New Dept. of Transportation rule to help violin-toting musicians

violin caseA new rule by the U.S. Department of Transportation requires airlines to allow musicians to board with their priceless Strads and other small musical instruments.This may not seem like a big deal to the average public — some of whom arrive with garbage-bag sized carry-ons and clamor to stuff it all in the overhead. But for years, musicians have been stopped at the gate with their valuable musical instruments, from violins to saxophones, and told that those must go into checked baggage.

The ruling comes nearly two decades since I first wrote about the issue in 1997, when the entire Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was stopped at the gate and told that their violins and other small instruments were not allowed in the cabin because they didn’t fit Delta’s “Size-Wise” containers.

There have been many fuzzy areas when it comes to musical instruments on-board aircraft. Often, the airlines may have a policy that allows musical instruments in the overhead, but other staff or TSA is not informed about it. In 2002, Laurie Carney, a member of the American String Quartet which had performed in Cincinnati, burst into tears at Los Angeles International Airport when a security person violently shook her $500,000, 18th-century violin.

That story was from an article I wrote in 2002 after 9-11, when increased security made it even harder for musicians to board with their instruments.

There is a caveat in the new ruling — which you can read here. Musicians and their instruments will not be given overhead space priority. DOT suggests that you try to board early enough to stow your instrument … And yes, there’s often a fee for early boarding. And you must pay a baggage fee for it, like anything else.

A seat for larger instruments, such as a cello, is still a fuzzy area. Most cellists I know pay full fare to strap their cello into an airline seat — and they don’t get frequent flyer miles for it. And you still must pay any extra fees, such as for advance seat assignments.

The new ruling does not come without cost to the airlines. Four categories of employees will need training, DOT estimates the 98 U.S. carriers affected would have to spend $474,000 to train their employees. (Really??)

The rule goes into effect at the end of February. You’re on your own until then.



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