Which are the better airlines for travelling string players?
The recent breakage of a 17th-century viola da gamba placed in the baggage hold of an Alitalia jetliner (the airline had said that it would be handled carefully and not to worry) is one but far too many instances of airline callousness causing sometimes non-repairable damage to precious, often irreplaceable instruments.
From my professional standpoint, I must underline that one always assumes a high risk to place an instrument in the airliner hold with the other baggage if the case is not specifically designed for this purpose. And almost none are. But, sometimes the airline personnel force you to do so anyway, and you are not always in a position to bargain.
The purpose of this thread? Well, it is two-fold: one is for other V.comers who would like to give their recommendations for the better airlines with which to travel with their instruments. Secondly, but not least, is to shame the worse airlines into improving their act. Internet has this power, you know.
Let's hear your experiences!
It depends on what instrument you play.
Southwest and Delta have yet to fail me; both let me stow my instrument in the overhead bins with no issues at all.
I've crossed the Atlantic at least 50 times and probably more, perhaps even a hundred. In the good ol' days I used to travel with a double violin case which would fit in the overhead bin, but I haven't in years so I can't supply any first-hand information.
British Airways also supplies yellow "approved cabin baggage" tags. Perhaps that helps at the gate!
I don’t remember having trouble with Virgin Atlantic, but now their website says instruments are forbidden. It would be nice to get some clarity on that, as I am going transatlantic more often these days, sometimes with a violin or two.
I try to fly Southwest whenever I have to fly with a violin. All of their planes are 737s so I know there will be bin space, and I pay for early bird check-in to make sure I'm in the first group to board.
I have no first hand experience with BA, but there sure are a few horror stories published about them. I only flew in once on AC with a shaped violin case without issue, but that was before the Carry-on crackdown.
The thing is that it only takes one bad experience to really wreck your life. You're traveling to make a recital or orchestral appearance and you have to choose whether to risk your instrument in the hold of the jet or not to fly! Virgin Atlantic doesn't want musicians' business? Well okay, but at least they're being up-front about it instead of bait and switch.
I travel frequently with my violin on Air Canada, both domestic and international flights. I've carried both oblong and shaped cases. Never had any trouble, and I've always found them to be very accommodating. Ditto for WestJet. Sometimes the cabin crew on domestic flights to Newfoundland or Nova Scotia have joked that I'll have to play a tune before they let me off . . .
@Parker - how nice to see some genuine humanity from time to time! :-)
Air Canada! I travelled internationally with violin via AC since I returned to violin in 2007 and I have never had any issue. They even have a policy for early boarding with instrument. And yes, WestJet and Lufthansa too, no problem with violin.
Travelled Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand last year, no issues. About to travel with Qantas and Virgin Australia again, so hopefully ok.
I have sax in a bigger case, that do not fit in the regular bin. I use skyteam alliance airlines mostly, so i have sax as cabine baggage but deliver it to staff on board, so they store it somewhere in cabinets for jackets. We take my son's cheep violin always with us. And i never had an issue to have it as an extra item to all the listed items approved. I would never let my instrument in checked-in baggage.
With Air New Zealand, Easyjet, BA, Singapore Airlines, and Quantus, never a problem. Stay away from Ryanair as they allow NO instruments on board.
For domestic in the US, Southwest with the early boarding option is the best bet if they travel where you are going. I've had no problem carrying on a full size acoustic guitar in a flight case and putting it in the overhead. Internationally I've carried a mandolin in a flight case on Lufthansa with no issues. I mostly fly British Airways now but haven't tried carrying an instrument on.
I have tried to do minimal flying with my violin. As a high-status flyer with United, I have generally had no problem getting them to stash the violin in the first-class coat closet. I would have a lot less confidence about having it in the overhead bins, given how crowded most United flights now are. Also, many of those bins get extremely cold.
How does it work when an entire orchestra is on tour? A few years back I attended a concert in the Netherlands by a Chinese symphony orchestra with Ray Chen as a soloist (I'm the proud owner of a signed cd :-) ). I can't imagine the entire violin/viola section arguing about taking their cases as carry-on at the check-in counter, nor how the cellists would put their cases on the baggage belt.
Musicians wouldn't be arguing to take violins and violas on board. There would have been special arrangements made between the airline and the orchestra themselves so they can take smaller instruments on board. Also, I have never seen an entire orchestra on one single flight. Usually they are divided into two or three groups on different flights.
I have a violin, and with the exception of budget airlines i never had a problem.
Regarding the 17th-century viola da gamba that was used as example to open this discussion, and which has drawn some comments that even suggest the musician is at fault: not only is the damage truly outrageous (smashed through case as if repeatedly struck with a large hammer), but also the story told by the musician shows the callous attitude of the airlines and personnel towards musicians:
The thing is all luggage is subject to damages, will. The structural integrity of a case is different than of a suitcase. Try jumping in a packed suitcase and on an instrument case. The instrument will be smashed, and the suitcase will hardly be damaged, because of their construction. Try travelling with an empty suitcase and it will arrive as bad as the viola case of the unfortunate musician
One piece of advice I can give is to be careful if you get a seat on the upper deck of an A380. The overhead lockers are very shallow and space is at a premium, due to the curvature of the ceiling. Since they know that at the gate, the personnel will likely take a dimmer view of you carrying your case on board.
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