The Nightmare Comes True: Musician's Instrument Destroyed While Checked as Baggage on Plane

Classic Arts News   The Nightmare Comes True: Musician's Instrument Destroyed While Checked as Baggage on Plane
 
Ever since restrictions on air passengers' carry-on luggage were tightened last month in the wake of the discovery in London of an alleged plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic, musicians and orchestra administrators have been nervous (if not downright panicky) about traveling to and from North America and the UK.

They're not upset about the threat of terrorism, of course (however worrisome that threat may be): they're balking at having to leave their instruments to travel in planes' cargo holds and in the care of airline baggage handlers.

The nightmare these musicians all hope to avoid came true for one unfortunate young Canadian this summer. Paul Casey, a 20-year-old student at the University of Ottawa, arrived in Belgium in July for a European tour with the Youth Orchestra of the Americas to find his viola damaged and unplayable after traveling as checked baggage on an Air Canada flight. (No viola jokes, please.)

Casey told The Ottawa Citizen that the C$13,800 instrument suffered a severed neck, a broken back and nearly a dozen cracks on its front while in transit, despite several "Fragile" stickers on the case.

Air Canada maintains that its limits on the size of checked baggage are strict and that Casey's viola exceeded them, which is why the airline's ground personnel insisted he check the instrument as baggage; Casey told the Citizen that "one month earlier, I traveled with my viola, so it obviously isn't that strict a policy."

Air Canada also limits its liability for damage to checked baggage to C$1,500 "unless a higher value is declared in advance"; Casey maintains that the airline should be responsible for all replacement costs for the viola — and therefore has not yet submitted a claim to his insurers.

Mark Tetreault of the Canadian branch of the American Federation of Musicians told the newspaper that "We've been lobbying [Air Canada] ceaselessly for years" to establish rules for musicians traveling with instruments. "All we want is a clear policy and not ad hoc decisions at the gate."

Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick would not comment on Casey's particular complaint, but did tell the Citizen, "It's possible in the past that our rules haven't been enforced uniformly. Today, we are a lot more stringent with the rules. Our planes are a lot fuller."

Even in the best of times, professional musicians generally insist on keeping their (usually very expensive) instruments with them as carry-on luggage; cellists and bassists routinely pay for an extra passenger seat in order to keep their instruments by their sides. The New York-based Orchestra of St. Luke's cancelled its appearances at the BBC Proms in London and the Edinburgh Festival rather than risk damage to its instruments. The musicians of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, who are contractually obligated to keep their instruments (which are loaned to them from a state collection) in their presence at all times, were faced with a dilemma when carry-on baggage restrictions were instituted just before the end of their season at London's Royal Opera House this summer; they ultimately took the Eurostar train to Paris and flew home from there.


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