Bad News-Good News in Flight

I received this fascinating (and distressing) note from Kay Pech a little while ago:

9/3/06 – According to the Sunday Times – Scotland, Nicola Benedetti may be forced to scrap her tour of China because she has been banned from carrying her £500,000 violin as hand luggage under airline security measures. “The former BBC Young Musician of the Year is due to fly to China next week to play three concerts with the City of London Sinfonia in Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai. However, severe restrictions on hand luggage introduced following the recent terror scare mean that Benedetti would be forced to put her Guarneri violin in the hold. The violinist fears that the irreplaceable 18th-century instrument, which was given to her by her father, could be damaged during the journey….Steve Abbott, Benedetti’s manager, and Elaine Baines Robins, the general manager of the City of London Sinfonia, are now in urgent talks with officials at the German airline Lufthansa to save the tour.”

9/1/06 – Meanwhile, the unthinkable worry has come true for Paul Casey, a Canadian music student. According to the Ottawa Citizen, Casey, a 20-year-old University of Ottawa viola student Paul Casey “says he is contemplating legal action against Air Canada after his $13,800 viola was damaged beyond repair in the baggage compartment of a trans-atlantic flight this July … [Casey] arrived in Belgium and found his viola with a snapped neck, a broken back and sporting about 12 cracks on its front.” Mark Tetreault, symphonic director for the Canadian arm of the American Federation of Musicians, comments: “We’ve been lobbying ceaselessly for years … All we want is a clear policy and not ad hoc decisions at the gate.” The paper adds: “Air Canada’s policy is that it assumes no liability for many items, including ‘musical instruments,’ and that it will only reimburse a maximum of $1,500 for damaged items ‘unless a higher value is declared in advance.’ Casey received a check for more than $1,600, but said that is not enough.” Casey comments: “They should use this as an example and make a new policy. If they can’t cover the cost, then don’t make someone with a $14,000 instrument check it.”

8/31/06 – Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber opined in the London Daily Telegraph on the Department of Transport’s recent decision that “nothing larger than a laptop can be carried on a plane as hand luggage,” writing: “Are we being told that the x-ray machines don’t work? If not, why should a laptop be less dangerous than a 17th-century violin or cello, which is basically just a wooden box whose every nook and cranny is revealed by x-ray?” He notes that America’s major airlines “banned all musical instruments from their cabins immediately following the recent scare. This, of course, was a complete non sequitur as the alleged plot was to create explosives from liquids, which would be impossible to conceal inside a violin or cello.” He adds: “Surely, when both irreplaceable musical instruments and the livelihoods of their owners are at stake, we should be entitled to expect a modicum of common sense?”

There are many similar stories from those whose instruments have been mistreated, damaged, or lost by the airlines, as can be found in the comments section of this BBC article.

But the good news that has just come about yesterday, is that, after much talk, the heavy restrictions have been relieved and musical instruments are once again allowed into the cabin, according to this announcement by the Department for Transport:

Musical instruments which do not fit in the permitted cabin baggage size (maximum length of 56 cm, width of 45 cm and depth of 25 cm (including wheels, handles, side pockets etc.) are allowed as a second item of cabin baggage, and will need to be screened. Larger instruments (e.g. cellos) are also permitted into the cabin following screening. However, passengers should check with their airlines if special arrangements (e.g. purchasing an extra seat) for these large instruments need to be made.

Let us hope this relief lasts. 😐

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