Traveling by air has become unpleasant enough for everyone after 9/11, with long lines at the security checkpoints, no food and minimal space. We musicians face an additional hurdle with our instruments. The larger-than-normal-carry-on violin (or viola) case may not fit exactly within the strict rules of measurements given by individual airlines, but I have yet to come across a situation where a little explanation didn't help. That is until this morning when my wife tried to board a Delta Airlines flight to the East Coast at Seattle-Tacoma. The supervisor must have had something stuck someplace, as he was as rude and as inflexible as can be and wouldn't let my wife on board. This brainless man insisted that she take her very valuable violin out of the case, put it in her bag and store it in an overhead compartment! She called me hysterically from the airport, but I was driving our little one to school and couldn't offer any other advice than to try to buy a ticket for the violin. This is what she ended up doing, but missed her flight and will arrive in her destination after midnight.
I have seldom flown without having to carry a violin with me. I can count with one hand any incidents regarding the extra carry-on, the case. One time SAS let me fly to Copenhagen with no questions asked, but gave me trouble on the short hop from there to Helsinki. After a minute-long argument I was allowed to board, and the same has been the situation all over. Just last week my wife flew Northwest Airlines to Michigan and back, with the same setup, and was treated very cordially by everyone. Even smaller prop planes have never presented a problem. No wonder she was in tears and upset by the treatment at the Delta counter this morning. At least the personnel in Delta's club room was sympathetic with her.
A lot of us have to fly with musical instrument because our work, or school, demands it. What is a violinist to do if he/she is denied boarding because of the instruments he/she wants to keep with him or her? At the rate checked luggage gets mishandled, misplaced and even totally lost, only a complete fool would let the airline be in charge of a violin case. Who would take financial responsibility for a loss of the fiddle or damage to it? What are we supposed to be playing on if something bad happens, even a delay? I know that the American Federation of Musicians has issued letters with the blessing of the federal authorities regarding this issue, but at the end, it is up to the individual airline and the person, in this case the moron, at the gate to do as they please.
Luckily we have a choice to fly on whatever airline we prefer. In our case it won't be Delta any more (although I must admit this was the first time that they have given either of us this kind of trouble). This was an award ticket worth 50,000 miles; the problem is what to do the with remaining 350,000 frequent flier miles with them. I better decide quickly as the airline itself has been very close to having shut its operations down for good. One would think that Delta Airlines would try extra hard to win back the trust of their customers, but that obviously wasn't the case this morning at SeaTac. I wrote a complaint to the company in an email; it will be interesting to read what they reply.
I guess there is truth in the saying that if we were meant to fly, we would have been given wings.