Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bassoon carry-on......an anachronism?

Have you tried to fly with your bassoon lately?   According to a June 10, 2014 article in USA Today, some airlines are cracking down on carry-on dimensions.   And there is no shortage of media coverage of instruments damaged during air travel.

This fact sheet published by the Future of Music Coalition explains that the American Federation of Musicians and other groups worked to include language in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 mandating that the FAA draft formal regulations creating uniform standards that all airlines must follow.  These regulations would stipulate three things:

1) Airlines must permit passengers “to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage” if the instrument can be safely stowed in overhead bins and if there is room at the time the passenger boards.

2) For instruments that don’t fit in overhead bins (such as cellos), airlines must allow passengers to carry the instrument on board with the purchase of an extra ticket.

3) For larger instruments (still within applicable weight and size requirements), airlines must transport the instruments as checked baggage.

Unfortunately, the FAA has yet to draft the final regulations; therefore the new law cannot be enforced.  Even once the law does become enforceable, the words "if the instruments can be safely stowed in overhead bins and if there is room at the time the passenger boards" do not inspire confidence.  Some overhead bins are too small to hold a bassoon case (and of course regional jets such as the Embraer 145 require all passengers to gate check carry-ons).  Also, if the traveling bassoonist is not lucky enough to be one of the early boarders on a flight, it's entirely possible that the overhead bins could be full.  These days, it's common for flights to be booked to capacity.

Surprisingly, I haven't heard of any bassoon-related airline incidents other than my own.   Am I the only bassoonist in the world who has actually experienced the horror of being denied the right to carry on my bassoon?   It happened a few years ago on a flight out of Columbus.  When the airline agents refused to allow the bassoon as my carry-on, I remained polite and calm, and even offered to buy a seat for the bassoon.  Yet the airline personnel insisted that if I wanted to take the flight, my bassoon would have to be checked as baggage and placed in cargo!

I was traveling to an audition, and had no time to spare.  At the time, it seemed that I had no choice but the unthinkable - allowing my bassoon to be placed in cargo.  In retrospect, it's clear that I would have been far better off canceling my trip, despite my non-refundable ticket.  The level of stress I experienced from allowing my bassoon in cargo was off the charts, and I was in no condition to perform a successful audition when I arrived (in a state of panic!) at my destination.

I no longer own that bassoon.  My new bassoon - a 15,000 series Heckel - will never be placed in an airplane cargo hold!   No trip is worth taking such risk with a cherished instrument.  



Tina B. said...

Sorry to say you are not. I was forced to check my bassoon when I flew from Columbus to NH one summer in college. I bet I was ashen during that flight. I was VERY lucky there was no damage, and if the case opened and who-knows-what happened, they at least managed to put everything back correctly. It did not happen on the return trip. I still remember that sick feeling...

B.S. said...

I'm sorry to hear that! I was pretty sure I wasn't the only one, but until now, I hadn't heard flying horror stories from any other bassoonists. And I'm glad your bassoon was OK.

Thanks for your story....

Unknown said...

One of my UK colleagues ran into this situation coming back from Belfast but going to Aberdeen (not London) so the overhead lockers are smaller on a smaller plane. She put her bassoon in a carrier bag and the case in the hold!!! Solved. A bright solution. Another colleague had the same treatment at check in but managed to get to the plane with her bassoon with no objection from crew. The man from check-in ran after her and caused a fuss at the gate. They let her pay for it to go in the hold but then take it on as hand luggage. Curiouser and curiouser. And always at the mercy of individual staff which is why we need some policy they can agree on. I took my contra on Easyjet last year when on tour with http://www.reedrage.co.uk/ by booking it as a cello. They said it was a funny looking cello… I said it's an AIR Cello - and from then on that's what we call my contra.

Anonymous said...

When I asked British Airways about carrying on my bassoon, I was told that I would have to pay for TWO extra seats, which would at that date have cost me about £600 !! I tried to explain the relative sizes of different musical instruments, but to no avail at all. I bought a very large holdall and a lot of bubble wrap and it went in the hold. For nothing on that flight. Mind you, if you think of doing the same thing think hard about what degree of liability the airline will accept

B.S. said...

Anonymous, this is awful. My bassoon went in the hold once, but never again. It wasn't worth the degree of stress I experienced - I would have been better off canceling the trip. Hopefully this international problem will be resolved soon.


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