Violin forcibly checked at Singapore Air

July 7, 2008 at 03:14 PM · Hello all -- I'm a long time lurker on the site and decided to finally de-lurk to report my experience on Singapore Air flying from SF to Hong Kong at the end of last month.

In a word, horrifying. For the first time in thousands of miles of flying, an airline refused to allow me to carry on my violin.

Obviously, someone had previously gone ballistic on the ticket agent, because he was just about falling over himself assuring me how carefully they'd hand carry it to the door, place it on top of everything (aargh, just the thought of that makes me want to scream), and then hand carry it on the other end. He carefully placed about five or six fragile stickers on the case and a priority tag on the handle. He was careful that I could see him giving it directly to the luggage crew supervisor.

My current case, mind you, is a half-moon featherweight case. He claimed it would not fit into the overhead, which of course we both knew was a lie. It's an international flight, fer cat's sake, it's a 747. VERY large overheads.

Bearing in mind the advice given here in the past, I did not have hysterics or lose my temper, although I'm sure he could tell I was very upset. I am 100% sure that the main reason for this was because SA flight 001 is an extremely crowded flight, always. (Some of my fellow passengers appeared to be immigrating, they had so much luggage.) This flight is always so booked up that I didn't, COULDN'T, refuse boarding, because the next available flight was in late July.

It was a rather rough flight, which didn't help my peace of mind. I basically spent the entire flight breathing deeply and trying not to think about my violin in the hold.

To their credit, the violin did in fact seem to have been hand-carried throughout the process, arrived in one piece, and had been hand carried to a safe place near the luggage carousel.

My partner, who also plays the fiddle, took the same flight two days later, but in the period between my flight and his (as I'd kept him updated by texts the whole time I was trying not to faint or throw up at SFO), he went and purchased a BAM overhead case and bow case. They had absolutely no problems with him carrying either on, along with his small computer case.

Now that I'm here in Hong Kong, I am determined not to ever go through that again. I'm ordering (or trying to order) a BAM overhead case. So far, the only place I've found that carries the case is Johnson Strings in the States ($65 shipping charge!). Their "1 time inconvenience" of having to send them a copy of my driver's license or passport, copies of the front and back of my credit card, a copy of my signature (does anyone else have a niggling worry that this is all a perfect way for someone to clean out my account?) is currently giving me fits, since in order to do this I have to take a ferry from Lamma Island to Hong Kong, find a scanner or copier, then find a fax machine or wireless connection, etc.

So, normally I'd say to go get a BAM overhead case if you're going to fly, just to be safe, but I note that this case is no longer shown on the BAM site. *sigh*

Replies (30)

July 7, 2008 at 03:30 PM · hi Zina,

That must have been terrible...I would never be able to check my violin in.

Some case suggestions for you. If you're set on the Bam carryon case, finecases also carries it.

But Bam is NOT the only one that makes carry-on/shipping cases.

The Curtin violin I tried was sent in a carry-on size Bobelock case. It doesn't exist on the site but I know it does exist...somewhere.

Musafia has also made custom overhead cases.

Another company you could contact would Weber cases. They do custom cases and might be able to help you out.

Good luck. I'd suggest in the future that you just use a conventional case (preferable shaped) and protest until you get on board. My younger sister usually has no problems taking her cello on board flights...soft case, but still.

July 7, 2008 at 03:55 PM · Believe me, I complained as high as I could go, still trying to maintain politeness and a lack of hysteria, as per instructions I've read here -- to no avail. Again, I've traveled thousands of miles by air, and this is the first time I've ever been refused (although a very unhappy gate person once threatened it, but obviously he was having a really, really bad day).

I really think it was mainly because the flight was absurdly crowded.

The BAM case was the only carry-on case I could find quickly -- I leave Hong Kong at the end of next month, so I haven't time to have a custom case made and sent to me here in HK. I'd have liked to have known about the Bobelock, tho! Worse, I'm on a round-the-world ticket, so am at the bottom of the heap in terms of being treated well.

As I recall, FineCases was out of stock...I think! I contacted about 12 places all at once, so I could be remembering wrong...

I have a custom case hanging fire until the maker recovers from a recent illness, though. I think it'll be a carry-on-sized case! The irritation of carrying a bow case is nothing to remembering the flight from SFO to HKG trying not to gnaw my own knuckles off...

July 7, 2008 at 04:23 PM · Besides possible dammage is the problem with set up. The violins I have tried lately are real tempermental, so set up could go real fast.

There is absolutely no way I would check my violin in! I would raise so much hell they would want to arrest me.

And this when I have seen so many people bring in so many kinds of freaking packages! one lap top after another, purse upon purse, come on!

July 7, 2008 at 04:43 PM · Sorry to hear about your situation Zina. I must ask though, how many bags did you try to take on to the flight? I read the Singapore Airlines policy where it states you are only allowed one carry on item, which could explain why they might confiscate an instrument. Their policy also states cellists, or musicians with oversize instruments must purchase another seat for the instrument (which is pretty standard) or else put the instrument in luggage.

July 7, 2008 at 06:35 PM · I had a choice once: either my laptop went below, or my ukulele.

I put the laptop below.

July 7, 2008 at 09:37 PM · Zina, my guess would be you had to check the violin because the flight was so packed.

We were on a weekend trip once and had to take the first flight out Monday AM, which I always avoid doing because those flights are always full. We only had carry on bags, no big luggage to check, and we were forced to check our carry on bags because the overheads were full of everyones computers. Though not as traumatic as having to check your instrument...I was angry because we had to wait at baggage claim for our 'carry on' bags. Defeats the purpose of packing light so you can get in and out of the airport quickly.

July 7, 2008 at 10:50 PM · Zina, so sorry to hear your story. Did you ask if they would let you check the case but carry the instrument in your hands the whole time? I always wondered about that kind of scenario, especially if you checked any other bag you were planning on taking with you.

And did you have a printed policy from the airline for musical instruments? You probably did, I'm sure, but again, I'm curious---I'll be flying Delta to the UK soon and will have their policy in my case ready to show them. What a drag. The thought of it almost makes me not want to fly anywhere.

July 8, 2008 at 01:01 AM · Horrible experience... poor you. I have to say I'd have not got on the plane rather than check my violin. One reason why I ALWAYS "hide" my violin case at the check-in desk, usually by putting it completely covered under my coat or jacket on the trolley, or if someone is at the airport with me, letting them hold it while I check in. I think perhaps if you get in that situation again, walk away from the check-in and go to the ticket desk and ask to speak to a manager. I'd never let just one junior member of staff make that decision. I'd be escalating it right up the line...

July 8, 2008 at 01:31 AM · "...Johnson Strings in the States ($65 shipping charge!). Their "1 time inconvenience" of having to send them a copy of my driver's license or passport, copies of the front and back of my credit card, a copy of my signature (does anyone else have a niggling worry... "

There has to be a better option.

July 8, 2008 at 02:00 AM · International flights are a very different situation from domestic US flights.

I've never had a problem flying with a violin on domestic US flights. Even double violin cases will fit in the overhead of all but the smallest planes.

But if I ever fly international with my violin, I'm taking no chances. I'm going to get an overhead case and bow case.

July 8, 2008 at 02:31 AM · this guy right?

July 8, 2008 at 03:43 AM · Thanks for the sympathy, believe me, I could have used it sitting there trying to be zen about it all for 14 hours. :)

I checked one bag, I carried my computer messenger bag (which is quite small). It was definitely because the flight was packed, i don't think they cared about the two bags, as my messenger bag easily goes under a seat. On a rational level, I can even understand it, except for the fact that my violin is worth about two times what my laptop is worth. Normally, I just won't fly on the flights that are so packed, but I had to get to HK by a certain time, and there were no openings on any flights available to me. I asked my agent about even flying to and back out of London, but she said even the London to HK flights are always packed.

It all came down to the fact that the violin case was longer than their inch size requirement on a crowded flight.

I talked to the supervisors, I talked to managers, it didn't matter. I've been on many flights that were quite crowded flying BA, Frontier, United, Virgin Atlantic, even freaking Ryanair, for god's sake, and not one has ever suggested I not carry on the violin.

Yeah, it's that BAM Overhead model, and hopefully it'll put paid to this in the future. Almost everyone seems to be out of stock on it, Shar was when I checked as well. (I do think it's possible that BAM is discontinung it.) Everyone says it's backordered and then shrugs when you ask when it'll be in, because it's BAM, who are famous for taking forever to fulfill their backorders. One guy here in Hong Kong told me a story about them taking four freaking YEARS to fulfill one order of his.

Hopefully, when Graeme is recovered from his illness, we can talk about a case that'll carry my laptop and my fiddle. I'll deal with carrying the bow case!

July 8, 2008 at 03:48 AM · Oh, and I ended up taking actual pictures of all of the documentation that Johnson Strings needed, putting it into Photoshop and sending him a GIF of the whole thing. Sheesh.

Thank goodness my partner's company has an office here, albeit a very small one, that I could have it sent to. I'm really not sure how they'd deal with a delivery like that on Lamma Island!

July 8, 2008 at 05:38 AM · What an awful experience, I can only imagine. And it makes me sick just to imagine! It's everyone's worst airplane nightmare.

July 8, 2008 at 05:51 AM · A violin or viola must be in the locker before there is no longer a risk of it being checked. I learnt this on a packed Singapore Airlines flight. We were among the last on (with instruments) but there was no obvious locker space. Cabin crew wanted to take it at that moment and check it, but I succeeded in persuading them to put some effort into reorganizing contents of an overhead locker.

July 8, 2008 at 06:31 AM · I was once on a plane flying domestic US. For once I didn't have my violin with me, but a girl just ahead of me at the gate did have a violin with her. The gate people wanted to take it and gate check it. She tried reason, she tried tears, she tried everything, but they were still wanting to take it from her. It wasn't until I and three other passengers volunteered for our carryon bags to be gate checked in order to make room for her violin that we shamed them into allowing the violin on.

In my case, though, this wasn't at the gate. This was at the freaking ticket counter. I think the flight was so crowded that they had put a kibosh on online check-in, too, just to winnow down carry-on, because I'd tried to check-in online to get to the gate first, and they'd disabled online check-in.

All in all, I'm not very happy with Singapore Air, and I still have to fly with them on several legs of this trip. *sigh*

July 8, 2008 at 02:30 PM · You should have tried giving that man some money.

July 8, 2008 at 02:35 PM · Oooh, I'm so bad at that kind of thing! :) Besides which, by the time we got to that point, he was surrounded by supervisors. I'd have been beggared! :D

July 8, 2008 at 10:11 PM · Zina wrote, "I checked one bag, I carried my computer messenger bag (which is quite small). It was definitely because the flight was packed, i don't think they cared about the two bags, as my messenger bag easily goes under a seat. On a rational level, I can even understand it, except for the fact that my violin is worth about two times what my laptop is worth."

I'm sorry about your situation again. I think I mentioned earlier that it does clearly state on the Singapore Airlines website that you are only allowed one carry on item and I'm sure they have to be strict about this policy when it is a full flight like in your case. I think Delta is the same way, so be sure to check with the airlines before you fly.

July 9, 2008 at 01:25 AM · Nate, I realize that they have that policy. My computer bag is small enough to be considered a purse (a personal bag), and I've always carried the violin as my carry on. When I've been nervous about having "two" carry-ons, the computer bag goes into my checked luggage and the laptop comes out in the neoprene sleeve, which I hand-carry. No one's ever said boo to me about that, either.

To add to that, my partner came onto the same flight, same level of bookings, same airline, two days later, with THREE articles -- his computer bag, a bow case, and his fiddle in the BAM overhead.

If what you're trying to say indirectly is that somehow I got what I deserved, I think you're missing the general point.

At any rate, I'm fixing the problem. I'm getting the same set up as my partner for right now, and, for the future, I'm having a custom case made for both my laptop and fiddle and will carry a bow case.

I hope that helps you feel happier about it all. :)

July 9, 2008 at 06:28 AM · "To add to that, my partner came onto the same flight, same level of bookings, same airline, two days later, with THREE articles -- his computer bag, a bow case, and his fiddle in the BAM overhead.

If what you're trying to say indirectly is that somehow I got what I deserved, I think you're missing the general point."

I didn't say you got what your deserved, I just mentioned I read the Singapore Airlines policy on their website and recommended that everyone go review the regulations before flying :)

July 9, 2008 at 07:07 AM · What I find most distressing about all of this is that it seems like musicians' ability to move about during the course of our lives and work is being sharply curtailed. In my case, I was caught by the short hairs -- this was the only flight I could take, on the only airline, it was not an airline that's ever been put on the "watch out" list.

This doesn't have anything to do with international security. It has to come down to money somehow, but I can't figure out how making it impossible for musicians to travel is going to help the airlines make money. If they DID make it a policy to allow instruments to go in the cabins, did they really think that they'd be so inundated by symphony orchestras and their instruments?

I am really lucky. I travel a great deal, and it looks like that's only going to continue. I have enough income that I can contemplate having two places in the future, to have *stuff*, like an extra fiddle, computer set up, etc., one on each side of the pond. Hopefully that'll ease the situation for me. But that's not the situation of most musicians.

How the hell are musicians with fragile instruments supposed to travel?

July 15, 2008 at 04:38 PM · What a nightmare! And I'm not even sure a BAM case would solve the problem. Yesterday I measured my violin and (as I already knew) even without any case it was well over the regulation 55 cms of most airlines.

On a more cheerful note:

Two days ago I returned to Copenhagen from Düsseldorf carrying TWO violins. My flight was with AIR Berlin and no-one batted an eyelid. MInd you, the flight was not crowded and I had taken the precaution of carrying no other hand luggage except a wallet. Also the cases were form cases, not the square kind.

I have been travelling with my violin on planes in Europe and between Europe and Japan for years without problems. Only once, in a very small aircraft from Paris to Cologne at Christmas time I was told in the cabin that there was no more space for the violin. I stood my ground and a space was found. I have, however, avoided Ryanair because of its reputation for being very restrictive.

I am flying to London with Easyjet in 2 weeks and am a bit concerned about their new charges for checked baggage, because I expect everyone to be heaving huge "carry-on" cases into the cabin. I have just learnt that the EU is about to legislate against the cheap airlines' misleading advertising, so I hope this means that in future they will stop charging extra for luggage, since they will have to make it clear in advance that they do so rather than advertising a much lower price that excludes a host of compulsory charges.

For an amateur flying across the English channel to summer courses, crowded planes are always a risk. After the Heathrow scare 2 years ago I had to leave my violin at home and borrow a friend's. But I certainly don't intend to check my newly-bought violin. If the worst comes to the worst I've got over 24 hours to get to my music course some other way...

In the good old days I used to take an enormous hand bag, a heavy carry-on case AND my violin into the cabin. Sigh... - Although with hindsight I have to say that the heavy case was inconsiderate.

Good luck with future flights!


July 16, 2008 at 03:54 AM · Oh, Zina, sympathies!!! : )

July 16, 2008 at 08:55 PM · Oh wow this is my worst nightmare!

My question is, say if you missed a flight (and let's say you could take the next one, which hopefully is less full), will they let you take that next flight without making you buy a new ticket? And what if you have connecting flights so you miss those too??

To be honest I always thought of a good tactic: Firstly, always arrive early and try to hide the violin from view at the check in counter. If all else fails and they are not prepared to let you on, wait until you see the flight attendants or better the pilots of the plane.

They are allowed to take anything they want on the plane basically (I mean they're the ones in control of it!) so if they agree to take responsibility for the violin it shouldn't be a problem! You might be able to convince them that if they really cannot find space in the overhead compartments they can put it in the cockpit with the pilots and tie it down in the "jump seat".

I haven't tried that, but I guess it should work if you're a smooth talker.

Other than that, what if you volunteer to just hold the case or the instrument the entire flight? You can say that it's like taking a baby on board, nobody would argue with that!

Either way I bet the more imaginative suggestions you can give them, the more likely they are to cave in.

I've only once had the slightest bit of trouble (thank heavens) and that was actually when I was on an orchestra tour with 70 other musicians! The woman at the counter said to me "I'm sorry but you'll have to check in the violin" and I just replied "Look, there are 70 other musicians behind me, and they are all going to be taking their instruments on board!!!"

She put up no protest at all and let me on. Hey maybe that's a tactic too, say you're part of a group of musicians that's about to arrive, and the group manager will not be happy...big groups mean big money for airlines and they probably won't refuse you, plus likelihood is that there IS some group on board. But yeah that's like a last ditch resort LOL.

July 23, 2008 at 11:48 AM · I see there's sth about bobelock's small case (for cabins) in the latest issue of The Strad, on the new products page, for those of you who would like to pursue this.

Also, when I bought my violin in Germany, I was lent two violins to try at home in a very nifty little case holding 2 violins and no bows, which the dealer, Jost Thöne says he also uses for air travel. He said they were some cheap make (he didn't specify); presumably you can get single cases from the same source. He doesn't sell them himself, but I guess if you contact him at the Violin Expo Cologne (, he'd tell you where he gets them from.

Best wishes, Margaret

July 23, 2008 at 12:13 PM · Hi,

For the record, even if one buys an extra seat for a cello, it doesn't garantee that it will be allowed on the seat. I have two people that I know (who both play Strads, incidentally) and one was forced to put it in the closet, while the other was forced to check it, even though they had bought extra seats.

I guess airlines are doing pretty much whatever they want these days.

As for being asked a ridiculous amount of private information, I would not do it. I have never seen overseas violin shops ask for that. Something about it seems unusually invasive. I would just shop somewhere else.

Some Europeans places like the Soundpost in the UK also carries BAM accessories.

My heartfelt sympathies for all your trouble Zina!

July 23, 2008 at 12:24 PM · >For the record, even if one buys an extra seat for a cello, it doesn't garantee that it will be allowed on the seat. I have two people that I know (who both play Strads, incidentally) and one was forced to put it in the closet, while the other was forced to check it, even though they had bought extra seats.

Oh. My. God.


July 23, 2008 at 02:17 PM · Your friend checked a Strad cello? I wouldn't have gotten on the plane.

July 25, 2008 at 03:08 AM · Since so many airlines (all of them?) only allow one carry-on bag these days on overseas flights, what's the point of getting the overhead violin case if you then have to have a bow case as well? Wouldn't one or the other of them need to be checked underneath? I wondered about that when I bought my Artonus Elipe last fall before my Paris trip. (BTW, I always hang the fiddle case vertically from my shoulder as I'm checking in, holding it around the end so it appears Oh So Tiny. So far I've not had a problem. Knock wood.)

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