What should musicians expect when flying with Qatar airways?

Although Qatar Airways has been elected best airline in the world 2 years in a row, musicians are strongly advised not to fly with this company. Here’s why.

This Summer 2012, Jon Oliva’s Pain band faced denial of check-​in by Qatar airways because of 3 soft guitar cases that the musicians needed to bring onboard (they had bought a total of 13 tickets). The letter (copied below) that the band manager wrote to the airline company is self-explanatory.

Frankfurt 02.07.12

Dear Ms. Graham,

I am writing on behalf of Mountain King Management, representing recording artist Jon Oliva’s Pain. We had a trip booked with Qatar Airways from Brussels to Dubai on Monday 25th of June 2012. The booking consisted of 12 persons plus 1 extra seat booked for comfort reasons. We were en route to Dubai to play a show, arranged by Mr. Sharbel Kanoun from Babel Event Management. Mr. Kanoun booked and paid for the 13 tickets for this flight.

The booking references are as follows:
[Here comes a list of booking numbers with associated names]

We came to the check-​in area at around 14:00, and stepped into the line. One of your representatives handed us labels so we could mark our luggage, and also pointed out that we needed to check in the three soft guitar bags that we carried. We told her that we can not check them in out of fear of possible damage etc., and that we need to find a solution for them to be in the cabin. We were later approached by QR’s other representative, Mr. Patrick Bonte, who told us we had to check in said instruments.

We tried to repeatedly explain to him what kind of value these instruments have – not only in money but also for personal and sentimental reasons – but Mister Bonte kept referring to a 70-​piece orchestra who earlier had traveled with QR and how they had made arrangements for them to be sent as baggage. Mr. Bonte also said that we should have called in advance and let QR know that we were carrying these three guitar bags, which we of course would have done had we been a 70-​piece orchestra… Knowing that QR was recognized as the top airline in the world in 2011 when it comes to service and quality, we were very much looking forward to experiencing your service concept. I myself work in the airline industry, I can only say that I was astonished and immensely disappointed by the lack of willingness to accommodate such a small request. After meeting Mr. Bonte, I’ve concluded that I’ve completely overestimated Qatar Airways’ standards of service in spite of the 2011 award. I’m hoping that as a result of this communication, you can help me reconsider my assessment.

We explained to Mr. Bonte that these three guitar bags made the situation a bit different than the 70-​piece orchestra he was continually referenced throughout our exchange. He was unwilling to try to accommodate us. His only solution was to check them in and load them in the plane’s compartment or belly. I pointed out that we’ve never had a problem with this before, and that some of these musicians have traveled for 25 – 30 years without running into such an obstacle on such a large aircraft. For instance, the airline company we used a few days prior to this day, that flew the band from Tampa, USA, to London, UK, welcomed all three bags on board and made it a safe travel. We suggested that we could retrieve some boxes from our tour bus that the guitars could be stored in, but Mister Bonte was only willing to extend the check-​in deadline with five minutes (and we needed a bit more time). I told him we would run to the gate immediately as we had no time to waste, but still only en extension of five minutes was offered.

I asked Mr. Bonte what kind of aircraft we would be traveling in. He answered it was an A330. I told him that I work for Scandinavian Airlines myself, and that I am well aware of how much room there is onboard. We have the same aircrafts in our long- haul fleet, and I travel with such an aircraft every month between Oslo and New York. He still remained unwilling to work with us to find a solution. One of us asked to speak to his supervisor, to which he replied that he was the supervisor. Another one of us asked what would happen if the guitars were checked in and they were damaged. We were told by Mr. Bonte that we could file a complaint and it would be solved. We later found out that Qatar Airways would have a non-​liability policy that would not have helped us in such a matter. Now, in the midst of this frustrating exchange, Mr. Bonte has provided us with erroneous information that could have cost us valuable equipment and even more money.

I asked Mr. Bonte repeatedly if he could please check with the captain or purser, as I know they have more power and could have provided a second opinion and hopefully solved our small but very important issue. He was not willing to do so. I understand that this is a lot to ask for, but we were getting quite desperate at this point.

We told Mr. Bonte repeatedly that if this wasn’t worked out we would have to cancel the show in Dubai and leave our promoter with a huge financial loss and a not so pleasant aftermath (which I am now dealing with while our tour goes on and my focus should be elsewhere). He still refused to give us the little extra service that we needed from Qatar Airways; a service that we have gotten from every other airline in the past. We pointed out to Mr. Bonte that these instruments are irreplaceable, and they have a lot of value. Basically, nothing we told Mr. Bonte helped our matter. I can not speak for all of us, but myself, I tried to keep my contact with him on a civil level, possibly because I just could not believe that he would deny us check-​in unless these bags were checked in as luggage. Again, I was completely astonished by his lack of ability to seek a solution for us and make such a small exception on behalf of what I always thought (and still think) is a first class airline.

However, I really question if Mr. Bonte, although he kept being extremely difficult in a somewhat polite way, is the kind of person you want to front your team if you want to stay the best airline in the world on service and quality. We later heard from our Dubai promoter that he had tracked down Mr. Bonte, who then went on to serve him a different side of the story, which again made our promoter thinking that we never wanted to travel to Dubai in the first place. This is a serious insult, and I need to explain how this was never the case.

We spent around six hours at Brussels airport that day. If we never wanted to go to Dubai in the first place, why would we come to the airport? There are dozens of excuses we could have used to cancel the show if we never wanted to go to Dubai, that would have made the aftermath much easier to deal with than it is now.

After Mr. Bonte closed the check-​in, we really understood that he refused to assist us any further. We called the promoter and explained what had just happened. Our promoter was not willing to cancel our show, and we went to Turkish Airlines to book new flights. We explained what had happened, and they said they had no problems accepting our three guitar bags onboard. We were close to buying new tickets from them, but moved on to talk to Etihad Airlines as they had a flight later that day going to Abu Dhabi, because we found out that our return flight with QR was automatically canceled when we did not board the for the first leg (and TK could only offer one-​way tickets at a decent price).

Etihad Airways saw our three soft guitar bags, and their representative’s smile when telling him about our issues with Mister Bonte told me a lot about how bizarre this whole situation was.

Sorry if I repeat myself, but we never had this happen to us before, and experienced travelers I have spoken to later (facing the same scenario with the same request for a small special arrangement) have expressed that they would never have seen a situation like this coming.

Would we have spent several more hours at the airport going to Turkish Airlines and Etihad Airways to try to make it to Dubai if we did not intend to go there in the first place, like Mr. Bonte insinuated to our promoter?

As mentioned, at the time when we were about to buy new tickets (on the promoter’s expense because he strongly wanted this show to happen), we received information from our promoter that Mr. Bonte’s version of this all was very different to ours, which unfortunately ended up as the last nail in the coffin for what would and should have been the most exciting part of our tour.

I know that our promoter had bought 12 low-​priced tickets with no chances for refund or changes, plus he bought an extra seat for comfort. Due to the very unfortunate circumstances pointed out above, I kindly ask you to consider reimbursing the money Mister Sharbel Kanoun spent on buying these tickets from Qatar Airways. He has suffered a great loss due to Mr. Bonte’s lack of capability to be service-​minded and seeking solutions for us, although warned about the tragic outcome of his actions (or lack of actions).

I hope for a cooperative solution and look forward to your answer.

Yours sincerely,

For Mountain King Management: Frode Johnsrud

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