Ryanair Forces Professor to Buy Extra Seat for Stradivarius Violin

August 1, 2017, 11:13 AM · 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.

Unfriendly Skies
Image by Violinist.com.

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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Replies

August 1, 2017 at 07:06 PM · This is why our rider puts transportation responsibility in the hands of the promoter, venue or client. They have our requirements and must meet them or we do not board...and they are still responsible for paying us. We travel with two violin, viola, cello and bass (unless renting bass on site) and only the cello has a purchased seat. We do not check instruments under any circumstances. If refused carry-on or any other boarding issue, we notify the end client/agent/promoter and they must solve the problem. We are paid whether we perform or not if we are unable due to travel problems.

August 2, 2017 at 01:16 AM · We should start some sort of Google doc sheet with all the airline carry-on limits, everyone's violin cases and dimensions, and whether they were able to take it as carry-on or not.

August 2, 2017 at 05:03 AM · Well why should violinists be treated better than us Cellists?

We always have to buy a 2. ticket for our datlings.

And Ryan air is cheap. Am sure the Professor

could afford it.

Theo Bross

August 2, 2017 at 08:25 AM · It is pretty common knowledge that you can't bring a violin on board a Ryan Air flight and I would have thought a violin professor would know about airline rules, especially having a very valuable instrument and presumably having flown with it many times previously, judging by her considerable list of international performances on her website. That's just the way it is at this point. I hope she paid for the student's extra charges in addition to hers.

August 2, 2017 at 09:34 AM · I realize "rules are rules" but I think the reason violinist in particular are indignant about this sort of thing is because a violin case really isn't all that much bigger than many carry ons.

August 2, 2017 at 01:39 PM · I think many are indignant mainly because of the inconsistencies in their policies. Once an exception is made official (i.e. published on the website), they should treat it like any other carry-on. They wouldn't ask someone to check in a laptop bag...

August 2, 2017 at 03:23 PM · This is getting ridiculous. It seems like so often I hear a story about musicians who followed the rules and still had trouble. Airlines need to either be more clear about their policies or actually enforce their policies. What happened to having standards?

August 2, 2017 at 03:32 PM · I dont see any problem. The musicians seem to be at wrong here. It is the airline policy to absolutely not to allow oversized hand luggage (this is how ryanair makes money), and this was communicated beforehand.

Also, TSA is an american department that does not have (nor it shouldn't) any meaning in europe. Why the musicians were they carrying its rules?

August 2, 2017 at 04:32 PM · Ryanair. Come on. We know this. Caveat Emptor on this one.

Also, 97.104.230.116 has it dead on right.

August 2, 2017 at 04:37 PM · Ryanair is, and has always been, the worst budget airline. They have always had this policy to force violinists to buy an additional seat. They even went so far as to take out some of the plane's lavatories to get an extra row of seating on the plane. There was even talk of them charging to use the remaining toilets on planes, but even they didn't want the backlash.

Boycott Ryanair!

Easyjet is a European budget airline that has a violin friendly policy.

Cheers Carlo

August 2, 2017 at 05:46 PM · The idea that everyone in the U.S. should know that Ryanair is the worst airline on the planet is not quite fair, and in this case, it appears it was the only way to get from one place to the other. But now we know more, for sure!

August 2, 2017 at 06:21 PM · Keeping a list of different rules for different airlines would be tough as they change quite often. I once printed out a document from Delta explicitly allowing violins on board. This was when I bought the ticket. By the time I used it (a month or two later?), that rule wasn't on the books anymore.

August 2, 2017 at 11:31 PM · A certain Mr McEnroe taught us Europeans the best definition of Ryanair.

August 3, 2017 at 09:21 AM · Europe has a great train network, and trains are really nice. If I had to go from Milan to Nuremberg I would make it a nice day trip by train. Plus, on the train you can relax, you have space, you can enjoy the scenery, you can have good discussions, you can work a bit, you can have lunch in the restaurant on the train, plus it is much better for the environment.

August 3, 2017 at 11:35 AM · So many people seem to know about Ryanair's policies? This is the first time I've even heard about this airline! Anyway, it's one more horror story for traveling violinists. And I do feel for cellists but come on, violins are a fraction of their size and weight and can easily fit in the overhead compartment.

August 3, 2017 at 04:12 PM · My daughter recently travelled back on Eurostar from a course in France, and had to buy a seat for her cello too. I told her to ask for the cello's meal (a meal was included in the ticket price), which she did, but the stewardess just looked at her in slight bemusement, laughed and walked on. Oh, and just be aware that it's not just Ryanair that makes life difficult for musicians: http://www.classicfm.com/artists/steven-isserlis/news/steven-isserlis-klm/

August 3, 2017 at 05:45 PM · In Ryanair's defence, this is Europe and not the USA. Ryanair has published clear rules on their website (section "Terms and Conditions").

Ryanair clearly states that small instruments such as the violin can be admitted into the cabin but an extra item seat must be purchased. There is no ambiguity.

With regards to their suggestion of purchasing priority boarding, this is to ensure that your violins, as cabin/carry-on items, belong to the first 90 items of a flight.

After reaching the quota of 90, all carry-on items will be checked into the cargo hold free of charge. This is to avoid space jams in overhead lockers or the need to check additional bags into the cargo hold, which causes flight delay, after the plane door has been closed.

August 3, 2017 at 07:39 PM · In over 50 years as a passenger flying many many miles around the world, I can recall perhaps a dozen times that I've seen a passenger with what appeared to be a violin. I'm pretty sure a boycott would go unnoticed. It would simply open up a tiny bit more space for other passengers' carry-ons. Changes like this that affect a tiny fraction of a fraction of a fraction of airline passengers requires government intervention, which the US Federal Aviation Administration did because it was the right thing to do. This requires political will.

August 4, 2017 at 11:03 AM · To 97.104.230.116 and 108.49.246.218....

All well and good to push the costs to the promoter/client/festival/venue but the extra cash doesn't just appear. If say, the flights for a string quartet are €300 per seat, previously the non-fee costs are accommodation, venue hire, and €1500. With this the promoter has to find €2,400 for travel alone. Trust me, it means lower fee offers in the long run to put on the gig in the first place. It's naieve to think this isn't a problem for musicians and promoters alike. Musicians would be the first to (rightly) complain about lower fees from promoters, not helpful to take the view that this problem is 'nothing to do with me, the promoter can pay it'. The point is, most instrument cases are the same size as other carry on. The shape is being targetted, nothing else. A seat for a cello, viola da gamba etc is perfectly reasonable as it doesn't fit overhead.

August 4, 2017 at 03:30 PM · @94.165.244.94

You are clearly a representative of Ryanair and are responding on their behalf. No, there is no "defence". IMO, your airline only cares about squeezing every last penny from the travelling public and puts profit before people every time without exception. Charging violinists to take their instruments aboard is just another revenue stream for you.

I strongly urge the readers and contributors to violinist.com to BOYCOTT RYANAIR until they change their musical instrument policy.

Cheers Carlo

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