By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News
Strict security measures at UK airports are having a "devastating impact" on musicians, says the Musicians' Union.
Some classical instruments are worth as much as £30,000
It says its members "are reporting significant lost earnings" because they are unable to take their instruments on board aircraft as hand luggage.
Many instruments are too fragile to be placed in the hold of an airliner, the union told the BBC News website.
But the Department for Transport says the security regulations will "be in place for as long as they need to be".
Under the rules, passengers are allowed one item of cabin baggage, which must be no larger than a laptop bag.
A spokeswoman at the Department for Transport said instruments would have to be checked into the hold until the security situation was downgraded.
'Valuable and delicate'
US duo Marcolivia say they may have to leave their violins in the UK
US violin duo Marc Ramirez and Olivia Hajioff, who play together as Marcolivia, contacted the BBC to tell how they had been affected by the restrictions.
"We have been in Europe this summer performing at various music festivals," wrote Hajioff.
"We are planning to return to the States on 27 August, but have been informed by the airline and by the Department for Transport that we will not be able to take our violins with us into the cabin.
"Our violins are extremely valuable and delicate," she continued. "There is no way that we, or any other serious musician, could consider putting them in the hold.
"This means that we would have to return home without our instruments indefinitely."
The Musicians' Union is speaking to the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) about the restrictions, but says progress is slow because Parliament is in recess for the summer.
"We understand that the situation is urgent and we are working very closely with the Department for Transport on this issue," said a DCMS spokeswoman.
"We have made progress on chartered flights, but the issues surrounding commercial flights remain to be resolved.
"We do also understand that this is a security situation," she added.
In the meantime, several musicians face potential legal action for breaking contracts to perform abroad, said assistant general secretary of the Musicians' Union, Horace Trubridge.
He says musicians cannot afford to risk putting violins or saxophones into the hold because "their instruments are often extremely valuable, with replacement costs in excess of £30,000".
"Should the current arrangements remain in place, we believe that they will have a devastating impact upon the working lives of professional musicians," he added.
Ms Hajioff agrees. "There should be a dispensation for travelling musicians," she says.
"There are so few of us and it is so easy to screen the instruments carefully that I cannot see how this would be a problem."
Airlines contacted by the BBC said they had to abide by the Department for Transport regulations.
Your comments on this story:
I am a violinist. I took my violin with me to the UK as hand luggage before the ban was imposed. I was forced to put it in the hold on the way back. This was terrible for me. A guitarist on the plane had his guitar with him. I should have been more assertive. I cannot understand why there is not an exception for musical instruments, since they are so fragile, and vital to the musician's life. The number of travelling musicians must be comparatively tiny, and the amount of effort needed to look in a few instrument cases would be correspondingly small.
Aled Roberts, Boise USA
I am an amateur cellist and certainly would not contemplate putting my beloved cello in the hold. I hope a solution is found quickly and they are soon back in the cabin where they belong. Once they are, follow the example of a professional musician (I forget who it was) who, in revenge for having to buy a seat for his cello, always demanded kosher food for it!
Stephanie Clarke, Cambridge, UK
Last time we returned from a USA tour by plane all the larger instruments had to go in the hold (all packed well and clearly marked as fragile). Imagine our horror when we landed in England and watched from the airport as every instrument was thrown from the plane onto the luggage truck. Four out of approximately 20 instruments were damaged (as well as several cases), and the airline initially refused to take responsibility until we pointed out we had witnessed the whole thing!
The whole basis of the restrictions is ridiculous. This is a political tool to make it look as though Government is doing something. Simply put, if there is a substantial risk to aviation, nothing should be allowed on board (hold or cabin) unless it can be positively cleared. Otherwise we have to accept a degree of risk (as we had before this "alert" was raised). Remember, the security services were aware of this "risk" for weeks before we were all stopped a the car park. It is all smoke and mirrors to make the politicians look better.
PJ, Hampshire UK
It's not only the danger of damage from the instruments being knocked about, it's the damage inflicted by temperature which is a major issue. Extreme cold will more than likely split the wood, or possibly damage the valves of many instruments. Then, going from the cold to the heat will more than likely warp the wood, making them unplayable.
Sadly, it isn't as simple as packing instruments in a flight case.
Whilst there is a problem separating musicians fro their valuable instruments, surely there is a fair compromise. The Airlines should offer adequate compensation for valuable items that are placed in their care? I have spent far to much time watching baggage staff throw cases, marked fragile or otherwise into and out of holds. We who work in Rock and Roll spend a fortune on flight cases and excess baggage, and these cases are regularly damaged in transit. All we ask is fair compensation.
ciz, London, England
This issue is not just one that has just come up. As an amateur violist, I am faced with this problem every time I travel, especially with budget airlines. Even if you speak to someone beforehand and get their consent, it's a different matter once you arrive at the airport. And it's not just a question of the turbulence or rough handling of the instruments, the temperature and humidity of the hold can cause enormous damage to instruments. In the case of stringed instruments, the wood can warp and crack causing hundreds if not thousands of pounds worth of damage. I am lucky that I do not have to rely on music for a living, but I know many people who face this nightmare several times a year.
Jennifer, Birmingham, UK
As an amateur 'cellist I do understand the delicacy and values of string instruments in particular. Sadly, even proper flight cases do not guarantee protection. The suggestion of instruments being handled as "cargo" rather than "baggage" has potential merits. It must be within the capabilities of the Airlines, Insurance Companies, and the Musicians Union to work together on that one and come up with a solution. I'm sure that one is needed because I can't imagine it being too long before other countries insist on similarly stringent hand-baggage restrictions.
Malcolm Clark, Derby
I have work experience with aviation security in America, and am aware of how luggage is handled. If your luggage can't tolerate a corner-first drop of several feet onto a concrete floor from time to time, you shouldn't check it into the hold.
Harry Erwin, PhD, Sunderland UK (and US)
I have an acoustic guitar, which I love so much. I will surely buy a good flight case at any cost for that instrument because it means a lot to me. People, you've got to understand that these rules are for you own life sake. Either grow up or decide not to fly for as long as these rules are still operating.
Kojo , London
I recently came back from Germany and my suitcase had been crushed in the corner and resulted in a bugle in my case being damaged. I contacted the insurance company and was aghast to be told musical instruments are not covered if they are in the hold - neither are other valuables i.e. cameras. Had I sat on it in the departure lounge or dropped it, it would have been covered. So it is no wonder musicians and other professionals are reluctant to not put items in the hold
Steve Konarski, Manchester England
There was a cellist on my flight to Belfast on Monday who had no problems getting it in the cabin, and stored at the front of the plane. For those travelling to the States I'd probably suggest flying out to Schipol/Charles De Gaule and then back over to America. OR fly to Canada and then a local flight into the states.
My instrument is moderately valuable - I've travelled with my violin by air before and have always insisted on taking it into the cabin. In October I'm supposed to be taking it to play at a friend's wedding but unless the rules are relaxed by then I'll be leaving it at home - it's not worth the risk. I don't at all support the ban on taking instruments into the cabin but I imagine that if authorities make an exception here, they will be pushed into making other exceptions - at least the blanket '1 piece' rule is simple to implement at the moment.
This story breaks my heart. Once upon a time, about 10 years ago, I was a cellist. An airline, which shall remain nameless, reneged on their prior agreement to allow me to take my $30,000 cello into the cabin, to be stored in the first class area. When I got to the airport, I was told I would either have to place the instrument in the hold or fly without it. I was a student in the US flying home for Christmas, I had no money and an impossible decision to make. I made the wrong one. I was told the cello would be hand carried off of the plan and handed to me... It came out on the conveyor belt. It was totally smashed to pieces. I was in such a state they had to allow my mother through customs and into the baggage area to literally pick me up off of the floor. I was too devastated to ever play again - I had grown up with the 'cello and not only could we not afford another, I wouldn't touch another. My heart goes out to those musicians caught up in this fiasco (that's another story) and am yet again gobsmacked by the sledgehammer of blanket bureaucracy.
Candice Madison, London
While I'm not a professional musician (by a long way!) I often travel with my concertina. In order to take this in an unpressurised hold of an aircraft a strong, shock-proof case, as suggested in one of the comments, is not sufficient, as I would also need to dismantle the instrument to prevent the valves or bellows being destroyed by pressure differences. I would hate to be a professional box player with the current regulations.
Tom Goodale, Cardiff, UK
I am a professional violinist living in London and would like to point out that although it is a similar situation for other professions, I would be very surprised if any other equipment that people carry on to a plane can be valued in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds. Optical equipment such as cameras etc. are factory produced and made in numbers. Our instruments have an intrinsic cultural value and uniqueness that make them an exception.
I am originally from Britain and got married and Britain, my parents are coming to visit me in the US and were planning to bring over my wedding album, which I haven't seen yet, and my violin. I am desperate to have these things, but I also believe that I would rather have my parents on a secure flight with proper security checks, where security people were not trying to rush through because they are checking various items. Unfortunate as this situation is, wouldn't we all prefer security of ourselves and our instruments over having what we want for ourselves!
Insuring a Stradivarius, even if possible, does not mean a thing. There are only a few hundred exceedingly valuable violins around the world. They cannot be replaced. Nobody will ever build anything like them. Ever.
Professional classical musicians are few. Why could they not register in advance with the police, and apply for an official document proving that their instrument is a bona fide item? That seems to me considerably less complex and expensive than all manners of administrative hassles we are already submitted to.
Robert Marchenoir, Paris, France
It's not just musicians that are affected. I know of an antique dealer that sells old jewellery, which he always takes with him as hand baggage. Now, his entire transatlantic trade is cancelled.
Markus, London, UK
This reminded me of a friend who plays the double bass professionally and arrived home in Canada from a tour to find the airline lost his double bass. He gave it to them crated, well protected and well marked. How do you lose a crated double bass? It would take two people to try and move it. Since the double bass, he has lost 2 electric basses. He fights to take his instrument on board but size issues prevent him.
I am a Saxophonist and every time I travel I always go through a ridiculous routine at baggage check-in of being told I can not take the instrument as hand luggage. I always insist and by the time I get to the plane it is never an issue. These instruments are too fragile and expensive to have thrown in a hold and I would sympathise with my fellow musicians over the current situation. I would agree that the inspection of such items should be very easy and to bar them from the overhead luggage is ridiculous.
Richard Woodling, Fordingbridge Hants.
Al Capone always had a violin case with him but that doesn't mean he played it very well.
Use a courier like everyone else has to do when they need to send something valuable.
I'm a cellist by profession and I will travel to the UK - by boat! To put the instrument into the hold of an airplane is absolutely out of the question. In the above article the value of classical instruments is said to be as much as £ 30,000. Adding an 0 and putting the prize up to £ 300,000 would come closer to the real value of some old Italian violins or cellos. Besides that, there is the uniqueness of the sound and quality of each instrument through which a musician expresses himself, that cannot be replaced, should the instrument suffer damage.
Cornelia Hahn, Switzerland
I am not a musician, but I am a sports photographer, I used to take my most expensive lenses on as hand baggage, as a large precision instrument, I too cannot consider subjecting it to the "forces" of hold baggage, as replacement costs are around £8000. The current restrictions are preventing me from taking assignments abroad, and most of my work is Surf/Windsurf/Kitesurf related, I am gutted to be turning work down because of current threat levels.
There is a very easy and obvious way around this - get on a train or ferry to mainland Europe and then catch a flight from there! If travelling is that important, a slight inconvenience or increase in journey time can be accepted.
Karl Johnson, Thetford, Norfolk
As a musician I feel this is a ridiculous state of affairs. I fully understand as a violist why professional musicians choose to take their instrument into the cabin; in fact on returning from Kuwait two years ago I did exactly the same thing. This is not a sustainable policy.
Nigel James, Fordsham, Cheshire, UK
I'm a guitarist, and I'm due to fly out for a concert next week. There isn't a problem with having the guitar in the hold, but the airline I am travelling on are now charging extra for any extra hold items - so I have to pay extra for the privilege of being able to have a change of clothes whilst I'm away!
lee, London, UK
I am an undergraduate student studying at the University of Nottingham, and am currently spending the summer back in Singapore. I am very worried about the regulations regarding instruments. I brought my violin back with me for summer, but now, I understand that I may not be able to bring it back when the new academic year commences. I play in the University's orchestra, and music is very much part of my life. I am sure that many musicians will agree that they are very attached to their instruments, and just one day not playing it makes us feel uncomfortable.
As the orchestra that I join is an auditioned one, I am worried that by not being able to bring my violin over means not being able to take part in the auditions, or even play in the orchestra at all.
Justine Loh, Singapore
I have worked in the express cargo shipping industry for quite some time and believe many of these claims that the hold is prone to error to be quite unfounded. While it would be absurd for the musician to pack the instrument in a simple carrying case and place it into the hold, they should have the capabilities to package the instrument in such a way that it would survive the turbulent environment.
They may wish to contract with the airliner to actually store the instrument in the hold with an insured value, perhaps in the section of the plane where the airliner is shipping cargo as opposed to the luggage bins. In any event, they should easily be able to pack it for shipping and insure it if they wish.
B Harrison, Louisville Ky
I work for one of London's main orchestras. Taking the orchestra on tour will be nearly impossible if no instruments may be taken into the cabin. The Department of Transport cannot expect musicians to put irreplaceable instruments costing tens of thousands of pounds (and often antiques!) in the hold.
As a serious amateur musician I take my French Horn with me on business trips to practice. Earlier this year I was stopped returning from Toronto and my horn swabbed. I had a very uncomfortable 15 minutes with security after their testing equipment showed that the grease and oil on it showed explosive properties. After offering to play, which was declined, I was allowed to take my horn onboard. I won't be taking it on my next trip.
Andrew Osborne, Teddington, UK
I'm travelling to Ireland to get married in early September, and had arranged for a friend to come over with his Cello to play in the church, for which he'd bought an extra ticket on the plane. However, it's now looking like he's not going to be able to bring it over because of the new regulations.
I don't understand exactly what these regulations are supposed to prevent. Can't the same security procedures be carried out on luggage taken in the cabin as on luggage taken in the hold?
I'm a cellist - I always book an extra seat for my cello when I fly because it's too big for the overhead lockers and I wouldn't consider putting it in the hold. I wonder if this approach will still work? As the airline will be getting double money from me, I suspect it will...
Everybody wants to be an exception. I am a TV cameraman who prefers to travel with my camera as carry-on luggage. I would assert that my camera is at least as expensive and delicate as any musician's fiddle or trumpet, yet I don't bleat about special dispensation. Buy a well-made hermetically-sealed flight-case for your instruments and they'll be fine.
The rules are there for a reason; grow up and get on with it!!!!
Ian, Winterley, UK
Re: Ian's comments. I've travelled often with my cello, valued at over £20,000 and have had to let it go in the hold, and yes, have bought a hermetically sealed flight case (costing over £1000) which guarantees its safety if the flight crews handle it with respect. Unfortunately, although you can take the cello to the gate, check that it is carefully put on to the plane by hand, there are a couple of things that you can't control. One is the temperature at 30000 feet - if the plane has no heated livestock hold, the temperatures are near zero and that is terrible for any stringed instrument and can cause cracks in the wood which in turn cause the instrument to play with a loud buzzing sound. Secondly, there is no control over the baggage handling staff at the other end. I've seen my cello put carefully on the plane at Heathrow, only to see it literally thrown from the hold onto the concrete at the other end. Fortunately, there were only minor cracks that time, but this was far from an isolated incident and every crack devalues the instrument and can permanently affect the sound. I don't think telling concerned musicians to "grow up" is very helpful. We're not making a fuss about nothing.
Annelies, Guildford UK
I live in France and was returning home form concerts in England last week and had to leave my flute in London.
Now that one is allowed again one piece of hand luggage, I will have to return to pick it up. There should be a special arrangement for professional musicians who need to carry their instruments on board. We will have to start cancelling performances if this situation continues.
Pamina Blum, Nice, France
The problem affects all kind of musicians, even those who play electronic instruments like myself. Synthesisers or similar electronic can also be extremely valuable, rare; one offs even and fragile, all of which makes them completely unsuitable to put in the hold. If a business man's laptop can be scanned at security control, then surely electronic instruments should pose no greater problems than these.
mat dalgleish, Birmingham UK
I have a hand made guitar in Spain which is a fragile object and obviously the person who made it took almost half a year to produce this instrument. The cost is not something that the airlines would compensate for, and the baggage handlers for hold luggage can clearly be seen to have little finesse in handling delicate baggage. To transport the instrument home I could not rely on the airlines to have any duty of care and we can clearly see from experience that the government have little experience in sophisticated legislation. I will have to make alternative transport arrangements, but for professional musicians this is a nightmare for which there is a solution, but the blunt instruments used by the authorities in their rule making are not any help. It's sad but the standards we have to endure. When will we get value for money from government ?
Alan, Whitby UK
This is definitely having an effect on musicians. I run a 10 piece band that will be performing at Electric Picnic in Rep Ire next month and we are looking to pay extra money for each instrument we want to take, and these still have to be put in the hold. My musicians are using expensive and sentimental instruments such as Trumpets and Trombones and are not at all up for leaving these in the hold when in the past they have travelled with them as hand luggage, something needs to be done.
James, London UK
I play the violin and bouzouki (not an instrument you want to announce at airport security!), and living on an island I regularly struggle with taking my instrument on planes. Its never been easy, with expensive spare strings confiscated as possible weapons, struggles with check-in staff as to whether or not the instrument will fit in the overhead luggage... With a trip planned to the states next month and a brand new instrument worth around £3k, I'm not looking forward to these new restrictions. Unless there are some exceptions for musicians, or guarantees on how the instruments are handled, people wont be able to see live performers from other countries which is a big shame.
Adam, Isle of Man
I am going on a school tour in a week, and it currently looks to be jeopardised, as not only are people unwilling to put their instruments in the hold, there is also a lack of rental hard instrument cases for cellos and the like, because they are going to the professionals. Although we have contacted the airline, there looks to be no way we can take the instruments on as hand luggage. We completely understand why all these restrictions are in place, but it is disappointing that we may now not be able to go on tour.
I am a professional musician and am due to fly to Amsterdam next week for a concert. I am having to find alternative transport due to the fact that the government has placed these restrictions on us all. I can assure you that many string instruments are worth far more than £30,000! My violin would never be able to go into the hold as it is 225 years old and sensitive to cold and being knocked around - plus it would not be insured.
We have always suffered from ignorant check-in staff telling us that we can't take our instruments on board (and after an argument they are persuaded) but this is a totally ridiculous restriction and I am thanking my lucky stars that I only have to travel to Amsterdam and not further afield in the near future.
Jack Liebeck, London
Jack Liebeck is utterly correct in saying that insurance would simply not pay out for an act of stupidity such as placing a violin/viola/cello in the hold. The cameramen out there are in a very different situation as their equipment is easily insurable and replaceable. Each string instrument is unique and worth immeasurably more. To compare a Stradivarius or del Gesu to a Canon is rather silly. It is not about "growing up", it is about appreciating the historical and cultural value of these rare string instruments.
I play with orchestras in London, and these groups, along with quartets and soloists such as Mr. Liebeck are being hit very hard. Getting the ferry or train to mainland Europe and flying from there is an option we are all going for, but sadly it has just been announced that our anti-culture government is persuading all other EU countries to adopt identical measures! Touring is an inescapable part of our lives, and this thoughtless ban is threatening our livelihoods.
Nicholas Bootiman, London, UK