An Arizona-based violin professor traveling with a Stradivarius and three violinists traveling with her were forced each to buy additional seats at full price for their instruments, in order to carry them onto a Ryanair flight from Italy to Germany on Tuesday.
Danwen Jiang, Professor of Violin at Arizona State University, was traveling with a 1727 Stradivarius. The students, Jingting Liu and Sicong Chen also from Arizona State University, and Nicholas Han from Central Washington University, also carried valuable instruments. They were traveling from Milan-Bergamo to Nuremberg, Germany, to the InterHarmony Sulzbach-Rosenberg International Music Festival in Germany.
"When we purchased our plane tickets, the airline's website suggested that we pay an extra fee to purchase Priority Boarding, so we could board and access the overhead compartments first. So we all did," said Jiang in an e-mail to Violinist.com about the incident. "But, when we got to the gate, standing in the front of the priority boarding line, the gate agent stopped us and told us that because the shape of the violin does not meet the dimensions of their carry-on baggage, we each must pay either 50 Euros to check the instrument as a luggage in cargo, or pay full fare for an additional seat."
Despite the fact that they had purchased placement in the priority line to board, the gate agent refused to help them until all the passengers had boarded, Jiang said. By then, there were no more available spaces in the overhead, she said.
"I tried to explain the importance of the instruments being stored in the overhead compartment in the cabin, and to show the TSA's document which states that violin is an allowed carry-on item, however, the agents (there were two of them) would not listen, and continue to say: 'This is a Ryanair rule, and if you do not pay, you will not be allowed to board this flight.' Then she also said that we have the choices of traveling on another Ryanair flight on a different day, but still need to pay for extra seats if we want to board with our violins," Jiang said. "Unfortunately, this was our only option to fly from Bergamo to Nuremberg. After a series of long and hopeless arguments with these agents, the plane was going to leave without us (but with our luggage), we had no choice but to purchase four additional seats at full price, so we could get on the plane."
The Tuesday incident illustrates the inconsistencies and confusion that musicians face when traveling within the European Union, where a EU-wide policy remains on hold. Without an EU-wide policy, carry-on policies are different for every airline. In the United States, violinists and musicians with small instruments are protected by a law that allows for their free transport under most conditions.
As explained in the text of a Change.org petition by the International Federation of Musicians: In Feb. 2014, the European Parliament adopted a set of provisions that would allow the transport of musical instruments on board planes as hand luggage -- provisions that would only become EU law once adopted by the European Council. "Unfortunately, the limited attention that the European Council has paid to this matter so far has only resulted in the proposal to remove Article 6e, which is precisely the section that recognizes the right of musicians to be treated decently by airline companies. The reasoning of the Council is that 'it should be left to each air carrier to establish its own policy on the matter.' The problem is that airlines operate vastly differing policies which are generally unfriendly to musicians."
Ryanair's policy regarding instruments is that "smaller musical items such as a guitar, violin or viola which exceed our cabin baggage dimensions may be carried in the cabin if a seat for it has been reserved and the appropriate fare paid. There is no checked or cabin baggage allowance associated with the purchase of an extra seat."
The U.K.-based Musicians Union warns that "each airline and airport will have a different policy regarding the size and shape of an instrument that can be stored in the overhead bin of an aeroplane or under the seat."
Several years ago, the United States adopted new rules that allow for the transport of musical instruments with the implementation of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. (Here is the text of that bill for your to print out and carry in your case for U.S. travel. Highlight Section 713.)
It would be ideal if the EU would implement a similar policy that protects musicians and allow for more consistency. If you would like to sign the petition to encourage the EU Council to adopt the European Parliament version of the law that would allow instruments to be carried on board, here is the link to that petition.
In the comment section below, please share your ideas and experiences for coping with these inconsistent and unfriendly policies.
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