let’s get him.
    I have been so upset in the past with my violin that I do not fly any more.
    To me they appear to be anti Musicion & for some strange reason they appear to be all tarred with the same brush

  • I think the security guard was showing his hostility towards the “artist” in general. Sometimes they just hate us,maybe it’s an impulse to knock us down.
    I’m glad your instrument wasn’t permanently damaged.

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