Monday, June 8, 2009

Beam Me Up!

Traveling by air with an instrument is a headache at best. It has always been this way, but since 9/11 the headache regularly turns into a migraine. Regulations regarding which instruments can be carried on to flights and which must be checked have always been confusing. Honestly, a lot depends on who is working at the airport that day. I once confirmed with my airline that I could bring one instrument on as carry-on and gate-check the other only to be stopped by airport security who told me there was absolutely no way they would let me through with two instruments and a purse. I would have to go back and check something. I took everything crucial out of my purse and checked it.

I always hold my breath when going through security with my viola. I have smaller cases that I use when I fly, so size is not usually a problem. My biggest issue is my bow. I use a carbon fiber bow. On the security x-ray it shows up differently than a regular wood bow, and apparently looks a lot like a sword. You are not allowed to take swords on airplanes. (Good thing, too!) Luckily, the security people I have dealt with have been reasonable and after a quick look inside the case we all have a good laugh and they let me through with no problem.

Other musicians have not been so lucky. Horror stories abound and include people having to play their instrument at security to prove that they are, in fact, musicians and not clarinet-wielding terrorists, instruments that have been dropped while being inspected by security, and people who have made specific arrangements with the airline regarding taking their instrument on the flight only to be informed that they will have to check it at the gate when it's time to get on the plane.

This final scenario happened to one of my college house-mates. He had bought a ticket for his cello, which is what cellists have to do in order to take their instruments on a flight. Everything was fine on his flight out, but when returning home the plane was overbooked. The flight attendant told him she would put his cello in the closet up front but the cello wound up gate-checked instead. When he arrived at home he noticed that one of the latches on his case was a bit mangled. Then he opened the case. It looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer to his cello. About a quarter of it was completely smashed. Slivers of wood filled the bottom of his case. After several months in the shop the cello was eventually restored and actually wound up sounding better than it had before the accident. In the meanwhile, though, my friend had auditions for graduate school and no cello. We wondered how the audition committee at The Julliard School would react if he showed up playing air cello.


How about you? Do you have any horror stories about flying? Any airlines or airports that you love?

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