United Airlines ally breaks musician’s heart

United Airlines ally breaks musician’s heart


norman lebrecht

August 30, 2021

Andrew Yee, cellist of the Attacca Quartet, got grounded by Wisconsin Air, a subcontractor of don’t-fly United.

Andrew Yee bought an extra seat in accordance with United and FAA policy on flying with a cello, and was then told that United and Air Wisconsin policy does not allow for “cargo” in the cabin.

Andrew says: ‘After they drag you off the flight they will insist your cello will be fine under the plane.

‘I was rebooked for a later flight, and the cello is fine, but figured you would all want to know.’
Bad people, bad attitude at United and its allies.

It has been a while since we last ran a musicians’ shame list of world’s worst airlines. On present form, United and its offshoots would come top. (Remember this?)


  • mel says:

    I suddenly miss hearing Mr. Lynn Harrell playing Mr. Cello Harrell…

  • Kananpoika says:

    Totally amazing…! I flew, many times, 30 years ago, with a ‘cello…purchasing an extra seat…..for “Ms. Kananpoika”…
    (She even was entitled to a “lovely” meal…. )

    Difficult to comprehend how these airline
    clowns have learned nothing since……….

  • DG says:

    Wisconsin Air flies teeny-tiny planes (regional jets with zero legroom where your head is always about to hit the ceiling). I’m a cellist and would not be confident that my cello would even fit in the seat. That might be part of the problem, although you’ll get no quarrel from my that United is lousy.

    • Maria says:

      They seem to cater quite happily for extraordinarily fat people that take up far more space and weigh far more so they are allowed two seats to ‘spread out’ and as much overhead weight as they like in my experience. But a normal person with a healthy weight in one seat and a cello in another and paid for, is then classed as cargo? Ignorance.

  • They can teach stewardesses how to subdue unruly passengers but they can’t teach them how to deal with a cello.

  • V. Lind says:

    Once I was in western Canada and I was given a guitar, in a case. When I went to fly back east, I checked a case, carried a flight bag and my purse, and asked what to do with the guitar. I was told to take it aboard, not check it, despite having another carry-on item.

    On board the almost full flight, the attendant said I could not get an overhead as they would all be used, and took it from me, saying she could stow it safely. At the end of the trip, she presented it to me on my way out, saying cheerfully that it was safe and sound.

    Air Canada, which when I still flew always made it a happy and pleasant experience, and occasionally went above and beyond. Those were the days — in years of travelling on many international airlines, my only ridiculously bad experience was going to New York from a transfer in Montreal with — you guessed it — United.

  • MW says:

    Cargo is not allowed in passenger cabins unsecured because it can become a dangerous, high speed projectile during extreme turbulence, unusual maneuvers, or forced landing. The lives and safety of the passengers are more important than inanimate objects. Musical instruments should be placed in particularly well padded and study cases to prevent damage during transport just like any fragile item.

    • I know her says:

      I’m a little tempted to say something rude as befits this site, but instead, I will try to shed a little light for you regarding how cellists travel with their instrument on an airplane:

      1. They purchase an actual ticket for the instrument. It must be a window seat and is often in the bulkhead.

      2. They are given the seat belt extender that the flight attendants use to demonstrate safety.

      3. The (often centuries-old) instrument is carefully strapped into the seat, just as every other ticketed passenger is required to be.

      Cellists do not take seats away from other ticketed passengers, nor is their instrument creating a safety hazard by being unsecured in the cabin.

      That said, some cellists do use travel cases which can go with the rest of the cargo.

  • Susan Bradley says:

    An instrument in the cabin is perfectly safe for itself and others if it has a seat. It is no more likely to be come a “dangerous, high speed projectile” than any seatbelted person in the plane. And before you object that the seatbelt is too small to accommodate a cello, there is the the seatbelt extension. It fitted my tuba in a hard case in its own seat, which was compulsorily a window seat, once again for safety reasons. And I can speak from experience that “well padded and study [sic] cases” cases are insufficient to protect instruments. When I had to check my tuba into the luggage hold some years ago, I had the most expensive quality case money could buy. The airlines managed to rip off one of the wheels, and the towing handle, and a huge sharp fold put in the bell. The case was repaired at airline expense in London for a trip to Italy the following week, when the main handle and both wheels were ripped off. The instrument sustained a substantial fold in the bell, heck only knows how, but was playable, so I decided to get it done when I got home, not in UK. By the time I got back home, the towing handle had been ripped off again, one wheel was broken, and I could see the tuba through the case. The outer hull was pierced and whatever it was had gone through the padding and lining. The case was deemed unrepairable and replaced; my insurers sued the airline successfully. The tuba was fixed also at cost to the airline. And that was a “well padded and study [sic] case”.
    Due to the nature of my instruments I have to generally put them in the hold, but I always prefer to take on board if I can. No instrument is any more of a lethal object than anything else on the plane.

  • Curvy Honk Glove says:

    I can’t keep up. Are we back to rebelling against to the dictates of the authorities, or are well still acquiescing to the mandates of the technocrats? All of a sudden everyone has become an expert in cargo handling when their precious instrument is at risk. My cello, my choice?

  • Rachelle Goldberg says:

    Although I wasn’t travelling with my violin I did encounter a difficult flight with United from Austin Texas via Chicago to Heathrow. The latter part of the trip was with BA. The plane was over one and a half hours late arriving in Austin. There was not explanation given for the delay or any apology. When we were about to land at Chicago there was no mention of my flight, having mentioned several other connecting flights for passengers. I requested that they call BA to inform them that
    I had been delayed.. The flight crew were rude and extremely unhelpful to say the least. I was fortunate that a passenger sitting nearby overheard my conversation and escorted me to the entrance for the Sky Train. I had to run from the Terminal and catch the Sky Train to another Terminal and arrived at the BA desk with half an hour to spare. The BA crew were so helpful and kind when I explained my situation about what had occurred. Fortunately the passengers had not started to board.
    As regards carrying a violin as hand luggage, my violin received star treatment with Lufthansa. A stewardess put my violin in first class whilst I travelled in economy.

    • V. Lind says:

      I once came into Toronto, en route somewhere else, from Vancouver on Air Canada. The first part of my ticket was correct, but when I tried to check in for the ongoing lap, I discovered that the ticket had been incorrectly marked for a.m. and not p.m., and the flight I was booked for was long gone. I simply explained which flight I had come off, and that the mistake had been made at source, by the ticketing agent.

      No rubbish about it being my responsibility to check or any of that — unfortunately the correct flight I had anticipated joining was booked solid. Air Canada hit the phones to other carriers and arranged everything, including the (successful) transfer of my luggage to the other carrier, and I was at my next destination more or less on time. No fuss — just a “what can we do to help” attitude that I gather is pretty rare in airlines today.

      • Bill says:

        Imagine how surly you would be if treated the way many passengers treat the staff, and suddenly it isn’t so surprising. Not clear which came first, but I don’t want to be staff or passenger these days!

      • Susan Bradley says:

        I had an almost identical some years ago, going from London via San Francisco to Australia. Got to SF to be told the flight was long gone, by many hours. The paper ticket (yes, that long ago) made it clear that the error was the airline’s. No flights available. I was put up in a very pleasant small motel near the airport, all paid for. Nothing the next day. Another free night in the motel. Finally left the following day. My work in Australia initially refused to believe that I was actually stuck! But that was when airlines were generally nice to passengers, a long time ago.

  • S.T. says:

    Just flew Southwest to pick up violin but traveling with violin only case(no bow). Important to pay fee for priority boarding before over head bins get full. They have open seating so definitely need to be in “A” group.
    Staff has been very pleasant despite 5 hour delay and airplane breakdown.

  • “Cargo is not allowed in passenger cabins…”

    Yes it is.

    It’s called “carry-on baggage” and “personal items” and “pet carriers”, all of which can become dangerous projectiles in turbulence but none of which are as easy to secure against that as an instrument case with its own dedicated seat.

  • Music Lover says:

    Forty years ago I accompanied a chamber orchestra on tour. Ticketing agents had trouble for a while deciding how to write the tickets for the two cellos. They finally travelled as Mr and Mrs Cello.

  • BRUCEB says:

    I wonder if he got a refund for the ticket he purchased but was not allowed to use?

    Or did he get zapped with a taser and wrestled to the ground?

    The odds seem about 50/50 either way…