Musical instruments on planes – Air France vs Easyjet: and the winner is…


“Dear Musicians’ Union

I am writing to let you know about a recent incident concerning Air France when travelling out of London Heathrow Terminal 4 to Paris Charles de Gaulle.

I thought perhaps you might be interested to have further evidence of the continuing untenable circumstances faced by musicians who have international careers and thus need to travel on a frequent basis.

I play the gothic bray harp. This is a very small harp measuring 106 x 46 x 22 cm. It looks a bit like an acoustic guitar. This year alone I have played in 10 European countries taking over 30 one way flights in order to play and teach.

I had already flown with Air France on 4 separate occasions in 2013 alone without incident. However, on Saturday 23rd November, I arrived at London Heathrow for the return portion of a Paris to London to Paris flight. I had flown to England with my harp as hand luggage on the outward bound already (on Thursday 14th November). At check in, the check in clerk proceeded to label my baggage and then called over a supervisor when he saw my instrument. I explained that it fits no problem in the overhead locker and that I had flown to London with it as hand luggage. Also, I had no other hand luggage. The Air France representative said that I would have to buy an extra seat, that it would take up 3 people’s luggage space in the overhead bins and that the Air France policy is clear; if it is outwith the normal dimensions for hand luggage (55 x 35 x 25 cm) it cannot be taken on as hand baggage. He insisted on repeating that by buying a ticket I had accepted these conditions.

At least clear application of rules would mean I know what to expect instead of always being at the whim of whoever happens to be working at the airport on any particular day

I spoke to the Air France duty manager at the Terminal and put forward the point that the inconsistency is what makes it so hard to travel. If there was a clear policy of ALWAYS charging for an extra seat for everything outside the hand baggage gauge (which would include trumpets, violins, saxophones etc), then the people I work for would recognise I have to have an extra seat (I realise that this is in fact discriminatory, but at least clear application of rules would mean I know what to expect instead of always being at the whim of whoever happens to be working at the airport on any particular day). She apologised for the lack of consistency but of course, this didn’t make any difference at the time.

I was forced to buy a Eurostar ticket for travel later that day at much inconvenience and not inconsiderable extra cost.

Clearly, I believe their musical instrument policy is discriminatory as well because it means ringing to buy a ticket at extra cost in comparison with buying online and the added fear that an overbooked flight will anyway force you to either put the instrument overhead (ridiculous considering how much you’ve been forced to pay for the extra seat) or in the hold (at which point I would have to disembark and not travel for fear of what would happen to it in the tender hands of baggage handlers). However, in the mean time, I am writing to complain to their CEO about inconsistency of application of the rules.

It seems to me that conditions are worsening, having travelled on a regular basis as a medieval harpist for the past 13 years. This I believe is due to changing ways in which people travel (now far more only carry hand baggage) and the growing numbers of passengers putting more pressure on the overhead lockers. What frustrates me is that a suitcase would only rarely have contents worth £3500 (the value of my instrument) and are unlikely to break and become unuseable if transported in the hold whereas my harp would be at serious danger of irreparable damage. I cannot hire an instrument on arrival and if it did break, I would be out of action until it could be repaired or a new one could be made – months of not working.

I know that as representatives of musicians you must have heard lots of similar, if not worse, stories but I hope that this adds to your evidence collection in a useful way.

All the very best,

PS I would like to say that Easyjet continue to be my favourite and most trusted airline; their instrument policy is clear and their staff are always welcoming and understanding. With speedy boarding I never have a problem finding a space for my instrument and I am never questioned about it even when the staff are having difficulty finding room for all the other passengers’ bags. Long may this continue”.

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