Bad air day: Gatwick security gashed my viola

Bad air day: Gatwick security gashed my viola


norman lebrecht

May 30, 2018

Message from Annie Beilby:

Gatwick airport north terminal. Gone through security where the woman searching my viola has carelessly made a deep scratch on the ribs at least 1 cm long after insisting that she hold the instrument for me and then proceeding to bang it against the lock of the case.

I am furious and beyond being tired of being intimidated to hand over my gorgeous viola – I don’t know what I would do if I had an old Italian worth more than a house….

Annie tells us it’s not a huge gash, but she’s upset that a stranger could manhandle her instrument when she offered to hold it. ‘I’m just glad she didn’t drop it!’ she adds.


  • Brettermeier says:

    This is why I hate people.

    Next time just say it’s an “old Italian worth more than a house” (Intrinsically, why not. Wouldn’t add that part, though.) I’m guessing she would be more careful then. People often don’t like getting sued.

    • Max Grimm says:

      “Next time just say it’s an “old Italian worth more than a house” […] I’m guessing she would be more careful then.”
      She would absolutely not have been more careful. For something like that to work, it would require airport security personnel to actually give a rat’s arse about passengers and their belongings. Considering that general disdain and a f*ck all attitude is the only thing one can expect from these people, she would have become even more unfriendly, if anything.

      “People often don’t like getting sued.”
      While that is generally true, most airport security is actually in the hands of the government these days and suing the government, well, I’m told those endeavours have a rather low success rate.
      The only thing you can really do is fill out one of their “claim forms”, which they take very very seriously…I hear that’s where bargain-brand toilet paper comes from.

      Please forgive my cynicism, while I longingly wait for the day these airport-cretins are finally held responsible and accountable.

  • Patricia says:

    Sue the airport, her union and anyone else responsible for hiring her.

    • Bill says:

      The costs of suing someone are likely to far outstrip those of a minor varnish touch up. And you may find out (at your expense) that the law protects them from liability for their actions, negligent or otherwise.

      It sucks to have your instrument damaged, even if only cosmetically, but you’re going to get very short of breath if you hold it while waiting for the abolition of security checkpoints and clumsy and careless screeners, luggage handlers, etc. Honestly, I find that many musicians are a danger in this regard, and have had a number of close calls (some of which involved varnish repair). I usually put a foot on one of the music stand feet when I see anyone walking nearby, and know to keep my distance from anyone who leaves their instrument on a chair or on the floor – if they are so careless with their own instrument, I certainly cannot rely on them to be watching out for the instruments around them!

      My approach would be to suppress any visible attitude, and ask very politely if it would be possible for you to handle getting the instrument in and out of the case, it’s old, the varnish is fragile, and generally try to make it a pleasant encounter for all involved, rather than one resulting in a story here and the security person telling his/her friends about the complete jerk with an instrument they dealt with.

      • Patricia says:

        As diplomatic as this sounds, it is all after the fact. Even the threat of a lawsuit (initial paperwork) usually gets their attention. And I generally don’t like lawsuits. In the US, they usually take forever to slog their way through the courts and the only people who do well are the lawyers.

        • Bill says:

          Of course it is after the fact. But the OP is complaining about how she is tired of having to go through this, and I am trying to suggest that perhaps a different approach will lessen the friction in future encounters. Though who knows if she’ll need to be flying to many gigs depending on the Brexit outcome…

          Personally, being a security screener seems like an awful job (with many other related jobs involving passenger contact close behind) – you get to inconvenience, embarrass, and/or anger hundreds or thousands of people each day, most of whom probably have a rather low opinion of you and your work, and I doubt the pay is good. The number of people who will thank you for doing a good job is approximately 0. My experience is that if you’re the rare pleasant person in a sea of unpleasant ones, sometimes the favor is returned.

          • buxtehude says:

            No question that these are awful jobs with often sub-subsistence wages and whips from middle management driving one along crazy paths. There’s never a good reason not to make nice but I wouldn’t expect much from it. Not only is there no penalty for erring on the supposed or pretended “side of caution” but a tiny sliver of authority, such as airport screeners possess, is hardly worth having unless you abuse it.

            This situation can only be corrected from the top.

  • Patricia says:

    And, if that doesn’t work, have the instrument repaired (at their expense, naturellment, and then take a harpsichordist along and play for them….

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    It could have been worse: it could have been broken! I’ve heard horror stories from brass players, who have had their horns fall of the conveyor belt and get completely smashed.

    I know that’s zero consolation, but that gouge looks as though it could be repaired.