A double-bass, a little baby and an airline that loves to say NO

A double-bass, a little baby and an airline that loves to say NO


norman lebrecht

May 08, 2018

From Lisa Maree Dowling:



EMERGENCY: I’m at JFK trying to check my bass with Norwegian Air. They weighed it. It’s 90 lbs they are saying that they nor any airline can check it because it’s more than 32kg I’m stuck with 2 instruments, 4 suitcases and a baby.

I showed up to the Norwegian Airlines counter at JKF at 6.40 for a 10.05pm flight to Zagreb via Copenhagen. I called and checked in the bass per Norwegian policy over a month ago. 
The size dimensions follow this policy as does the weight. The weight is 90 lbs and as per the website states, was expected to pay $11 per kilo over 20kg.

The woman who initially started to check me in took one look at the bass and said they never check in instruments this size or weight. That JKF never take instruments this size. I showed her the bass policy on the website. She said that it didn’t matter what it said on the website – it wasn’t going to fit on the plane.
I asked to speak to the manager.
I had a TSA agent, an aviation union worker and a Norwegian airlines manager all telling me that the bass would not fit on the ramp and that they don’t have to follow FAA regulations because they are a European company. Wtf!
I called NA and told them the situation. The guy I spoke to said that they are not liable for what happens at the airport. He also refused to give me his name, refused to give me a refund and refused to allow me to speak to a supervisor.

This was a blame game from hell. No one wanted to take responsibility for the situation and they all walked away, leaving me standing at the counter, breastfeeding my baby. They made me feel like it was my fault and treated me with much disdain and disrespect.

I sent my bass back to my husband in Jersey City with an Uber XL. It cost $256.94 plus a $20 tip.
After 2 hrs at the checkin counter with no resolution I am now waiting to board the flight along with my brother in law and my baby. The TSA manger was kind enough to walk us through security.

Bass players. What airline will accept my bass? Or should I ship it? My husband who has never dealt with a bass will have to take it with him now. Also NEVER EVER EVER fly with Norwegian Airlines.

Please please please share this post and photo!


  • Tamino says:

    It says very clearly on Norwegian’s website, that no check-in baggage piece can be heavier than 32 kg.
    Sorry, but the only person responsible here is you.
    This base can only fly as cargo.

  • Anna says:

    Direct from Norwegian air’s website


    “There’s no size limit for double basses, but we’ve only got room for 2 per flight. You’ll be asked to pay the musical instrument charge at the airport on your day of departure.”

    It doesn’t say anything about a weight limit, just says that one must pay X dollars for each pound/kilo that it is overweight.

    I’ve flown Norwegian several times with my bass with no problem. This woman has had some really unfortunate luck, I feel sorry for her.

  • Carmen says:

    Oh, come on! This isn’t a major carrier like Lufthansa or Delta!

    In defense of Norwegian, they are an ultra low-cost airline offering rock bottom prices with no frills. They make that clear up front when you book with them. Do your research. It’s a fairly new company. Before you show up to JFK with a bass & a boatload of baggage, look online for reviews. If you have any doubt, don’t book with them.

    This is par for the course for many European low cost companies. You get what you pay for. I suspect you’ve never flown with Ryan Air.

    My experience as a musician traveling on Norwegian has been outstanding. I read the reviews, I knew what the risks would be, I didn’t push the envelope & I saved a lot of money. I bought an inexpensive rollerboard carry-on that complies precisely with their measurements, I strategized my packing to make sure my instrument & my laptop made it on board smoothly and I had zero problems. Norwegian’s staff was courteous and helpful at all times. Granted, my instrument is not a bass, but Norwegian certainly has my vote.

    Norwegian’s low prices make international travel reasonable and comfortable. As a new company, they are still working out kinks with delays, cancelations, etc. – issues that affect everyone who travels with them. Please don’t be getting all up in arms just yet about the unusual situation of traveling with a bass, which affects only you and a few others. The rest of us are just fine with Norwegian.

    • Cosmin says:

      Gosh, how much I love your response. Hats off for you Carmen, you made it very clear.

    • Tamino says:

      AFAIK it would be the same on major carriers as Delta or Lufthansa. The 32 kg limit is a limit by the luggage handling subcontractors to protect their workers. The bass or in fact any item heavier than 32 kg has to be shipped by air cargo. Different procedure. I’ve been told by bass players.

      • Max Grimm says:

        I don’t believe that the 32kg maximum is a universal rule yet but actually still does depend on the airline/airport.
        One of my friends, also a double bassist, travelled from Germany to the USA and back a few months ago and a few of us helped researching tickets.
        Some airlines explicitly stated that “nothing above 32kg” would be accepted, some made only vague references to “a limit” and others, such as the airlines he ended up flying with, Lufthansa and United Airlines, did not accept regular baggage above 32kg but did accept “pre-registered special baggage” weighing in excess of the 32kg – there were exceptions however that were directly related to the aircraft type and also certain airports where separate weight restrictions were applied.
        On the way going (Lufthansa) he was told the limit would be 52kg/115lbs and coming back (United Airlines) he was told the limit would be 75kg/165lbs. Thankfully all worked out well and he had no issues with either airline (additional cost, just under €650 though).

  • Bob says:

    IATA (not Norwegian or JFK) state that the absolute maximum is 32kg…you tried to check in a 40kg item. What happens once your 40kg item is check in? Are the baggage belts built for it? How about the baggage handlers, you expect them to threaten their pay check by having a back injury?


    • AnnaT says:

      Their website says they accept them. Stop being contrary and blaming this woman for things she hasn’t done (right, she is “threatening their paychecks,” give me a break).

    • Andrew says:

      IATA does not set this limit, it is set by local laws and reflected on the website. Those laws are there to protect the baggage handlers who have to place maybe 300 bags on an aircraft, which can easily be more then 500kg for a single flight. That repetitive work is very hard on the person doing it.

  • Pacer1 says:

    To Carmen and Tamino: it states very clearly on Norwegian’s website that they DO accept double basses. In fact they brag “There’s no size limit for double basses,”

    There is a musical instrument fee, which she was prepared to pay, and the Airline strongly recommends a hard shell case, which she had.

    Just why do you feel the fault is with her?

    • Graeme says:

      Some people just love to sound off and have a go at others, I guess. If NA say on its website that they take musical instruments such as double bass, for an additional fee, then they should honour that.

    • Bruce says:

      ^ I think because they want it to be the musician’s fault. Entitled crybabies who don’t think the rules should apply to them, etc. etc.

    • Tamino says:

      Well, maybe they are not very clever about publishing their rules, obviously there are size and weight limits. An aircraft luggage compartment is a cramped limited space. And every plane has a limited take off weight.
      Maybe Norwegian didn’t forsee the weight of a double bass in a large sturdy hardshell case? The policy was probably written under the premise, that still the max weight is 32 kg.

      “I called and checked in the bass per Norwegian policy over a month ago.”

      This makes no sense. If it was “checked in” indeed, there must have been some paper trail for the check in people to look up. Something’s off with this.

      • Scotty says:

        As far as I know, they didn’t get so far as weighing Lisa’s bass (first name used because I know her just a little). They rejected the bass after taking a look at it. Also, I think that any full-sized bass in a flight case will weigh more than 32 kilos. That is unless carbon-fiber bass cases have been developed since I last looked.

    • Carmen says:

      1. Because Norwegian has a “space available” & several other contingencies in this same excerpt from their website which you didn’t include.

      2. Every bass player knows that traveling with their instrument is going to be tricky despite what an airline website might say. If you travel enough you know that the employees who are the guard dogs for checking baggage and boarding are not necessarily well versed in instrument procedures. I travel with a much smaller instrument and I expect it every single time. Just anticipate ignorance from airline employees and you will never be caught off guard as she was.

      3. Norwegian is a decent company using a new business model to offer super low fares and they’re totally under fire from the US airlines for doing this. Their flights to/from the US, which this lady was booked on, are less than a year old. They just started flying into JFK last summer. How many basses could they possibly have flown in this short time? As a pro bassist, she should have been aware of this before she booked & anticipated that there might be confusion.

      4. As a mom traveling with a baby, I don’t understand why she would have risked a situation like this at all. Just traveling with a baby alone is a challenge. Why did she choose a new, untested airline for this major trip – with baby, baggage AND a bass? 3 huge variables – any one could have presented problems, and they did. Was it really worth the cheap airfare? And then to lash out publicly at Norwegian when something didn’t go as planned? That’s not right & she needs to accept some responsibility here, IHMO.

      • Scotty says:

        Is your point that only major airlines should deliver what they promise? Norwegian says “this is how to fly with a bass on our airline.” Lisa Maree followed their rules. Norwegian let her down.

        • Carmen says:

          No they didn’t, Scotty. They say if you are interested in traveling with a bass, please contact us. They give several contingencies, one of which is available space. That’s a big clue that it could be problematic.

          My point is that even well-established, major carriers would have had trouble with this, despite having had more experience. To point the finger entirely at a new company which is charging you a fraction of the going price is in bad taste, IMHO.

          • Scotty says:

            What they said is that they can take only two basses so you need to call ahead and secure one of the two spots, which she did. The people at the counter, she says, didn’t check to see if her spot was available. They didn’t weigh her bass. They took one look and said we NEVER take those things. Nothing on Norweigian’s site mentions we never take those things. It explicitly says we DO take those things if you follow our rules, which she did.

            Have you worked for Norweigian from the start or are you a recent hire?

          • SVM says:

            Sed contra: To make promises on your website which you are unable to keep is in bad taste. Being a “new company” and/or having lower prices is no excuse. Just imagine…

            Carmen: I am booked onto the flight at 12:00.

            Check-in desk: Sorry, the flight has been cancelled.

            Carmen: Could you put me on the next flight?

            Check-in desk: No; all our flights have been cancelled.

            Carmen: Could you put me on the next flight with another airline?

            Check-in desk: Are you ignorant about how airlines work? We NEVER do that.

            Carmen: So I take it you will be compensating me for this…

            Check-in desk: Actually, no. You see, we set up a flashy website and advertised all these flights, but then we realised that landing slots and operating costs here are really expensive…

            Carmen: Of course, I understand. After all, you are a “new company”, and it must be really tough making the profit margins work. I love the fact that you have cheap fares, and will make sure not to give you any bad press over this, because I would not want you to get bought-out by another company.

            Check-in desk: Thank you, madam. We look forward to welcoming you again in the future.

        • Carmen says:

          And this is the first time in aviation history that airline employees have been confused by an unfamiliar large instrument? Come on, if you have half a brain you know up front that’s going to happen, website or no website. I’m not sure who’s more naive here, you & Lisa or the airline employees.

          As a bassist she should have asked other bassists ahead of time who would take her instrument, not after the fact as she’s doing now.

          I’m not even a bassist, but I know it’s a huge issue among my European bass colleagues who want to take US auditions. You either borrow a bass from someone who lives locally or you ship it by freight is how I understand it.

          Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water on this one. Norwegian may have problems, but I wouldn’t count this incident as one of them.

          • Scotty says:

            Your key phrase is “I’m not even a bassist….” I’m not either, but I hire them for my ensembles and arrange for transportation. Once an airline misplaced the $40,000 bass of one of my colleagues. I found it at another airport 100 miles away. Literally drove there and found it, since the airline didn’t have a record of the bass existing. This bassist had flown with his instruments for more that three decades. We didn’t think to ourselves: “Entirely our fault. We should have checked around to see if Northwestern has a habit of losing basses.” Because it wasn’t our fault.

            Similarly, if next time you book a flight on Norwegian to Greece and you end up in Riga you’ll think to yourself “Well, better not to criticize and risk damaging the reputation of this great airline. Everyone makes mistakes. I should have checked with colleagues about the airline’s ability to land in the right city. My fault. I feel so naive.”

      • Carmen says:

        To SVM: actually this is the main issue with Norwegian right now – the cancelations & delays & difficulty getting reimbursement. You nailed it. And unfortunately that’s pretty much how they reacted at 1st. This is improving as they do more business with US customers who are very savvy about passenger rights. So for that I offer no defense. It’s a steep learning curve for them, I think. The stories about how Norwegian handles these situations are truly horrific.

        But it’s all out there to read ahead of time. I knew when I flew them that I might get stuck in some unfamiliar city for like 12 hours, that they wouldn’t pay for a hotel, and they wouldn’t let passengers leave the airport. And that they’d make it near impossible to get any compensation. It didn’t happen to me. I was lucky. But the stories abound. It’s happened to plenty of others.

        Not saying this is how to run an airline, but ultra low cost flights Europe – US are still a new animal & I’m willing to give them a chance. I’d never risk trying to taking a bass, lots of baggage, or most of all, a precious infant on one of their transatlantic flights. It’s a crap shoot.

  • Zahid says:

    It is always the same, people think they can take everything with them on planes.. imagine the whole orchestra is traveling and the have all their instruments as normal luggage with them.. next time I’ll take my washing machine with me …. btw try it with Lufthansa and you will be surprised how strictly they follow their luggage rules…
    and I don’t want to know how much the lady wants to take as her handl luggage with her in the cabin…

    • Georges says:

      As someone who’s traveled with two major US orchestras, I can tell you that is exactly how it works. The trunks go under plane carrying the players.

    • AnnaT says:

      You are making things up that are not part of this woman’s experience or problems with the airline.

  • V.Lind says:

    This is the paragraph that gives me pause:

    “I called NA and told them the situation. The guy I spoke to said that they are not liable for what happens at the airport. He also refused to give me his name, refused to give me a refund and refused to allow me to speak to a supervisor.”

    If airlines “are not liable for what happens at the airport,” much of what has been reported here in the past few years is explained. And it is bloody well time that some air service authority did something to make sure that airlines ARE responsible for what airport staff do in their name.

  • Rob says:

    I haven’t flown Norwegian Airlines, but boy! They have great prices!

    • Carmen says:

      Exactly! And you can actually get tickets at those low prices on Norwegian, unlike some other airlines.

      Here’s the thing: the big US airlines are furious at Norwegian right now for undercutting them and are trying to find some way to sue them. Also, apparently Norwegian doesn’t have a huge profit margin at this time & are being eyed for a buyout by several large airlines (Lufthansa & British are among them, I think).

      The minute they sell out you know those low prices will disappear. I, for one, would like to continue to be able to travel Europe – US for $199 each way on a Norwegian Dreamliner.

      So I’m really sorry about the lady with her bass, but this isn’t a great time for musicians to be gunning up against Norwegian. On our salaries as musicians, this is one airline that is making international travel more possible.

      And to follow up on a comment by another reader, now that I think about it, my bass friends who have to travel from Europe to the US do ship their basses as freight not as baggage on a commercial airline.

      • SVM says:

        Based on the information given in the article and other comments, it is my understanding that

        1. the airline claims explicitly to be able and willing to accommodate two basses, subject to booking at least 48 hours in advance, and

        2. the passenger had made such a booking, by telephone, a month in advance, despite which

        3. the airline failed to honour the booking, as a result of which

        4. the passenger has suffered great inconvenience and is already hundreds of dollars out of pocket (because she had to arrange for the bass to be sent back to Jersey City as a temporary measure).

        In my eyes, on the basis of the above, that amounts to a manifest breach of contract, which deserves to be publicised. And yet, the only thing about which Carmen is concerned is the airline’s profit margins! What about the fact that a fellow musician, through no fault of her own, had her instrument stranded and now has to find an alternative means of transporting it and pay out of pocket for it? I wonder what other parts of a contract Carmen thinks should be optional… not breaking luggage? providing assistance to disabled people? safety regulations? compensation for delayed/cancelled flights?

        • Carmen says:

          SVM: Ever tried to get a lost or damaged luggage compensation from Air Europa? A flight delay or cancelation compensation from Ryan Air? Read the shocking cases recently about disabled passengers’ violations of rights on major US carriers? Airlines fail to respect their “contracts” with passengers constantly. Why suddenly hold Norwegian to a higher standard than everyone else? Don’t blame problems with the entire airline industry on me, for God’s sake.

          The only reason I’m concerned about Norwegian’s profit margins is because I want them to stay in business. I am also a “fellow musician” & I need to be able to travel inexpensively from Europe to the US. I respect that this lady had a bad experience, but to tell everyone “not to NEVER EVER EVER fly Norwegian” is over the top, IMHO. A mandate like that could put them belly up right now & that would negatively impact me as a “fellow musician”.

          • SVM says:

            Re: “Why suddenly hold Norwegian to a higher standard than everyone else?”

            Nobody is holding them to a “higher standard”; if you look at previous articles, you will see that Slipped Disc holds plenty of airlines to account, and rightly so, without fear nor favour. Personally, I think it is an excellent thing that people are going to the effort of publicising cases where musicians (and their instruments) are treated so badly by airlines and their contractors. Customer service is unlikely to improve if people just tolerate breaches of contract quietly.

      • Fly me to the Moon says:

        As a bass player who has flown with their bass on many occasions, there is really no other sensible way to fly a bass but as Cargo. It is always risky, always costly, always a pain in the neck but some airlines do it as Cargo happily and brilliantly. As for attempting to fly with the added extra of a baby into the bargain….sheer madness in my opinion. “Needs must”? I don’t think so.

        • Emily Mitchell says:

          Are these responses here actually from human beings? Clearly not

          • Fly me to the moon says:

            I would say probably yes. Responsible professionals….and bass players too with real hands on experience of this issue.

          • Tamino says:

            Absolutely. From people with a heart *and* a mind.
            This woman and mother showed up at the check in desk with TWO oversize and overweight musical instruments, four suitcases, a baby, lots of carry on luggage, and could not produce a paper trail to show that she had confirmation from the airline that her double bass is cleared to go.
            Then she goes on social media and complains, everything being the fault of anyone else, of course.
            Really, some people…

  • David B says:

    From Norwegian’s hompage:

    Play the double bass?
    Call our Contact Centre to book your double bass at least 48 hours before you fly, to make sure we’ve got the space.
    There’s no size limit for double basses, but we’ve only got room for 2 per flight. You’ll be asked to pay the musical instrument charge at the airport on your day of departure.

  • Gadi says:

    This is what their website says. COPY PASTE!
    Do you play double bass?
    Call our contact center and book room for your double-room at least 48 hours before departure to ensure we have space.
    There are no restrictions on the double bass size, but we only have room for 2 per. flight. You will be asked to pay a surcharge for musical instruments at the airport on the day of departure.

    I say sue them.

  • Frankie says:

    I’m amazed that she found a person to talk to at all! Most Norwegian desks at European airports have completely automated check-in for baggage. No humans at all. And you can’t stand and argue with a machine. When it says ‘No’, and won’t accept the bag, no arguments possible!