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Flying with a violin


Brad Dorsey
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I just flew across the country, round trip, with a violin. I don't do this often, but every time I have tried I have been able to carry my violin on the plane. Some of you might like to hear my strategy: The problem is that a violin in a case with a bow exceeds the carry-on size limit (It's too long.), so basically I try to make the violin look as small as possible so no one will look at it hard enough to realize how long it is. A shaped case looks a lot smaller than an oblong one, so that's what I use. Also, whenever I pass through a critical point, to make the case look smaller I carry it vertically, as low as possible and right against my legs, rather than horizontally by the handle. The security screeners don't seem to care how big it is; they just want to make sure there's not a bomb inside. I also have several violins, so, realizing that I might be required to check it, I always bring one that I don't care too much about, in case it gets lost or smashed.

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Our travel agent calls ahead to politely explain the situation and ask whether a violin will be a problem. We also have a letter from the Transportation Security Administration stating that instruments are ok as carry-ons, to show to the person at the gate. But there's no guarantee. If the person at the gate chooses to enforce the carry-on size restrictions, they can.

The whole thing is pretty stressful, actually.

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Years ago, when my brother-in-law flew to Cincinnati for his audition with the CSO, he was compelled to check his viola. Of course, the viola flew on to Boston, or some such place, and he had to do his audition on a loaner viola (all the while worrying about the status of his lost instrument).

Happily, he won the audition & the rest is history. I suspect the traumas of losing his viola relieved him of a lot of the usual performance anxiety--gave him a "What the hell" attitude. In fact, he probably auditioned on a better viola!

This isn't a justification of airline policies!!--Just an interesting story.

J.

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I can imagine that it becomes very stressful, and it's something I would not wish to go through on a regular basis. Some gate agents and security personnel have bad attitudes, like some service people in all industries. However, I would do whatever I could to get it stowed in the cabin. I've seen the way they throw those bags around.

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He should go to the airline public relations department and tell his story. He might be able to star in a commercial. They just started and airline called "Song" here in Atlanta. I think it's a crazy idea for an airline name, but your brother-in-law could be the spokesperson.

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In reply to:

Years ago, when my brother-in-law flew to Cincinnati for his audition with the CSO, he was compelled to check his viola. Of course, the viola flew on to Boston, or some such place, and he had to do his audition on a loaner viola (all the while worrying about the status of his lost instrument).


Good heavens, that has to be the most horrible airline experience I've heard yet.

So far my spouse has only had one experience (knock on wood) where the airline wouldn't allow his violin in the cabin. Fortunately he was close enough to rent a car and drive home overnight instead. But he lives in fear that it might happen on a long-distance trip, especially on the way to a performance where he doesn't have time to switch to another airline or make other last-minute travel arrangements. It has to be ten times worse for violists... just not a lot you can do to make a viola case look small.

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I flew to the U.S. over Christmas, and I worried about this as well. I called BA about it and they told me that as long as the total dimensions of the case didn't exceed the total sum of their carry-on dimensions there would be no problem. The total dimensions were 46 inches and my case (a Continental by American Case Company) was just under the limit. The phone rep was nice and told me that the airline realized that all bags wouldn't conform to their size-wize limits, but if the total wasn't greater than 46 inches and it fit into the overhead compartment it wasn't a problem. Of course, I had none of this in writing so I was still worried. In the end I carried it on (both ways) without a problem.

It's funny you bring this up, because I have been recently trying to find out the dimensions of double violin cases. I am already trying to find a case for next summer when I move back to the U.S. and have to fly with both of my violins (not to mention the bows). So far it looks like the Gordge double case is the smallest due to its lack of suspension, but I haven't been able to get the dimensions yet. The BAM case is pretty large and it is not far off the mark at 52 total inches.

Here are two examples of the carry-on limits:

British Air = 22 x 16 x 8 = 46

Delta 22 x 14 x 9 = 45

When I fly I make a point not to show the case to the ticket agent at the initial check-in. I keep it out of sight until I show up at the gate. I just try to look like I know what I am doing, and I never look back.

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I recently moved back to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia and was obliged to fly on Saudia Airlines. Even after inspecting the case and putting their sweaty paws all over my fiddle, they insisted that I would have to check my violin, despite my impassioned protests. I had NO desire to stay in that country any longer, so I took a chance and checked it; fortunately it was undamaged! (Sprite beware - if you are still there!)

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I've flown many times with my more-or-less standard sized oblong violin case. I've never had a problem with it yet. I've even been allowed to carry it on a small turboprop where it fit overhead very nicely. I just keep the case over my shoulder & kind of behind me so they can't see it that easily. In fact, the security guard singled me out & searched through my case before I boarded the turboprop. He said my fiddle was pretty, closed the case up, & sent me on my merry way!

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Sounds like the experience can be hit or miss. This was posted at another site:

"Some airports have a new x-ray machine that apparently shoots your items through at 40 mph. The cello in question was in a Rouillard case, the people at the airport refused to do a hand inspection of it although the cellist explained the situation and the delicate nature of the instrument and consequences. Talk about your cello sensitivity courses... Anyway, the cello was "caught" on the other end and didn't smash into anything, it was fine, but I thought some of you might want to know what can await you now or in the near future if more airports get this gadget.

Also, some extra strings have been confiscated from cases of violins and cellos, and in at least one case airline personnel requested the strings actually be removed from the violins. Must be viewed as a potential choking weapon? Are they confiscating all neckties from businessmen?

Maybe it's a plot by the makers of clip-on ties.

........... Another cellist was told he could not purchase a seat for the cello, and he had no other choice of airline to that particular destination.

One lost an endpin entirely, one had to check it in luggage, and others have not even had their cello cases opened. Go figure."

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Years ago I flew from Boston to Cleveland to audition at Oberlin with my bass! The airline allowed me to purchase a child fare and strap it in next to me! As I recall, I had to fly first class to get enough space between seats to allow this. As it worked out, on my return flight, they needed the seat for a human passenger, stood the bass up somewhere near the pilots' cabin, and refunded my 1/2 price ticket! I doubt any airline would be as accomodating as that one back in the early 60's! fran

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That was a good article. I fly a lot and have bought an inexpensive violin in case they make me check it. Delta seems to be a big problem. They once tried to force me to check a Vuillaume that I did not own. I had a double case. That was a close call. The absurd thing is that the typical oblong case is much less trouble in an overhead than most luggage. And what does one do if he buys a second ticket, strap the instrument in? That is probably not safe either. Fortunately, I do not make living off the violin and thus, do not have to tote a six figure instrument about. I would think the musicians' union would do something about this.

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I just this week returned from Canada and brought back a violin I bought in Victoria. I had absolutely no problems. The ticket agent said as long as it fit in the overhead luggage compartment it was fine to carry on. I also met another man with a violin and he had no problems. I flew Delta Airlines from Seattle, Wash. to Atlanta, then boarded a small prop-jet to Montgomery, Ala. The stewardess on the prop jet said there would be no problem if it would fit the overhead compartment, or I could place it under the seat but not across where my feet would go. As it turned out, the overhead compartments were about full when we boarded the smaller plane and the stewardess put my violin in a compartment at the rear of the plane. I found the airlines people to be very courteous and helpful, and there were no problems with security. Just to be on the safe side, I measured the total dimensions of the case. It is a fabric covered square case and the total dimensions just fit under the Delta rules of 45 total inches (length, width and depth). I checked by carry on clothes bag through and hand carried the violin. Just to be on the safe side, I removed the bridge and placed a folded sock under the tailpiece so the tuners wouldn't dig into the top. All in all, it was a trouble free trip for the violin and us.

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