New cello problems at Chicago O’Hare

New cello problems at Chicago O’Hare


norman lebrecht

December 15, 2018

Message from Steven Honigberg of the National Symphony Orchestra:

Nightmare at O’Hare airport with my cello. Security refused to pass the cello through the X-ray machine because it didn’t fit into one of their new “high tech” plastic bins, although there was more than enough room on the rollers.

Ten minutes of arguing got me nowhere and my blood pressure up, not to mention making people around me feel uncomfortable. I ended up passing my 1796 Storioni cello over my shoulders to other security personnel – the cello being out of sight – for ten minutes, while I had to deal with my own security lane. Shame on you O’hare airport whose security personnel disparaged me into feeling noxious.



  • Joel Lazar says:

    With you 1000%, Steve!

  • Rachel says:

    It’s not just o’hare. I just went through security at SFO with my violin and experienced the same thing.

  • Yi Qun Xu says:

    Same problem at JFK as well.

  • Katrin says:

    What is happening tooth’s world? We’re trying to become more and more perfect but we lose so much on the way…

  • MacroV says:

    You would think by now that airport security systems, generally, would have figured out protocols for scanning large and valuable carry-on items (e.g. the type that an owner never wants out of view).

  • jaypee says:

    Here’s a thought: since the usa has become the number one rogue state, since its security is by far the most unpleasant and impolite in the world, since their president is a dangerous moron, wouldn’t it be time to start boycotting this shithole (to quote its president) of a country?
    I know I do…

    • Patrick says:

      By all means, please boycott us, jaypee. As bad as things may be, we’d certainly be worse off with you here. (Though I don’t disagree with your assessment of Trump)

    • MS says:

      Don’t come to America, we definitely don’t need you here! I’m sure your third world country is pure paradise! Hopefully I don’t see you on US soil:)

      • jaypee says:

        My “third world country” has a longer life expectancy than your shithole, better standard of living, better healthcare (I know, it’s not difficult), better education system, better food, is safer, most of its population isn’t morbidly obese… and our border officers are not a**holes. But I’ll grant you that our current government is shameful…

        BTW, I keep going to “America”, namely to its biggest country, Canada, but carefully avoid the united states.

    • Peter (London) says:

      I am not alone in trying to avoid, whenever possible, any travel to the U.S. After more than ten extremely unpleasant arrival experiences entering the U.S., of being shouted at, insulted, stripped searched (because of a disassembled flute) and heard some of the most stupid, asinine, uncivilised and outrageous orders barked at me by uniformed staff, I have no desire nor interest to travel there again. I know that I am not alone, as I hear similar stories from fellow travelers throughout the world. It doesn’t and shouldn’t be this way, but the American people tend to be very obedient and basically live in deep fear of any authority, certainly with good reason. Otherwise any democratic society would protest en masse at what they have to deal with there on a daily basis. I guess their supposed love of democracy and fairness was not too deep in the first place, for allowing things to reach the point that they have tells me how quickly a democracy can fall into becoming a totalitarian police state.

    • Bill says:

      That might be an idea, but the fellow having the problem here is an American employed by an American orchestra…

    • Anon says:

      Many British musicians already do.

  • Bruce says:

    Of course they could, if they wanted to. But it seems the airline business nowadays is all about providing less customer service, not more.

    • K says:

      The airlines do NOT manage the TSA, the TSA is run by the US government but why bother with facts it’s not fashionable any longer to be factual. As far as airlines and customer service it is hit and miss but as s weekly traveler has improved in the last year.

  • Aviator says:

    That’s not an O’Hare airport problem, it’s a TSA problem.

  • MS says:

    Then don’t fly if it’s such an inconvenience for you. Greyhound has great deals! Maybe every airport should make accommodations just for all the Cello players in the world!

  • V.Lind says:

    I looked at the TSA website, which I considered not to be friendly — or useful. Under musical Instruments I only saw “guitars.” The noted requirement for special instructions, while highlighted, was not a link, and inquiries of the TSA were directed to Facebook or Twitter, which I consider distinctly unsatisfactory (I use neither, and consider them informal and unofficial if printed out and used as evidence for gate and cabin staff.

    Nonetheless, this may be the organisation for musicians to lobby for exact and well-clarified RULES to be followed by passengers and ALL crew. The TSA could put in all its qualifications, such as size of airline, exceptions, fees for certain intruments in seats, etc. But it would take a well-organised and well-supported effort by musicians, through unions and associations in concert (so to speak) to get through to the TSA, which seems unconcerned with the comfort of passengers. However all American officialdom is interested in economics and it might ever embrace the making of a living and the destruction of property. And it would be wise to include the matter of compensation — proportionate — in the case of any breach of set rules by stroppy staff engaged or contracted by airlines. In the case of valuable instruments, that could bite, and if the airlines wanted to avoid that they might have to train and instruct their employees and contractors better.

  • Rebecca says:

    The same thing happened to me at Düsseldorf airport. An especially aggressive security agent dismissed all my attempts to remain with my cello, and even ignored the pleas of his colleagues who could see how distressed I was. His parting words were ‘I’ll be careful with it when I’ve opened it and can see that it is definitely what you say it is’ before disappearing for several minutes. I felt utterly powerless and even just thinking about it makes my blood run cold.

    So it’s not just the USA….