March 12, 2014
WHEN Matt Haimovitz (pictured), a concert-hall cellist, travels, he is accompanied by CBBG Haimovitz. That’s Cabin Baggage Haimovitz—Mr Haimovitz’s cello. “When I was a teenager, my strategy was to sneak my cello onto the plane, smile nicely at the flight attendants and hope that they’d put it in the overhead bin,” says Mr Haimovitz. “It worked around 50% of the time, but the other times they’d tell me that I had to check it, and I couldn’t face it going in the hold, so I started paying for a seat.”
As a well-paid soloist, Mr Haimowitz is lucky that he can afford such a luxury. Others must take a risk. “Seeing your instrument going up the conveyor belt, you don’t know whether you’ll be able to play it after you arrive,” says Ray Hair, president of the American Federation of Musicians. It is a situation that legislators are trying to remedy. Last month, the European Parliament passed a bill requiring airlines to accept smaller instruments such as violins in the cabin. The bill now goes to the European Council, which represents the EU governments. Organisations such as the Musicians’ Union in Britain are backing the idea. It says the current patchwork of rules leads to confusion. Musicians can leave a country on a flight where one regulation applies to instruments, only to find the rules on the return leg are different.
Two years ago, the US Congress instructed the Department of Transportation (DoT) to write a directive requiring airlines to store instruments in overhead bins. Larger instruments weighing less than 165 lbs (75 kg) should be allowed in the plane if the owner buys an extra seat, Congress ordered. But even though the department’s deadline passed last month, the DoT hasn’t even begun writing the rules. IATA, the trade association for the world’s airlines, is relieved. It says that carriers should remain free to set their own prices and policies for onboard musical instruments.
So airbound instruments still face an unknown fate. While most airlines allow small instruments, such as violins, as part of the carry-on baggage allowance, some count it as a second piece of luggage and charge for it. Others, such as Ryanair, only allow smaller instruments in the cabin, and then only if the owner has paid for an additional seat.
On some airlines, owners of large instruments can request they be put in a heated section of the cargo hold. But even though today’s cases are sturdy, the instrument can arrive damaged. When Suzanne Bizet, a Maltese music teacher, booked a ticket to travel to Madrid for a concert, her low-cost airline informed her that she would have to buy an extra seat for her violin. Instead Ms Bizet bought a decent replacment on eBay and had it shipped to Madrid. After a particularly heavy-handed inspection by airport security staff in San Francisco, Timothy Spears, a double-bassist, decided always to travel by car instead. At a recent music competition, one participant went for a more unconventional option still: he left his cello at home, hoping that a member of the resident orchestra would lend him one. A kind player did.
Until the law speaks clearly, musical instruments and aeroplanes will remain an uneasy pairing. Airlines, desperate to cut costs wherever possible, are unlikely to go out of their way to accommodate musicians, especially those flying economy class. But musicians rely on air travel for their livelihoods. As a drummer, Mr Hair always has to put his drums in the cargo, and so far they have survived unscathed. “But it shouldn’t be down to luck,” he says.
How to identify instruments, meanwhile, remains an additional issue for legislators to address. In an age when each seat occupant requires documentation, travellers like CBBG Haimovitz—and Mr Guitar, and Mr Cello, as some musicians call their companions—pose a challenge. And while some airlines issue boarding passes to instruments, others don’t. Yet despite all the hassle, instruments on airplanes sometimes add a humane note to an often-monotonous activity. On a recent trip, a flight attendant asked Mr Haimovitz if he might like to perform a piece in the skies. To the delight of fellow passengers, he got up and played.
Read at: The Economist