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Get off my case!

Laurie Niles

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Published: July 12, 2014 at 5:20 PM [UTC]

After Time for Three's big airplane debacle -- left on the tarmac by U.S. Airways with violins in hand when connecting through Charlotte, N.C. -- I was somewhat dismayed to realized Friday that I was flying the same airline, connecting through the same city!

I was on my way to Cincinnati, where I'll be visiting family and also doing a book-signing recital this week (12:10 p.m. Tuesday at Christ Church Cathedral's Music Live at Lunch, please come see me if you are in the area, it's free! I'll play a little and read from Interviews.)

So was I left on the tarmac? No. Did I allow my nice violin to go with the baggage handlers into the frigid cargo area of the plane where it would be roughly piled in with all the other heavy bags? NO WAY!

But I still had to be very vigilant. I kept my copy of the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2012, Section 713 in hand, ready to proffer if needed.

My large flight from Los Angeles to Charlotte caused me the biggest anxiety, actually. This was a busy flight, and I was in the last of five groups to load the plane. By the time they were loading the fourth group, they began informing those with "oversized baggage" that they would need to "gate check" their baggage -- that is, hand it over to be put in cargo. (Because they charge extra to check a bag, many people avoid checking their bags. Thus, lots of bags on the flight.)

As I entered the tunnel to the plane, a flight attendant pointed to my violin and started to inform me that it would need to go in the cargo. I cut her off with a firm "No."

Get off my case!

I must have had a certain look on my face because she backed off and shrugged, "Well, if it fits."

I placed it in the first bin where it would fit, but this was about 10 rows from my seat. As I took my seat, I realized that there was some room closer to me. To my dismay, when I looked back to where I'd put my violin, I saw another lady violently jamming her big roller bag into my violin case! Shove, shove, jam, jam...Basically, I barged my way back to my fiddle, grabbed it and said, "What are you DOING? " I carried it back to my seat and put it in a closer bin. At least if it's close to my seat, I can keep an eye on others trying to put their luggage in the same bin.

I'm sure I came off as slightly lunatic, but there's just no other way. I can't have someone bashing in my violin case. I can't put the violin in cargo. I actually have no other way to get across the country with my violin other than to fly a domestic flight, and there's no option other than to take it on the plane. Pretty much every other overpacked roller bag on board would have been just fine in cargo.

I flew on a smaller but less-crowded plane from Charlotte to Cincinnati; overhead space was plentiful and so I had no problems.

But there's no relaxing, when traveling with the fiddle!

Posted on July 12, 2014 at 5:43 PM
Seems like you have put up a good fight, defending your baby. Still don't understand why it came to this...
From Steve Reizes
Posted on July 12, 2014 at 6:27 PM
The couple of times I have flown with my violin, I have found that saying to flight attendants and other passengers "it's a violin" actually got some respect for its boundaries.
Posted on July 12, 2014 at 6:33 PM
Honestly, I really dont see the issue here, because I have traveled with my violin in cargo many times, both international and domestic flights. All you have to do is tune the strings down, buy a cushy case cover to put over the case itself, and have the baggage check in clerks put a fragile sticker on the case cover. If glass can make it through the cargo, so can an instrument, just take the time to pack it carefully and responsibly. Thats all.

H. Lee Brewster

Posted on July 12, 2014 at 6:46 PM
Good for you!
Posted on July 12, 2014 at 7:26 PM
Thanks for the FAA link! I will download it.
Posted on July 12, 2014 at 8:33 PM
I have ALWAYS been able to take my horn in its gig bag and get it under the seat in front of me UNTIL YESTERDAY! Now they have plugs and outlets under there in some new hot shot plane. . GAAAKKK!!!! Attendant tok my horn and put i in the1st class suit bag closet. So I bought a Delta ticket to go home as my thanks. BUT.....I'll need to be more vigilant and stay off the newer planes in the future.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on July 12, 2014 at 9:36 PM
I like that picture.

Have fun. And have some Graeter's!!!

From Philip Novak
Posted on July 12, 2014 at 10:06 PM
Here's a theory I've had: oblong vs. shaped cases can affect how you're treated on a plane. I wonder if most of the rank and file masses dont know what's in an oblong case. Before I started violin, had I seen an oblong case, I would have never thought that there was a valuable fragile wooden musical instrument in such a huge case. Secondly, an oblong case to a flight attendant, though they may know what it is, sees a very large space requirement. A shaped case, though a violinist knows its only marginally smaller, is much less obtrusive at first glance. I never had an issue with flight attendants or fellow passengers with a shaped case and I traveled for work a lot. Though I would get the random moron ask if I had a tommy gun in it, and on one occasion, that even happened in an airport! The point is that they knew it was a -violin- case. I challenge oblong case users to poll people as to what they think you have in the case. It's sort of like any time I wear a harris tweed sport coat I still get called "professor," even though I have never seen a professor wearing one! It's archetypical.
Posted on July 13, 2014 at 3:41 AM
On a recent set of flights I was afforded the opportunity to pay $10 per leg (4 total legs round trip) to get in an earlier boarding group on the plane. Even though the extra money was a pain, it was well worth the stress relief to ensure that I had plenty of storage space to choose from.
From Chris Keener
Posted on July 13, 2014 at 3:56 AM
I recently had a couple connecting flights from Columbus Ohio to St. George Utah. I never had any trouble as long as I was the first person for my boarding group to be in line, and I always asked the flight attendants if they had room in a closet just in case there was no more room in overhead storage (which thanks to being first in line there usually was some left by that point). I had my FAA policy just in case, and I was only asked to check my baby once, but there was still closet space left so luckily I didn't have to. I've also had friends tell me they have better luck if they have their violins on their back like a backpack if you have the 2 straps, and then they carried their actual backpack and got a lot less comments from the flight crews.
From marjory lange
Posted on July 13, 2014 at 5:22 AM
to -- well and good to pack and ship as cargo IF you have the skill to reset the soundpost when it falls down. If your post doesn't fall down with all the strings loosened and all the jostling/banging/tossing it will experience in the cargo hold, your soundpost is either glued in or you're looking at a soundpost crack developing soon.
Posted on July 13, 2014 at 6:43 AM

Try enclosing the entire case in one of those oversize baby bags where moms carry their diaper bag and such. A crumpled diaper (nappy) with a bit of smooth peanut butter strategically placed on it does wonder for people not wanting their bags to touch it.

From Jeff Terflinger
Posted on July 13, 2014 at 5:03 PM
I have a good sturdy, shaped case that I use for air travel that fits in the overhead compartment. I leave my oblong case at home.
I've had no problem, so far, but always am anxious,
The airline noose is tightening.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 13, 2014 at 6:15 PM
This is a cute title for this blog and a funny picture. I've only flown with my violin a handful of times and those were years ago. Most of the time when I've had to travel with it I've been able to drive.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 14, 2014 at 3:06 AM
I think everyone is right; the oblong case does not exactly cry out "this is a violin"! My Musafia oblong is the sturdiest case I have, though, so that's why I took it. I have a rather cheap, no-name fitted case that I've carried my spare fiddle in, but I really need to invest in a sturdy, fitted travel case!

Posted on July 15, 2014 at 7:20 PM
Another note of caution:

I was on the jetway, just getting ready to board. A stewardess asked the ground crew to bring them some more baggage check tags.

The ground crew guy took that as an opportunity to throw his weight around: he refused to let let ANYONE board with ANY carry-on. He refused to listen that I had medical equipment in my carry-on bag : too bad, he said. He was almost violent is his refusal. And we were in Group 1, so MOST of the passengers had to check their carry-on.

So, it was either throw this guy off the jetway or give in.

Here's the secret: ONLY the flight crew is authorized to decide which carry-on bags should be checked. Not the gate attendant, not the ticket scanner, not the guy stnading on the jetway to take the bags.

I complained to the stewardess as soon as I set foot on the plane (about 10 steps after being stripped of my CPAP). She was alarmed.

She also heard the same complaint from everyone that boarded, except the 1st class passengers. I also filled in a survey and sent emails.

It only takes one goofball to screw things up for all!

Needless to say, the plane was late taking off, due to the extra time the guy spent fussing at passengers -- and the extra baggage handling.

I changed airlines after this incident.

Posted on July 16, 2014 at 11:17 AM
Equally frightening is rough handling of instruments by some Homeland Security Agents. Once the agent literally threw my violin case after it went through the scanner. I was annoyed and reported her. Fortunately no damage -- thanks Musafia.

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