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TimRobinson
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My youngest is going to spend 12 months in the UK and needs to take her violin with her. I booked with and airline we have not flown before as their policy said that small instruments could be carry-on luggage. We have travelled with the case she will use many times before. Not having flown with X airlines before, and as they sent an email about luggage, I sought clarification. The response was that it would need to be checked-in and that she should bring it to the attention of the check-in staff. Fat chance! Now, should the worst happen and they require it to be checked-in, how should it be prepared just in case? Tension off the strings to begin with, what else?

Regards and thanks,

Tim

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In addition to tuning down the pegs a 1/2 step, I always roll up a sock on either side of the bridge and feed the extra length under the fingerboard and tailpiece. I also put socks on either side of the peg heads as well as under and over the scroll. Finally, I put more socks around the violin ribs if there is any movement. It's also a good idea to put a rubberband around the bow toggle (in case it turns during travel). You may also want an extra layer of padding above the bridge if the case is high - just make sure there is no force applied to the top of the instrument upon closing the case. You should put the shoulder rest, rosin, and anything else that is loose in the case in another bag (or mail them).

By the way, even if the flight attendants say it must be at least gate checked, they will almost always relent when you state it is a valuable wooden instrument and can't be checked under any circumstances. I travel all the time with a double violin/viola case using the above precautions with no problems.

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Depending on value of the instrument get a silk bag - check the case - take the instrument with you on the plane. It's not worth the risk as far as i'm concerned.

Ive posted before on a flight between salt lake city and dallas where i was forced to check a double violin case which also had a digital thermometer and hygrometer in it and the lowest temperature recorded was 23 degrees when viewing the thermometer history.

An international flight serves more opportunity for lower temperatures. From my point of view this is a great risk especially for instruments of antiquity.

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Thanks all for the suggestions. It is a 24 hour flight from Sydney to London, so the instrument does need to be in a case. In the past when we travelled as a group one of us just had the case slung over a shoulder and didn't mention it at all and never a problem. I get the sense that airlines are getting thingy about luggage. The instrument is not old, but is by a contemporary Oz maker and does need to arrive in one piece so Maddie can play it!

Regards and thanks all,

Tim

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Depending on value of the instrument get a silk bag - check the case - take the instrument with you on the plane. It's not worth the risk as far as i'm concerned.

Andrew, a violin in a silk bag is still too long for some airline guidelines. It irks me a bit, because I see people bringing on much bulkier luggage (perhaps not as long) without challenge.

In a recent incident, space was tight in the overhead compartments (people trying to bring all their luggage into the cabin so it wouldn't get lost in baggage, can't blame 'em), and the stewardess, er, flight attendant told me that the violin would need to go in baggage. I told her the value of the violin, and suggested that perhaps some less valuable items could go into baggage instead. She said no, but then miraculously found room in the cabin.

What will I do in the future? Perhaps I'll take one of my standard shipping boxes filled with packing material to the gate, use it if an instrument is required to go into baggage, and abandon it at the gate if the instrument gets into the cabin. About 10 bucks for the option. Cheaper than buying a seat.

Other suggestions?

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She can make things easier on herself if she doesn't have other carry-on, or at most a small bag. It shows a reasonable attempt on her part to make things easier for the flight crew.

Also, a shaped case looks much smaller than an oblong (rectangular) case, even though it's not really that much different.

I wouldn't put an instrument in checked baggage; if that's the option, perhaps you could consider renting or borrowing another instrument in the UK.

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Other suggestions?

David,

What has worked well for me for taking a fiddle as carry-on is the BAM Hightech Overhead, Violin only case. The case is 25 inches long and dart shaped to minimize size. That 25 inch length may, technically, still be longer than the 22 inches allowed for the length dimension in carry on, but it's considerably shorter than the 31 to 32 inches of a standard case and thus easier to store.

It sounds as if your difficulty was not with the size of your carry-on, but that the crew was limiting all carry-ons, even of those of acceptable size. That is indeed something crews can do when space gets tight.

How to deal with having a violin shunted into check-in? If I had to prepare for that eventuality then I'd: 1. Use an honest to goodness shipping case to carry fiddle in, not the BAM Hightech nor the Trekker, but a 7 lb shipping case for violin alone, about 25 to 26 inches in length, like, for instance, Bobelock makes. 2. Bring that extra, possible throw-away, box to place fiddle-in-case into.

The problem with step 2, above, is that you won't know until you get right to the gate, perhaps not until the plane entrance, that you need to check in the fiddle. So, you'd have to have the extra box with you until then. The crew may see the box and either: 1. See that you're prepared to have your shipping case go into check-in, so let's put it in the box and check it in. Or 2. Get worried about you bringing the box as carry-on, and you'd have to deal with that misunderstanding.

For me, the only real solution is to not board the plane if the fiddle can't go with me, because a fiddle in check-in is too scary. A bow can be packed to survive check-in; that's why a violin-only case as a carry-on works for me. But a fiddle in check-in, that doesn't work for me.

The problem for me with checking a fiddle in is that I imagine it's mishandled more and in more danger of damage than it would be if shipped by one of the major shippers, USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc. There, at least, an individual box can be insured and the company may give it fragile handling. I'd be delighted and relieved to hear from Maestronet posters that check-in baggage is treated at least with as much care as even uninsured packages are at the major shippers; but I doubt that that's true.

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I would not check a bare case. The only time I've ever had something disappear from checked baggage was a checked case. . . which was fortunately empty. Put it in a shipping box with lots of good packing if you're going to check it.

Also, please tell us which airline is doing this to you. It's their policy, so they shouldn't mind, and I'm sure many players would like to know which airline to not fly.

I haven't flown recently, but when I did my policy was to use a small case and keep a low profile, with the case tucked vertical behind my far shoulder whenever possible. And be early to check in, with a seat reserved at the back, so you're first to board, while there's still lots of overhead space. Those are the survivor seats, anyway. :-)

Once I got a ticketed cello on board with no one noticing. The person I was flying with carried his over his head, yelling "watch out--valuable instrument coming through!" They nailed him, took him off the plane, wouldn't let him load until they'd checked with everyone that it was OK. Meanwhile, I was in my seat, and asked the attendant for a seatbelt extender. She smiled and said "Oh, I didn't even notice!" If you create a fuss, THEY will make a fuss, and they will always win. If you're going to do something someone may not want you to do, it's best to be invisible.

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Which airline is it? Good advice is to check-in as early as possible and print your boarding card before you leave home, so all you have to do is check in your hold luggage. Someone else should look after the violin well away from the check-in gate while doing this. I never never ever mention the violin case at check-in, once you start to talk about anything out of the ordinary, the staff will zone in on that and you attract unwanted attention.

I definitely agree that any other hand luggage should be absolutely minimal. Maybe get a light coat with loads of pockets for bits and pieces, buy books etc air-side. My smallest and lightest case will fit into any back-pack.

If the airline had something on-line which said instruments could be carried as cabin baggage, print it out as presentable evidence should there be a problem. I also make sure that when I am boarding the plane I queue behind the business person with the biggest, most bulky suit-carrier/roller bag, plus lap-top case, plus duty free swag that I can see, a violin case looks tiny in comparison.

Is your daughter travelling as an unaccompanied minor?

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What will I do in the future? Perhaps I'll take one of my standard shipping boxes filled with packing material to the gate, use it if an instrument is required to go into baggage, and abandon it at the gate if the instrument gets into the cabin. About 10 bucks for the option. Cheaper than buying a seat.

Other suggestions?

Hi David,

It is that crap shoot aspect of all this that I find maddening...

Given the "security" issues, I wonder if you would always get as far as the gate with a box filled with "packing material."

All the best,

A.C.

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Which airline is it? Good advice is to check-in as early as possible and print your boarding card before you leave home, so all you have to do is check in your hold luggage. Someone else should look after the violin well away from the check-in gate while doing this. I never never ever mention the violin case at check-in, once you start to talk about anything out of the ordinary, the staff will zone in on that and you attract unwanted attention.

<snip>

Is your daughter travelling as an unaccompanied minor?

Thanks all for the advice. My original text for the post identified the airline, then I decided to take it out. Not that I'm paranoid but given that I think we will adopt your strategy I don't want the wonders of the 'net to flag me or Maddie.

Maddie is 18, so not a minor. In the past we have flown Emirates to Europe with no problems at all. A different airline this time, and at least in Australia there has been a bit of noise from airlines recently about luggage policies. The email message they sent about luggage made me think this might be a problem. I will print out their policy which refers to small instruments being allowed as carry-on so she has it with her to use if there's any issue.

Regards,

Tim

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Tim,

If the probability is very high that you'll have to check in the fiddle, then you might consider having the fiddle shipped instead (with all the extra care that would bring) ahead of time to the UK.

If the probability is rather low that you will have to check in the fiddle, then you can reduce that probability even further by having the fiddle in a violin only case, 25 to 26 inches long, and let that be the only carry-on your daughter has.

Your daughter will probably want to have check-in luggage for a 12 month trip. So, you can store the bow in the check-in luggage without much concern, if you have really good hard-sided luggage, a good bow case and a scheme to pad the bow case in the luggage.

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Tim,

If the probability is very high that you'll have to check in the fiddle, then you might consider having the fiddle shipped instead (with all the extra care that would bring) ahead of time to the UK.

If the probability is rather low that you will have to check in the fiddle, then you can reduce that probability even further by having the fiddle in a violin only case, 25 to 26 inches long, and let that be the only carry-on your daughter has.

Your daughter will probably want to have check-in luggage for a 12 month trip. So, you can store the bow in the check-in luggage without much concern, if you have really good hard-sided luggage, a good bow case and a scheme to pad the bow case in the luggage.

Thanks for the advice. She leaves on 29 December so had not made any alternative plans, I had not thought we would have an issue until very recently. Possibly I'm overreacting and it won't be a problem. I think we'll give it a go at the airport, if that fails we will take the violin home and arrange shipping. She will not need the violin straight away and I'm sure the school she is going to will have an instrument she can borrow. (Maddie is going to be a "gappie" at a school in West Sussex.

Thanks all for the replies.

Tim

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Hi David,

It is that crap shoot aspect of all this that I find maddening...

Me too. I usually try to contact the airline first and get authorization, then have them send an email so there's some documentation. One time at the gate, the instrument was flagged, I presented the email, and the gate person said, "The authority to decide is at the gate. It doesn't matter what someone else at the airline said".

I also normally carry a copy of letter from the Transportation Security Administration, written to the president of the American Federation of Musicians, stating that instruments are allowed as carry-on, in addition to the normal limit of one carry-on and one personal item. That can help, unless the airline people are aware that this only has bearing on the TSA security screening. The airline is still free to reject the item.

In that incident where the flight attendant said the violin would need to go in baggage, I thought I had followed all the common sense guidelines. The case was a short Bobelock shipping case. I had boarded early so there was plenty of space. All was well until that time when the attendants go through slamming overhead compartment doors. One wouldn't close, because someone after me had put in a large piece of luggage. The door would close if that large piece of luggage was rotated, but the violin was in the way. That was when the flight attendant said, "Whose is this? It will need to go in baggage".

Part of it may be a money grab. Many airlines now are charging about $50 for each checked item, so there's the potential to make more money if the instrument isn't allowed in the cabin.

This was posted recently on another forum, and might be helpful:

"I am an airline Captain in the USA. I hear the same kind of worries and complaints about guitars being brought on board. My family travels with numerous instruments on vacation, and we have also run into determined ground agents trying to get us to check our instruments.

At least in the USA, the ground agents have no power to force you to check your instrument. But they may be very insistent. What I do is tell them I will take it to the aircraft and see if there is a closet that it will fit in. The flight attendant is the final authority on what goes in the cabin, so a polite and friendly request to the flight attendant is your best bet getting an instrument on board. Be prepared for them to refuse, but we have not had it happen yet. You can always check it planeside. In any case, this is usually a much better situation because your instrument only has to go from the door of the airplane down into cargo, and you will get it back at your destination right at the door. This avoids the whole checked baggage system and thus reduces chances of damage or loss.

Each airline posts their carry-on rules online, and be sure to search under 'musical instrument' to get their specific rules. Print it out and bring it with you to the airport in case you have to educate a hostile ticket agent. Checked baggage rules are important to know, too. Sometimes the airline will disallow damage claims if the instrument was tuned to concert pitch. Put some kind of belt around the case to prevent it opening if it has to be checked. Always use a hard case, not a gig bag by itself.

Flight crews generally want to help, so be courteous to the flight attendant and you have a good chance of getting your instrument on board."

*

A warning with one of his suggestions: I've checked things planeside, and they were tagged to be returned to me at the destination gate. They ended up at the normal baggage claim anyway.

*

More from the same airline captain:

"As long as the item is not blatantly oversized, the gate agent should let you take it down to the aircraft even if they are confiscating bags at the top of the jetway. I've seen this when they are overzealous about their job. There are numerous closets on most airplanes, and even crew bag storage areas where crew might find a spot. It is even legal to seat belt a carry on item into an empty seat, as long as it does not impede seeing any signs or block any exits. Window seat in a non-exit row should work fine."

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There is one area that, as a passenger, is designated as yours alone: the area under the seat in front of you.

My experience is that suspension cases (even violin-without-bow suspension cases) may be too high to fit there.

I have been able to fit a shaped case into that area, with a chunk of the nose sticking out, and I believe (it's been a while ago) it was an old, low profile, non-suspension case.

If one took such an old, low profile, non-suspension shaped case, and cut 6 or so inches off the nose to turn it into a violin only case, the case would fit under the seat in front of you. The nose would still stick out a bit but not much. If you had a window seat, that nose sticking out a bit would endanger no one. When boarding, if the attendant hassles you about your fiddle, you can -- almost truthfully -- say, it fits under the seat in front of you.

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I second the option of asking for an available locker on the plane. I did this just two days ago when I was late to the gate with no hope of getting overhead space. The attendant in the plane was more than happy to accommodate me. I was also happy to find that the closet available was full of pillows and thus afforded a more comfortable trip for my instrument than I experienced.

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On a flight to ireland from new york about this time last year i ran into a situation with a double violin case fitting in the overhead no problem, but people had so much christmas crap and coats it caused some issues. Flight attendant actually let me stow the case in a bulkhead closet with no problem after describing the value of the instruments.

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I regularly ship violins internationally, and have had no problems so far. I don't know how things are in OZ, but would shipping it, properly packed, be an option? Seems like it might be a lot less hassle. I just use our Post Office Priority mail, and things get where they are going in less than a week. If you do that, it might be a good idea to find out what you have to do to guarantee getting it through Customs with no problems.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just an update on the violin.

Maddie flew out this afternoon, to London with a 3 hour transit at KL.

One of the reasons I was concerned about this was that this is the first time my daughter has flown internationally by herself. Before there has been the whole family and if there was a problem I would happily get stroppy if necessary (most of the time I am a very reasonable person and find logic generally works - but sometimes a very public fuss does wonders).

The airline was Malaysian Airlines. I emailed the only contact I could find, which was really the complaints mechanism (why I do I have the sense airlines don't really want to talk to their customers) and the initial response was that the violin had to be checked in. I replied saying we had never had a problem before and said the instrument could not go in the hold. The response was that they consulted the check-in counter in Sydney and that a violin was OK as cabin baggage. I thanked them and said I would tell others in the violin world (hence this post).

Maddie had a printout of the email and an extract from their baggage policy which says that "small" musical instruments can go as cabin baggage. Small is not further defined.

The whole thing was accurately described as a crap shoot, and it really still is - which is not satisfactory.

Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I'm just pleased Mad doesn't play the 'cello, one her friends had to buy two seats to London so her 'cello would get there in one piece. From Sydney, this is not a cheap option. Mind you, at least you'd know who was sitting next to you :)

Regards,

Tim

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Just heard this story on the 7am news:

Qantas faces the Facebook music

Updated 16 minutes ago

Musicians will now be allowed to carry their instruments on board Qantas flights, after the airline bowed to a social networking campaign.

Instruments were previously consigned to the cargo hold but Qantas has now adopted a policy that allows them to be carried on board.

A campaign on Facebook drew thousands of supporters who were outraged that instruments were at risk of being damaged in the hold on Qantas planes.

A Qantas spokesman has confirmed that as a result of customer feedback, instruments not exceeding 81 centimetres in length and 30 centimetres in height will be allowed on board.

Tags: air-transport, australia

First posted 15 minutes ago

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/12/30/3103538.htm?section=justin

The origins of the story were an orchestral player having serious damage done to her violin on a flight from Tasmania. This most recent change extends the earlier backdown which allowed violins and violas in the cabin, which in istself was the result in part of a Facebook protest. This change, to quote saxophonist Jamie Oehlers "ends the discrimination between violins and violas and any instruments of the same size."

A similar campaign should be conducted for all airlines.

Regards,

Tim

PS - edited after reading moreof the story in the Sydney Morning Herald

Edited by TimRobinson
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