Another violinist found himself stuck at an airport, given the option of either handing over his valuable instrument to be packed away in cargo or missing his flight and missing an important gig.
Alex "Sasha" Petrin was scheduled to fly from San Jose, Calif. to Dallas, then on to New York City, on Tuesday via American Airlines. When boarding in San Jose, "I moved forward and the flight attendant scanned my ticket. Both she and another employee noticed my violin case and told me I can’t board on the plane unless I pay $50 and check it in, that being the only option," Petrin wrote on his Facebook page after the incident "When I heard this, I knew I couldn’t do that since I own an expensive instrument." Petrin plays a 2008 Boris Sverdlik violin valued around $30,000, he told Violinist.com.
Petrin was on his way to New York, where he was going to travel to Philadelphia to play in the Camden, N.J. -based orchestra Symphony in C, where he has been a member for four years.
When this conflict came up during boarding, "they told me I was slowing them and the rest of the passengers down and that they wouldn’t make any exemption," Petrin said. "When I asked about the fate of my luggage...they told me to go back to baggage check. There they told me that my luggage would fly to NYC without me. Needless to say that I stayed in the airport because I didn’t want to risk the safety of my instrument."
After speaking to someone in baggage claim, Petrin returned to the American Airlines counter to speak with a supervisor. "He gave me couple of options but didn't seem to care about my situation much. The options were limited and I would have to buy a new ticket without getting a refund," Petrin said. "In the next two hours I was on the phone with both American Airlines and Travelocity, with the first telling me to contact the second and the second telling me to contact the first....Finally, at some point an employee from Travelocity gave me the option of using partial credit of $100 for future flights, which I find unacceptable considering the humiliation I went through not only at the airport, but in my professional life as well, by being denied to travel with my instrument on board."
Petrin wound up returning via Amtrak train to San Francisco, where he is based.
"In order to be part of Symphony in C’s second concert of the season, I had to cancel all my engagements in San Francisco between Tuesday and Saturday," Petrin said. "This very negative experience at the San Jose airport affected not only my trip but most importantly my professional connection with the ensemble. Missing the first rehearsal in the musical world means losing the gig. A musician’s instrument is his most important belonging."
The law is actually on Petrin's side: The FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2012, approved by the U.S. Congress in February of that year, in Section 713, "requires an air carrier to permit an air passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument on a passenger aircraft without charge if it can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft or under a passenger seat."
"Unfortunately I didn't have the copy of the law on me; I was caught off guard," Petrin told Violinist.com in an e-mail.
If you are traveling with your instrument, we recommend that you copy this bill, highlight Section 713, and put it in the pocket of your fiddle case. Here it is for you to copy. Bring your violin as your only carry-on bag to go in the overhead compartment. In fact, it's easiest to simply keep a copy of this in your case at all times.
Whether this would have helped in Petrin's situation, it's hard to say. In several recent incidents, gate officials particularly at American Airlines have shown a disregard for musicians and their instruments and lack of knowledge about their own rules and regulations in regard to musical instruments.
After Petrin posted the complaint on Facebook, American Airlines responded by saying, "We understand how this can be frustrating and disappointing. Your instrument is very important and we're sorry that you had issues. We'd like to review this further." They asked him to contact their Customer Relations team.
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