Flying again? US airline smashed my doublebass

Flying again? US airline smashed my doublebass


norman lebrecht

January 27, 2022

Kaden Henderson is a double bass player who subs with the Oregon Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Last weekend he flew to an audition in Milwaukee. Here’s what happened:

Over the weekend while flying to Milwaukee for my first orchestral audition in almost two years, Southwest Airlines cut me from the audition before I even left the airport.

I unpacked my bass at baggage claim to make sure it was okay only to find that my worst fears had been realized. When I unstrapped my bass I found the neck had been completely snapped off and the top damaged by the negligent handling of my instrument by Baggage handlers at Southwest Airlines. My bass was properly packed inside a soft case inside of my David Gage flight trunk and strapped in at the neck and endpin with airbags inflated.

Now I find myself without my beloved instrument that I have played for the entirety of my college and professional career just as job opportunities were starting to open up again.

Avoid Southwest Airlines, if you can.



  • Qwerty1234 says:

    Really breaks my heart to see this, especially before an audition which takes months to prepare for. But Southwest is actually the best and kindest (not to mention cheapest!) option for double bass travel for domestic flights in the US.

  • Dennis Pastrami says:

    Should have got vaccinated!

  • Ben G. says:

    Sorry to hear about your unfortunate accident with a hard shell case. I sympathize with you, Kaden. There are many of these out there on the market, Kolstein, Stevenson, David Gage, etc.

    A similar event happened to me in 1982 during a 2 month tour from Atlanta to Pensacola, using a strong wicker case, (yes that’s correct, made out of straw!). For weeks, the case stood up to the brutal knocking about, up until the end when the bass neck snapped off in one piece. The instrument was luckily repaired without a single problem. Needless to say, the chamber group paid for the repairs and later on invested in a hard case which worked during the next concert tours.

    However from what I see, any protective shell (wicker, fiberglass, or carbon) can only do so much. They are designed to protect these valuable tools of our trade, but are nevertheless limited in response to ruthless baggage mishandling, either human or mechanical.

    I’m sure that I’m not the only bassist who has undergone such bad mistreatment from airlines during these past decades, so feel free to pitch in if you have a “neck-breaking” story to tell.

    • jazzwalk says:

      A David Gage flight trunk is what he was using…!? Read through again…

      • Ben G. says:

        To quote the bassist:

        “My bass was properly packed inside a soft case inside of my David Gage flight trunk and strapped in at the neck and endpin with airbags inflated.”

        … I mistaken according to the picture on the top of the article and the following webpage? Please let me know!

  • drummerman says:

    I don’t wish to minimize the tragedy of this. But I wonder how the damage was done if the bass was “properly packed” inside a hard bass case, made of Kevlar and fiberglass and with air bags. According to their website: “The Gage Case is the strongest, sleekest, most road-proven travel trunk on the market because it has to be.”

    Let’s hope that Southwest compensates him properly and that he wins an audition.

    • John Kelly says:

      Watching the baggage handlers at various US airports, I can imagine this sort of thing happening fairly regularly unfortunately

    • Mr. Knowitall says:

      Sometimes the TSA removes instruments from their cases for inspection. If that was the situation, Southwest played no part in the damage. Also, less often, an instrument neck can snap off from a nasty fall even if the instrument is packed properly in a good case.

    • BRUCEB says:

      No case is (or can be) immune to damage caused by someone intent on causing damage. If it really was strong enough, it would have to be built like a safe and would be impractical for travel.

  • Matt wyatt says:

    I am a cellist, and looking at the picture the hardshell case is not damaged. As if the bass somehow came out of it. Many more questions to be answered here.

    • BRUCEB says:

      Possibly one could think of it like a traumatic brain injury: lots of people have severe brain damage from car accidents or whatever kind of impact, without the skull being fractured.

    • Zachary Binx says:

      The case doesn’t have to be damaged. You should know this if you’re a decent cellist

  • David K. Nelson says:

    This reminds me of something I had nearly forgotten about. Fairly early in my (non-music I should add) career I found myself flying often on business — and what a pleasure that was before 9/11.

    So one fine day probably on a flight heading from — strange coincidence, Milwaukee! — to Washington DC, but way before the Southwest Airlines era.
    We are in the plane awaiting take-off and I notice that people in the window seats sitting on my side of the plane are laughing. Nobody laughing on the other side. I looked out the window and the plane next to us was being unloaded, and what I saw was amazing, infuriating in a way, but so brazen as to be weirdly hilarious. This crew of baggage “handlers” was seemingly intent on destruction, the way they were smashing the bags and boxes and in particular, checked-in golf clubs onto carts, picking them up and smashing them down again. These were not “accidents.” These were people who detested their jobs and detested the air travelers who made their jobs possible. Having suffered some damaged luggage in the past I always wondered how it happened. Well, now I knew. I just hoped the same folks were not in charge of airplane maintenance.

  • Ryan says:

    sending tots and prayers. FedEx did this to me a few years ago, dropped it off a forklift. When I got to tech week for the show, it was in 3 pieces. thank the universe for Clarion Musicial Instrument Insurance. they wrote me a check for the value of my bass, but then my premiums went through the roof…..

  • Homayoon says:

    really sorry to hear that

  • Zachary Binx says:

    Probably the most common break is at the neck like that. You wonder why. Put please do not drop the bass labels all over the case. I’m pretty sure all southwest planes have a bulk head seat. You can put the bass in a seat too.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I no longer fly Southwest, regardless how cheap their fares may be. Their ‘cattle call’ way of loading their planes is a disaster. I want a ticket with an assigned seat. More to the point, I want the other pigs onboard to have an assigned seat. The way they turn their planes so quickly, it doesn’t surprise that they’re rough with the baggage. I suppose all of them are to some extent.