United Airlines smashes viol

United Airlines smashes viol


norman lebrecht

March 05, 2018

The international period music performer Andrew Arceci has sent us these pictures of his viola da gamba, smashed to bits by United Airlines handlers at Boston-Logan airport.


Andrew tells Slipped Disc:

I often buy a seat for the instrument. I didn’t this time, but I’ve gate-checked with no problem for nearly 10 years, until Friday 26 January, with United Airlines. 

I was forced to check the instrument (Italian: viola da gamba; English: viol) at the United Airlines ticket area in Boston-Logan Airport. Two United Airlines employees would not let me walk to security/gate with the instrument. When I arrived in Baltimore, the viol and case were severely damaged. 

UPDATE: A friend of Andrew’s adds:  Andrew is a father of two young children; this instrument is his livelihood and United has taken it away from him. The customer service team at United Airlines has been horrible. Big companies like this will only listen if we all share this and force them to respond.

PLEASE SHARE! Especially if you have ever found yourself turning to music and art in your own time of need.


  • JoBe says:

    Unless humanity renounces to take planes, future builders of string instrument better made them from rubber! 🙂

    • jay ess says:

      Every musician needs to see this about United:


      • buxtehude says:

        @ Jay Ess


        The classical persuasion must do something like this.

      • Scotty says:

        That’s from, what, 10 years ago? Five? The guy checked through the kind of guitar in the kind of case that almost guarantees that the head will snap off even in a fall of a meter. I rarely take an airline’s side, but this guy was asking for it.

        • Brett says:

          Scotty, it’s not a guitar. It’s a Viol which it’s a cello from the Baroque time period of music. The case it’s in? Hard travel case. Guess what… he was Travelling!

          • Scotty says:

            Brett, I wasn’t talking about the gamba of the original post. I’m referring to the “United Breaks Guitars” youTube link that JAY ESS posted in his comment. That was a situation in which a folk-rock musician checked through a guitar that broke at the neck. He wrote a song and posted a video of it on youTube, which went viral and led to United paying him off. But he checked through a style of guitar that is especially fragile at the head joint in a case that doesn’t secure the neck.

  • YoYo Mama says:

    Really, he should have taken Amtrak from Boston to Baltimore. Some musicians are simply too greedy about taking every possible gig and spending the least amount of time possible at the destination, which robs the performance of being grounded in its location, of the artist being connected to the place. A sense of place is essential to an artistic performance. People have complained about jet-setting conductors for years, and it’s not really any different for soloists, instrumentalists. And if he was playing in an ensemble, why didn’t they hire someone local?

  • Will says:

    Agree the train would have been a far better and safer option. As ever – never check an instrument, always book a seat.

    • Scotty says:

      If everything goes right, that’s more than a six-hour trip. How often does everything go right on Amtrak?

      • Will says:

        Given check in times at airports and transport to/from airports the time differential is not huge. Amtrak trips on the East Coat are just as reliable as airlines. Other routes admittedly less so.

        • Scotty says:

          For European gigs I’ll take the train as long as eight hours rather than fly. But participating in the Amtrak loading stampede while schlepping an instrument is no party, even if the train stays on schedule. That said, between Washington and New York, Amtrak is my choice every time. I suppose adding the Boston leg wouldn’t be so stupid.

  • ChiLynne says:

    Sometimes I wonder if airline baggage handlers intentionally damage musical instruments. The extent of the damage doesn’t seem possible to have been accidental unless the baggage cart was driven over the case or the case was packed under a piano (or something of comparable weight). Yoyo Mama’s comments strike me as being unreasonable and quite mean-spirited.

  • Ben says:

    United had been crushing my potato chips inside my gate-checked bags.

    1) I stop flying United

    2) I don’t check in my bag with potato chips

    If I care about my $2 potato chips enough to do the above, perhaps the musicians who care about their $$$$$ instruments would know better?

    • buxtehude says:

      Where is this crap coming from?!

      • Jack Johnson says:

        It is coming from wrong wingnut trump trash who believe sleazy businesstrash can do no wrong and go out of their way to be worthless slime. They get all defensive and whiny whenever challenged also.

      • oddjob says:

        Excellent question!


      • Bruce says:

        Not gonna say that Yoyo Mama and Ben et al. are actually Russian trolls, intent only on sowing discord, but I will say that the “Russian” style of trolling is easy to imitate and fun to copy for those who enjoy trying to get a rise out of people they have no respect for, thus enabling them to laugh not only at the wrongness of their beliefs but also at their snowflake-like fragility.

        So yeah, they’re basically volunteers for the cause. In WWII such people were called “collaborators.”

    • Mike Beck says:

      Wow, Ben! You’re an asshole. And stupid.

    • Brett says:

      Did you actually READ the article or just roll your face across the keyboard and approve whatever was posted?

      He mentioned they wouldn’t let him take the instrument to the gate and check it there
      He was forced to check at the ticket counter.

      Coming from a musician though I’d like to thank you for offering to buy us the instruments and keep them at your place so we can pick them up when we have gigs on the road and not have to damage our own. Oh. That’s not what you were saying? You just wanted the attention and to see your post online? Okay then.

    • Bruce says:

      Classic behavioral trait of a troll: deposit your turd in the middle of the room and depart, leaving others to deal with the mess and the stink. Nice work, Ben. Hopefully your Russian overlords are keeping track; if you earn their approval, this could be your first step toward a job in the next puppet government of the US.

  • Sharon says:

    As I mentioned before baggage employee staff are under formal and informal time and work quotas. They may not have been able to take the time the to handle and secure a delicate and valuable instrument and do the accompanying paperwork. It’s also possible that the baggage handlers did not realize what it was.
    However, the solution is not to blame the victim. If United was willing to take the viola as baggage then it is responsible and airlines have liability insurance on baggage just to take care of situations like these. Why isn’t United giving Arceci the money to replace the viola? I understand that musicians are attached to their own instruments but unless it is possible to repair the old one he needs a new viola immediately!!

    • Scotty says:

      Airlines accept only a small liability for damaged or lost luggage. This liability is based on the weight of the item, some small number of dollars per pound, in this case. That might help replace lost swim suits and shaving kits, but is insignificant when related to musical instruments. Some musicians, such as myself, carry insurance that covers damage. That, however, doesn’t bring an instrument that you’ve become accustomed to back to life.

      • Michael says:

        I think that the airlines’ policy regarding fragile items is this: If an item is labeled “Fragile”, then this actually absolves the airline for being responsible for any damage incurred, since fragile items should never be checked. If an item is not labeled “Fragile” then how is the airline supposed to know whether or not an item is fragile? It is a catch-22 situation in favor of the airline.

  • John McFarlane says:

    Years ago I was travelling with my high school jazz band, competing in Vancouver. It was a good band, all pro instruments, Selmer saxes, King and Bach brass, etc. Everything was marked fragile. As we waited for our stuff I happened to see a handler transferring the instruments onto a cart. He was dropping them from height with no apparent regard for the fragile signs or general common sense. I knocked on the window and all work stopped. We waited another hour because of my protest. Air Canada at its best.

  • John Nikolatos says:

    I flew out of Logan (where this happened) with my old Italian baroque cello (in a hard case which was inside a stiff flight case). At other airports, I’ve been allowed to take it down to the bowels of the baggage checking area, bypassing the regular security check, so an agent could look inside the case. I requested that I would open and close the cases for the inspection to avoid someone unfamiliar with the cases from repacking the cello. (I, myself, have to struggle to get the double-case rig closed up.)
    Logan doesn’t allow that “passenger opens case for inspection” any more as they have giant scanning machines now. But that means surrendering the instrument to an agent not knowing if they were going to open the case or not. I expressed my concern if the cases would have to be opened at some point and told the agent my cell phone no. was on the case’s ID tag and, if possible, to call me before take-off and I could help open/close the cases. Then I just “let it go” as it was literally out of my hands. Halfway through an airport snackbar salad, I got a call from an agent informing me that they did NOT need to open the cases and the instrument was OK! I was completely (and happily) shocked by that considerate call! When I was home, I relayed positive compliments to the airline (Southwest) for this good deed.
    However, on almost every other flight where I check either my cello or bass viol in this case-within-a-case (which has “FRAGILE” in large letters and prominent “This side DOWN/UP” signs), it often is placed on the baggage carts and conveyor belts “DOWN” side up. When it comes on the baggage claim belt like that, the other passengers awaiting their luggage are greatly amused. I don’t find it so funny.
    All the above happened on Southwest — fortunately, my instruments have suffered no damage during flights. I, however, am often a wreck.

    • Bruce says:

      Well John, I hope your instrument never gets damaged, but if/when it does, you will deserve it. The commentariat has spoken.*

      *with the added comment this time around that you should have taken the train, and never should have been hired in the first place.

  • Laura Rónai says:

    Blaming the musician (he should have booked an extra seat; he should not travel; he should have a stronger case) sounds to me like blaming the woman after the rape (she should not have worn a tight outfit; she should not have drunk; she should have stayed home).

  • Sheila Guymer says:

    As a musician myself, I’m thinking that perhaps musicians need to start talking with their audiences, and for their audiences (the people who love and appreciate us, and understand the value of our instruments) to start boycotting airlines who don’t treat musicians well. Airlines only listen to their bottom line, and musicians are only a tiny fraction of their market. Our audiences, however, would make a far bigger proportion of airlines’ custom! Music lovers, WE NEED YOU!