Top violinist gets the British Airways cattle treatment

The bestselling Czech violinist Pavel Sporcl (200,000 CD sales on DG) flew business on British Airways for a UK date. Never again. Here’s what he tells us:

‘I have been flying many thousands of miles over the years, and as a member of the Czech Airlines program and their loyalty program OKPlus, I have earned a loyalty Platinum card. It allows me to have Priority Boarding with any Skyteam Alliance airlines. This means I can put my violin case in the overhead bin as one of the first passengers. And also, yes, it gives me a certain status of a ‘respected customer’ in case somebody wanted to forbid me to take the violin case onboard because of its (slightly) excessive length. I must add that for a long time I haven’t flown with a “trunk” violin case but with a case that copies the shape of the violin.

‘But this time I flew to London to perform with the English Symphony Orchestra. None of the Skyteam flights worked out for me, so I flew British Airways. In order not to get into the problems described above, I bought a ticket to for business class. Already in Prague at the counter I was told that my violin case is too long. But in London on the way back, I was clearly told that I cannot go on board with my violin case and would have to check it as a normal luggage.

‘I said: “This is unthinkable. There is a precious violin inside this violin case and I do not give it to anybody. In many such cases, only chips are left when violins have been handled this way…” I pointed out that I bought a business class ticket specifically because of this. The lady said the rules are the same even in business class. So I showed the case once more and pointed out that it only exceeds their maximum length by about 15cm, and only in length. Eventually I convinced her and she let me into the plane. But what would I have done had she continued to insist? I do not know, I think I would not have a chance, I would have to wait for the next flight, maybe buy a ticket with another company … I often read about some of my fellow violinists’ problems, even having to take out the precious Stradivarius out of the case and sit with it on their lap the whole way in order to check in the case in the luggage hold. It makes no sense – a violin case is really only 15 or maximum 20 cm over the length (while the full permitted width is not used).

‘I love flying. But this kind of thing makes it unpleasant, because one can never be sure if they let me fly with my violin. And for 15cm, to miss a concert or a rehearsal is very cruel. As a respected Skyteam customer, I may be protected, and so far nothing has happened to me there. But now that I realise that with some other airlines violinists are not save even if we go to the expense of buying a ticket in business class, I am horrified. I really do not know what to do. Perhaps just hope … And believe … Because always comes down to the people on the spot, and what they decide to do.’

We await a response from bottom-bumping British Airways.


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  • I have the same problem with my harp. The strings can get damaged easily, and I have to buy an extra seat for it.

  • So lets take a look at the facts here, BA told you the size of your baggage allowance including dimensions , On the website, at checkin on the ticket even when you specified Business Class, Then you created a scene because you broke the rules? How is this BA’s fault?

    Many people have genuine complaint this is nonsense and the title is nothing short of click bait, No airline offers anything other than non flat seating around Europe..

    Get over yourself … next

    • Yes BA does tell passengers the cabin baggage dimensions. However they have a ‘respect for musical instruments’ policy and normally allow a musician, particularly one with a priceless irreplaceable instrument, to carry it on. It is not overweight, it easily fits in an overhead locker. What he is saying therefore is that some BA staff seem unaware of their understanding of transportation of valuable instruments. Fortunately the member of BA staff saw sense.
      I have had the same thing even when I have spoken to the airline in advance……and my particular instrument and case is within size limits. These policies need to be company wide and company understood.
      In years gone by BA was proud to assist and transport musicians worldwide respectfully and with care. Some airlines hav never done this. Most musicians sensibly will not fly with those but BA could lose a lot of customers were they not to sort this out.
      As it happens my father worked for BA, and assisted top level musicians with this very difficulty.

      Next time you carry on hand luggage and you have a computer in it or something of certain value……think how you’d feel if the airline told you there was not space and it had to go in the hold. And then think that’s just a computer…..therefore replaceable, unlike a priceless violin or other instrument which is not only a very personal and irreplaceable instrument but also a work of art having been made by a highly skilled craftsman. A thing of beauty that in the right hands brings joy to listeners all over the world. Maybe you’d prefer musicians didn’t travel to give wonderful concerts all over the world or that concerts were cancelled because their instruments either came out of the hold in pieces or as is so often the case were thrown around by careless baggage handlers.

      So ‘Real (wrong) world’, I would suggest perhaps that you get over yourself.

    • Agree, in principle. However, in the real-real world you see things like tennis rackets protruding from oversized sports bags, or so, sometimes even with help of cabin personnel to make it fit in the luggage hold. I’m a frequent traveler and I see situations like this almost every flight. Revolting, isn’t it?

  • I had many problems over the years with Canadian airlines, having to smuggle my guitar onboard. They often lied, saying it simply would not fit in the overheard compartments when it always would. Last month I flew Aeromexico to Toronto, business class, with my guitar. This was the first time in years I had tried to fly with my instrument and I was very apprehensive. The travel agent printed out the information about transport of musical instruments from the airline. A normal guitar case is just a bit less than their stated limit. I was still apprehensive, but it turned out to be not a problem at all. Accepted on board, stowed in overhead! Mexican airlines do NOT hate guitarists! So a violin should be no problem at all in its much smaller case.

  • I think it comes down to education and on shared rules …some airlines say yes but their own staff say no. Most people have no idea how vital it is to keep ones own instrument intact. Sometimes they think you can just pick up another one…in Amazon eg and they also have no idea about ones relationship with an instrument.

  • I’d love to hear Anthea Kreston’s opinion about how to survive all this. She’s a great traveller and never seems to have any tales of woe in this respect

  • BA has a page on their website specifically regarding musical instruments. The BA worker presumably didn’t know the airlines policy. I fly BA with my violin all the time from London and never have a problem. Great airline as far as I’m concerned. This is an unfortunate event for this chap but could happen on any airline (i.e. stupid staff…)

  • I believe the BA instrument policy was written by a tour manager at the LSO, as the orchestra were continually having problems, regarding hand carrying instruments (violins,viola etc..)on flights. Print-out the policy, but it’s all down to educating the BA staff!

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