My former student Ian Hallas (now a bass student at the Colburn School of Music) had a pretty bad experience flying back to Los Angeles after winter break this year. This is the sort of experience that we bassists fear–good thing it didn’t turn out even worse for Ian. We are completely at the mercy of these indifferent companies and have basically no recourse at present but to take it on the chin with a bittersweet smile. I’ve had horrific bass travel moments like this before, let me assure you!
Here’s what happened to Ian:
To Whom it may Concern,
Yesterday I flew with a double bass. I have a hard case for it which qualifies the instrument as both oversize and overweight. Now, although the fees for those are outrageous and I ended up paying more than I would a ticket for another passenger (which i can’t do for the instrument-its simply too large), I would normally not hesitate to pay it because I am a full time student at the Colburn Conservatory in downtown LA and as part of my education, it needs to come with me wherever I go. I fly your airlines all the time and although this was the most I’ve ever had to pay for taking the bass with me, I do have a problem with paying this outrageous fee when it is obvious that it has been tampered with.
When I left the instrument with security at O’hare, they had assured me that all of the checks that needed to be addressed had been done so. This allowed me to personally pack up the instrument safely, which, if done by me and not having been tampered with past that, wouldn’t present a problem. But when I arrived in LA, my bass came flying off the conveyor belt. It appeared that it had been thrown from a higher level (because the belt was on an incline) regardless to the numerous fragile stickers around the case. It was at one point midair, and I do have witnesses to this who I can contact to back me up.
It was traveling so fast that it skidded on the belt to the very end where the top hit the metal barrier at the end-not because of the speed of the belt, but because of the momentum of the fall. Upon inspection inside the case, because that was absurdly scary, I discovered that the inside straps were loose and a portion of my new $400 bridge which I had put on 4 days prior, was marked with a black material that could only come from the top of the case-meaning it wasn’t strapped down properly. The cushions on the inside were moved and part of the cushion system wasn’t even on the instrument-it was just lying on the bed of the case. This means that someone had examined the case past inspection of security.
As I mentioned before, I was with security when they okayed the instrument for travel, so it was in no way necessary for it to be tampered with beyond that. Now, I still don’t have a problem with paying the various fees that apply to oversize and overweight, but I do when it’s obvious that proper respect for the instrument that I pay more than a ticket for is not given.
When I pay that much for an extra service, I expect that it will be given a little more attention, especially when there are notifications on the outside that let anyone and everyone that the contents are fragile. I would like to know what your airlines intend to do about this, because until I receive some sort of compensation for this, I will not even consider flying United again. And I will notify every musician I come in contact with who wonders about traveling not to fly United. And believe me, I know a lot of bass players out there who account for a large majority of these oversize and overweight fees you assess.
Here’s a video of Ian playing the second movement of the Bottesini Concerto with the bass in question (quite a nice instrument….and quite a nice performance!):