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Australian musician, Stewart Kirwan
answers the following question...

Stewart Kirwan

December 2010

The Question:
How are airline companies helping touring musicians?

by Stewart Kirwan share this - email, favourites, social bookmarks and more

Following is an open letter to Australian musicians written by Stewart Kirwan and published here with his permission...

29 November 2010

Qantas Musical Instrument Policy.

Qantas have a new policy banning all musical instruments as hand luggage on flights (with the exception of violins and violas). No valid reason has been given for this change of policy (the directive is dated 10th October 2010). It was issued with no notification, with many musicians arriving at the airport without
heavy-duty flight cases, resulting in instruments getting damaged.

For decades musicians have carried on these instruments without causing inconvenience to other passengers. It is understandable that large instruments cannot fit in the overhead lockers, but now they are restricting smaller instruments such as trumpets, flutes, trombones and saxophones.

A colleague of mine was forced to check his 1960ís Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone (valued around $10000) in November. For the last fifteen years it had been no problem to take it as hand luggage. This resulted in a $350 repair. Another colleague, after begging to be allowed to take his Selmer MK VI saxophone in a lightweight case as hand luggage (to no avail) then had to argue to take on board his flute!

I was stopped at the x-ray station at Perth airport in early November and forced to check my trumpet, which was in a small case well within specifications. I was told if the case contained clothes rather than a trumpet it would be allowed on board!

Although Qantas promises "all care", many musicians have witnessed their instruments being thrown carelessly by baggage handlers. I myself had a $10000 Monette trumpet (in a hard case) damaged in 2003, requiring a $2000 repair, and Qantas took absolutely no responsibility whatsoever. I was told that I should have separately freighted the instrument in advance. Needless to say this is not a practical solution for touring musicians who need daily access to their instruments for practice.

Qantas staff members have suggested musicians take out insurance. Many of us have insurance, but that is no use if you arrive at your destination to play a gig and your instrument is damaged. Most instruments are rarely the same after being smashed and then panel-beaten back into shape afterwards.

The use of heavy flight cases is impractical considering the high cost of excess baggage. Considering there is another new policy imminent that will restrict all passengers to one piece of checked luggage before paying excess, the future for touring musicians using Qantas is not looking good.

There are countless stories of damaged equipment, and the musicians I speak of here are of the highest professional caliber, working and touring with Australia's top artists. Perhaps if a high profile international artistís instruments got damaged this issue would be more newsworthy?

It seems that this new policy is directly aimed at a small section of the population who are totally dependent on extremely expensive, sensitive and fragile equipment for their livelihoods.

Stewart Kirwan

Online Petition: Stop Qantas' "No musical instruments onboard" policy:

Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) contact regarding this issue:
Martin Cubby martin.cubby@alliance.org.au

Some publicity seems to have helped to cause recent policy changes regarding carrying violins onboard. E.g. Emma Dean's case, Zoe Bloomfield's case. But something has to be done for Qantas to see reason over other small instruments which are still not allowed as hand luggage.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance have taken an interest in the concerns of musicians who have brought this matter to their attention. In order to assess its impact on Australian musicians they would like those musicians who have views on this to make contact with them. So if this airline cabin luggage policy impacts on you as a traveling musician or you would just like to support your colleagues please contact the Alliance... martin.cubby@alliance.org.au

New information
10 December 2010

Since publication of the above letter and also since a letter to Qantas from The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance was sent asking for clarification of their policy so that the Alliance could advise their members who to fly with, Qantas today changed the wording of its policy on its website to include instruments other than violins and violas.

Qantas is denying any change of policy.
Obviously they are in damage control....
However as I was told at the x-ray in Perth that the website means nothing it will be interesting to see which directive they are following now.

Stewart Kirwan.

This is as it appeared on the Qantas website on 9th OCTOBER 2010:

"Violins and Violas
The carriage of violins or violas on Qantas operated services is governed by the policy below.

Qantas allows the carriage of violins or equivalent only as described below in the overhead locker onboard Qantas aircraft. A 'Violin' includes all types of violins or violas and excludes all other instruments. Both the instrument and its case must not exceed a total of 130 centimetres (51 inches) and 7 kgs (15 lbs) of weight...."

This is how it appeared on 10th DECEMBER 2010:

"Musical Instruments
The carriage of musical instruments on Qantas operated services is governed by the policy below.

Small instruments such as flute, violin, violas, and saxophone may be carried in the aircraft cabin as carry-on baggage;

Qantas allows the carriage of musical instruments as described below in the overhead locker onboard Qantas aircraft. Both the instrument and its case must not exceed a total of 130 centimetres (51 inches) and 7 kgs (15 lbs) of weight...."

....and here comes the next backflip!

20 December 2010

Qantas has now changed the wording on the website back to the earlier wording allowing only violins and violas.

But even violinists are not totally in the clear. Qantas is leaving it to the discretion and mood of the staff on the day! They have included the following "...If your violin meets the above requirements, but we reasonably believe that it is not safe for your baggage to be carried as Carry-on Baggage, we will require you to check it in."
....and yet another!!!

24 December 2010

I don't know if this is another backflip or perhaps it's a Christmas present to musicians from Qantas!

Customers traveling on Qantas operated international and domestic services can now carry any musical instrument in its hard-shell case provided it does not exceed 130cm (51in) linear dimensions* or weigh more than 7kg.


I would like to think that this is the final chapter but let's wait for the next edition of the Qantas website's carry-on-baggage policy.

You may also like to leave your comment below this article. A link to this page including your supporting comments could also be of interest to the Alliance and to the airline companies.

Please contribute your support, experiences, concerns or other comments below.

Have Your Say
Scroll down the page to post your comments.

As a member and guitarist with the W.A. Mandolin Orchestra I and other musicians are travelling to N.Z. for the first week in 2011 for a Festival, so this news is worrying

Posted by Shirley Suckling on Tuesday 7 December 2010

Yes, I ran into this numerous times when I travelled a lot, both here and Internationally, but it's of no consequence to me now that I've retired from professional music. I mostly got to take the trumpet on board with me in a soft gig bag, but used to shudder when brutish businessmen power thrust their briefcases into an an already full overhead bin. I found the answer though when I was in Los Angeles and had had one too many officious airline person challenge me about the horn. So I bought a hard shell trumpet case, which is made by SKB and which will stand up well under most normal (and many abnormal) circumstances. I simple put it lenghwise in my roll along suitcase, on top of a layer of clothing, and packed it in tight with shoes and stuff down each side of it and the suit bag on top. I did at least seven Sydney - USA flights with that, plus numerous internal flights there, and never had a problem with the horn. Plus I had peace of mind. I travelled quite a bit in Oz too with the same luggage, and the horn is still as good as the day I bought it. I sympathise with sax and trombone players though, as they are often forced to send instruments through as baggage. Dan Barrett, the excellent American trombone player, solved the problem by buying a cylindrical hard shell golf trolley, which takes his trombone - and its case - plus it's on wheels and has a handle so it can be wheeled around airports etc with no problem. The bonus with that setup is that they think he's a sportsman, NOT a musician, so he gets respect from most of the airline staff he encounters. It may be worthwhile for saxophone players to check one of those things in a local sports store to see if they'll take an alto or a tenor. Another alternative is to have a travel case specially built by Simonson's - who specialise in camera gear for movie and TV program makers. They have their own workshop to make these cases, which are made from heavy duty dimpled metal and are fitted with large nylon corners which stand up proud of the case and allow other stuff to be stacked on top of it without damage. You have to take the horn(s) in to let them do a sketch and take measurements etc, and when they've got the shell of the case made they need the horn for a day to hand carve the high density foam inserts in which the horn will nestle during its travels. Simonson's are expert at handling very delicate camera gear and have handled quite a few instruments very carefully too. I know one guy who plays tenor sax and trombone, and they made him a superb case which takes both! I have no idea what that cost, but if you have a vintage instrument that can't be replaced, the cost of making such a case buys a lot of peace of mind. I do know that a case for another guy to hold both his trumpet and Bach cornet was about $550 so there's an idea for all you horn players. On a different tack, Jens Lindgren - trombonist with the Swedish Jazz Kings - flew into Perth for a Jazz Festival at which I too was playing, so I saw the results of this. The overly zealous Customs man at Perth Airport made him open the trombone case, after asking what it was and establishing that he was a musician. He took the horn section out of the case, grasped it firmly, then banged the bell down on the bench very hard. 'To dislodge the drugs' he explained. It was a beautiful horn, with quite thin metal in the bell area, and the guy wrecked it. When Jens remonstrated, he shrugged and said that they can do whatever they wish in their never ending search for smuggled drugs.

Posted by Eric Holroyd on Sunday 5 December 2010

Nice one Stewart, I have had a few broken cases over the years when flying with Qantas. Their service and attitude has been a challenge to deal with. It is sad when you worry the whole flight about how many pieces your horn will be in when you arrive. Virgin Blue seem to be the vibe. They take a little more care and are cheaper. All the best, Good Vibes, Malcolm.

Posted by Malcolm Wood on Friday 3 December 2010

I sometimes wonder if my trombone would fare any better if it wasn't marked "fragile". At least I wouldn't have to sign the little form which absolves the airline of all responsibility and from my observation over the years some baggage handlers seem to think fragile means throw it. I've never been allowed to take my trombone into the cabin with me which would be OK if I thought I could trust the professionalism of the baggage handlers. During many years of flying tours I've witnessed poorly stowed conga drums topple off the baggage cart onto the tarmac suffering an irreparable crack, a double bass neck broken away from its body, a flugelhorn's bell crumpled, and a keyboard which disappeared entirely. I've also heard about numerous other instruments damaged during transit. These were all expensive instruments which were all well looked after in every other situation. Could it be due to ignorance? Do some baggage handlers view these as toys rather than as valuable and extremely fragile precision instruments, tools of trade of professional people? Perhaps we need a musical instrument awareness campaign or perhaps Qantas needs to institute an effective baggage handling training course. But I guess the change in attitude needs to start at the top first. Maybe until Qantas take a reasonable stance on this then Virgin may be the way to go. If they do the right thing by musos then I'm sure they could take a chunk of customers away from their main competitor.
Keep up the great work Stewart and thanks for your effort. I'm sure we all appreciate it and support you. Greg

Posted by Greg Foster on Thursday 2 December 2010

Great letter Stewart.

Posted by Leon Gaer on Wednesday 1 December 2010

I've heard many accounts of mean-spirited baggage-handling of instruments.

Posted by Marie Steinway on Wednesday 1 December 2010

Good article Stewart. I have also black listed Qantas. Not only did they somehow damage a guitar in a robust hard case but they also changed their freight charging method a year ago resulting in an increase from $300 which I normally paid, to $3000. The gig I was traveling to play at was a charity. No recourse and no sympathy either from their PR department.

Posted by Tony King on Wednesday 1 December 2010

I don't have to fly often these days, and that's a good thing. Years ago I had a trumpet badly damaged. It had been packed with a flugel in a dual hard case. Somewhere enroute a sticky-beak baggage handler had taken it from the case and dropped it, shoved back in. I didn't find the damage until the gig. Fortunately good ole' TAA (I did say years ago) came to the rescue with repair costs.† From my seat on another aircraft I saw a double bass (in a flight case) fall from a baggage trolley and hit the tarmac, much to the amusement of handlers. What a bunch of dopes! Fragile Stickers are a waste of time. I think they actually intimidate handlers. In recent years I've always taken my trumpet in a soft bag as carry-on. Looks like I'll be doing some serious checking before my next flight. Qantas need to be told one way or another!

Posted by Bob Henderson on Wednesday 1 December 2010

There is some recourse in the matter of damage to musical instruments.A few years ago one of my guitars was damaged during a flight.I had signed the accompaning document re all care etc at check in.I wrote to the airline and received a response that suggested no fault of theirs.My second letter reminded them that I signed an agreement that said two things....all care but no responsibility.I told the airline that if all care(and this is the crux of it) had indeed been taken then no such damage would have occurred,therefore they were liable for the cost of the repair and indeed I would be seeking legal advice. Two days later I received a cheque for the repair and an apology,so it's important to follow through in these cases best † Tom Ferris

Posted by Tom Ferris on Wednesday 1 December 2010

I have black listed all QANTAS flights this year and have been successfully able to get Virgin Blue flights whenever required and for cheaper than QANTAS some times too! In my contract of engagement it states that I must be booked on Virgin Flights, it seems to have worked just fine so far. It seems that my instincts proved right even back at the start of this year. I've not had one issue or problem all year with Virgin Blue's service or their flights being cancelled or delayed. This is just the latest bureaucratic nonsense from a what has become a very unreliable and now it seems, unreasonable airline company. The "dying Kangaroo" perhaps?. However, as a point of interest, I was told a "friend" on my Facebook site who is a Qantas airline hostess and pro musician that the legislation was enacted because of the the recent musical circus acts from over seas holding up flights here in Australia by trying to load on large quantities or instruments on to flights. I'm yet to have this verified though. Perhaps someone can fill in this blank but I would have thought that the media would have had a field day if this was the case. Flying "Dutchman nobbles flying kangaroo" etc, etc. If this was the case, well then I can understand some measures being imposed on these types of problems but to ban all small instruments in cabins is a ridiculous, knee jerk reaction that will make being a professional instrumentalist an even more stressful gig!

Posted by Andy Firth on Wednesday 1 December 2010

So far I've been able to travel with 2 clarinets inside a cabin locker sized bag with qantas. I have flight cases for two of my larger horns, but have to take the smaller saxes and other woodwinds onboard, like other people. Interestingly, I was told by Qantas staff that I would have to completely strip my flight cases of all old fragile and security airline stickers soon, or they won't allow it to be checked in either!! After years of the airlines sticking this stuff on my case, I found this information amazing. 2 days later on a flight from Melbourne to Sydney, they left my bass clarinet behind, only to deliver it to the wrong address the next day. I'm interested in joining the cause petition that's going around, but don't like the (lack of) privacy settings on the facebook linked causes website. (access to your personal info, friend lists, dob etc..) It does seem like they are unfairly targeting a vulnerable industry in their discrimination, without any logic or reasonable sense of compromise. Ours is an industry that already delivers huge revenue to the airline industry. Individually we have practically no power to resist this draconian policy of Qantas. It would seem we need to show some collective resolve that will make them listen.

Posted by Paul Cutlan on Wednesday 1 December 2010

Bureaucracy gone bananas...to me the simplest solution is: Don't fly Qantas whenever possible, and let them know why!

Posted by Ian Baker on Wednesday 1 December 2010
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