It’s started again: A violinist is kicked off a US plane

From Emmanuel A. Borowsky:

I arrived at Manchester-Boston regional airport at 5:45am for a 7am flight to Baltimore (Southwest #1034). My agenda today was to include presenting a guest visit of a luthier at my Alma matter UMD College Park, followed by an afternoon of teaching at Towson University.

Due to a lack of space in the overhead bins, I was asked to check my violin and bows valued at $80,000. As all professional musician know, that rarely ends well.

There were multiple available seats on the flight, including two in a row that I intended to sit. The flight attendants were unsympathetic in my request/suggestion to use one of the multiple free seats to transport my violin (restrained similar to a cello). Although I remained calm and respectful, I was given the option of checking in the violin or being promptly booted from the flight. I selected the latter due to necessity but am severely disappointed in the treatment received and the consequences for my professional schedule.

It’s Southwest Airlines. They have history.

 

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  • These employees are well below the paygrade of decision-making when it comes to financial matters, and normally — well, to the extent that there is a normal in these matters — instruments that can’t get into overhead bins must be paid for if they are to take a seat. It was presumably too close to take-off time to offer that option to the passenger.

    All very unfortunate, and the whole business of transporting instruments needs a major lobbying initiative by the music industry to the airlines. But far from the worst incident I have hears, and both the passenger and the headline may be a little excessive in using terms like booting out and kicked off. The options were to check the instrument or not fly.

  • Very disappointing to hear about this. No excuse for this kind of ignorance from Southwest. They are probably the only carrier I’ve flown that has never once given me a hassle about my instrument, but I guess that little bit of piece of mind is gone.

    • As I wrote above, Southwest has been good for me when I fly with an instrument, which is near to always. But you have to get on board before the overheads fill. That’s possible two ways: paying the early-boarding fee or dragging a small child with you, which allows you to board early for no extra cost. If you board with the civilians, the overheads might well be filled. But even that said, Southwest allows two bags to be checked for no extra charge, and as a result space in the overheads is not as hard to come by as with other airlines, such as United, that charge for check baggage. I don’t know how Southwest ended up on SD’s worst list.

  • Pay the early boarding fee on SWA and you’re de facto guaranteed space in the overheads. That’s why I always fly Southwest.

  • Did the airline consider asking other passengers whether somebody would volunteer to have their luggage checked into the hold to make space for the violin? That would have been a quick and simple solution.

    If I had been a passenger on that flight and had a suitcase without anything fragile in the overhead compartment, I would have happily agreed to have it moved to the hold to make space for the violin (then again, I normally have an item of hold luggage in any case, so I would have to wait at baggage reclaim in any case)…

    [NB: if volunteering to have your luggage moved to the hold, ensure that you have removed any fragile items, passports, or devices with lithium batteries before handing it over.]

    …but I have never, on any flight, been asked. Do airlines assume that other passengers do not care?

    Perhaps, Slipped Disc should instigate a campaign to encourage airlines to ask for volunteers in this way, rather than serve ultimatums on people with musical instruments. On crowded buses and trains, it is quite common for an able-bodied person to surrender his/her seat to a frail, disabled, or pregnant person,[*] so I like to think that there are considerate people out there.

    [*] I have seen it happen *even* when the able-bodied person is *not* occupying a designated “priority seat”. In London, elderly people are pretty much guaranteed to be offered a seat, even if perfectly capable of standing… the funniest instances are when an elderly man, upon being offered a seat, instead of taking it, remains standing and gives it to his much younger wife or female companion. It has got to the stage that offering a seat may be seen as patronising (etiquette guides advise on how to offer a seat discreetly if you unsure whether the person to whom one offers it needs it).

  • 80 thousand is not a great deal of money for a fiddle. I do not sympathize with the fiddler. Southwest has rules and they must be adhered to. I bet there are hundreds of fiddle players out there who have never had trouble with an airline. Pay the extra fee and be done with it. You get what you pay for.

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