Look what airline did to my cello

Look what airline did to my cello


norman lebrecht

May 23, 2019

From the Korean cellist Hojoon Choi, a student at Cincinnati CCM:

Anybody had a problem with Delta Airline causing a major damage on the cello as a checked luggage? I checked in my cello (in a flight case with insulations) as a luggage (flight from US to Korea) and after the flight I noticed a terrible break on lower rib (picture attached). Expected restoration cost is around $8,000 to $9,000.



  • Don Fatale says:

    Is it just me, or does it feel like it’s done maliciously?

    • FrauGeigerin says:

      This is absolutely terrible. And I doubt that the company will take any responsibility.

      That is why every musician should always have comprehensive insurance on their instruments.

      • Nardini says:

        FrauGeigerin, should insurance really cover damage when a musician carelessly checks his/her instrument in the luggage? This damage could have easily been avoided if the Korean bought an extra seat for the instrument. 1 of my friends from Juilliard checked her cello in the luggage when flying and the bridge collapsed due to a baggage handler throwing it. The naiveté of some musicians is stunning.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      It does seem like an oddly precise set of three 90 degree angles doesn’t it?

    • Maurice says:

      The damage does seem oddly positioned to have happened accidentally to an instrument in a case, being inconsistent with having been either thrown around or even crushed. The state of the case could be informative (especially if undamaged!). I don’t think the squarish breaks alone (commented on by David Nelson below) indicate deliberate action, as ribs typically crack either with or across the grain.

    • Patricia Yeiser says:

      It is just you.

  • Mr.Knowitall says:

    It would be interesting to see the case. That said, not many people would check in such a valuable instrument.

    • Jaime Herrera says:

      The article does not state the value of the instrument. Many professional string players sometimes play on copies of their valuable instruments when traveling to certain destinations. The audience can never tell the difference. A “utility” instrument is nice to have around.

      • Mr. Knowitall says:

        I was extrapolating from the cost of repair. It is unlikely that a utility instrument would cost 8-to-9k to restore.

        • duane says:

          As a violin maker, I will comment that the cost of the repair would be the same regardless of the quality of the instrument. The difference is whether it is worth doing based on the value of the instrument or personal attachment beyond money value

          • Mr. Knowitall says:

            Done right, sure. But I’ve seen my share of just-ok instruments patched to be good enough to play because their value doesn’t justify intensive care. Would you offer an 8k repair estimate for a 5k cello.

    • Max Grimm says:

      I believe that most people don’t want to check in their instrument but many people – especially 22 year old music students such as Mr. Choi – aren’t always able to afford paying for extra seats for an instrument (let alone the fact that, even with an additionally purchased seat, mercurial airline personnel and their arbitrary application of existent/nonexistent rules, may still cause problems).

      • Nick says:

        With that kind of attitude, why buy strings for a cello? Many cellists go through $1,000-$2,000 a year just on strings alone. That’s just as expensive if not more expensive than a plane ticket to Korea.

  • A Cellist says:

    As a cellist who travels frequently, I’ve read this story and others like it with much surprise over the years.

    1) if you value your instrument, why check it in baggage knowing that’s the least safe place for it?

    2) why be surprised when Delta (with which I fly almost exclusively because they are by far the most accommodating of US legacy carriers) or any other airline damages a fragile item which doesn’t belong in the belly of a plane?

    3) if you really must check the cello, then carry an expensive insurance rider covering it.

    Why is this news? Alban Gerhardt had a bow destroyed by TSA – he checked his case and should have known better. That Israeli gamba player was up in arms that her instrument was destroyed – the same story.

    The rest of us travel regularly without incident because we either a) buy a seatn b) borrow an instrument at our destination; or c) live without the cello if it’s a vacation. Very simple.

    • drummerman says:

      No disrespect to you sir/madam — I’m just a dumb drummer — but perhaps it’s not always so “simple.” Buying a second seat might be financially prohibitive for some and how does one rely on borrowing a top quality cello at “our destination?” Do I look in the Yellow Pages under “C?”

      • Patricia Yeiser says:

        There are people and organizations all over who,
        with proper notice, will provide a first-rate cello, violin, harpsichord, etc. Do some homework and stop whining.

    • Cellist from... says:

      A) Not everybody can buy a seat for a cello. B) This does not give to the fly company the right to break your cello. Very simple.

  • Die Fresserin says:

    Yo Yo Ma famously buys his cello a first-class seat and orders it a Kosher meal.

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    A cello in the sky? O cielo!

  • Elizabeth Davis says:

    That’s a high restoration price tag. If you have to pay out of pocket, I would suggest you ask for a second or possibly third opinion on the luthier repair estimate.

  • Brandon Cota says:

    So sad to learn the hard way. My teacher loaned me a flight case years ago when I was flying from Philadelphia to LA amd back. United momentarily lost it on the way out and put a nice rib crack in my cello on the way back. I watched as their baggage handler threw the case (covered in fragile stickers) over-hand onto the conveyor. Luckily、the gentleman standing next to me witnessed the whole thing and announced he was an attorney and would absolutely help me take United on to get them to pay for repairs、which they did. I learned the hard way…always buy a seat for your cello. You can assume it will be broken every time so just bite the bullet and save yourself the stress of worrying about it. European and Asian carriers will often treat instruments with much more respect、but in the good ol’ USA、assume the worst. So sorry for your hardship!

    • Emanuele Passerini says:

      fly to Milan Malpensa (Italy) and your cello won’t be broken, but just stolen… easier 🙂

      • Patricia Yeiser says:

        Why doesn’t he play, say, the piccolo or flute instead? Any instrument that can be taken apart and carried on is easier. And, how good a cellist is he?

    • Patricia Yeiser says:

      Ah yes – sue the miscreants. That will make every security person and baggage handler more careful. The first thing we do is, let’s kill all the lawyers. (Willy the Shakes

  • Patricia Yeiser says:

    Most musicians just buy a seat for the cello –

  • Emanuele Passerini says:

    and what about contrabass players…? not sure flight companies allow such big instrument sitting beside a passenger

    • Mr.Knowitall says:

      Contrabass players are in a tough spot. I don’t know of an airline that will accept a contrabass on board. And in a proper flight case, they are so far overweight and oversize that most airlines won’t take them at all. Some touring bassists have their instruments modified. The neck unscrews so that the whole thing fits in a smaller, lighter carbon-fiber case that’s still overweight and oversize, but not so much so that airlines won’t take it for an extra charge.

  • Nick says:

    We all already know NOT TO FLY DELTA ANYWHERE! It is called: BOYCOTT!! An awful company, no surprise they did THIS to a cello! They do the same to PEOPLE!!

  • Larry W says:

    Not sure why everyone is blaming Delta for this horrible damage. If the cello was “in a flight case with insulations” it had to be damaged while outside the case. That could only mean a TSA inspector dropped it on the corner of an x-ray machine or a conveyer belt.

  • Anon says:

    Unfortunately the rule has been made simple by the unreliability of Airline handlers.
    If you can’t afford a seat for the Cello, you can’t afford to take it.