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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 September 2006, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Conductor criticises air security
Violinist (archive image)
Musicians say their instruments are too fragile to go in the hold
UK security measures that prevent musicians from taking instruments on board planes as hand luggage have been criticised by a leading conductor.

Mark Elder - a guest conductor for the BBC Symphony Orchestra - made the criticism in a speech on the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

He said performers faced "enormous difficulty" as a result of the policy.

The Musicians' Union said many artists would rather cancel tours than risk valuable instruments in aircraft holds.

Spokesman Keith Ames said instruments are at risk from baggage handling and from changes in pressure and temperature in the hold.

The union says the measures are harming the livelihoods of musicians and it is planning to lobby parliament to give them special dispensation.

EU discussions

Mr Elder's comments come as experts meet for talks on airport security in London and Toronto this week.

UK Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander has indicated the hand baggage restrictions may soon be eased.

Meanwhile, European Union nations have held discussions on bringing in EU-wide guidelines to hand luggage size.

Under current rules, passengers flying out of UK airports are allowed one item of cabin baggage, which must be no larger than a laptop computer bag.

Travellers flying into the UK from international destinations, including the US, are not subject to the same restrictions on the size of cabin baggage.

It is now effectively impossible for musicians to travel by air
Musical artists' letter to the Times

Passengers would, however, be required to adhere to the UK government-imposed guidelines on their return journeys.

Criticism of the security measures has also been made by leading musical artists, including conductor Sir Colin Davis and cellists Julian Lloyd Webber and Ralph Kirshbaum.

In a letter to the Times newspaper on Friday they said the UK's "enviable position" as a "great" international centre for music and the arts was under threat.

"It is now effectively impossible for musicians to travel by air, since there is no way that priceless 18th Century violins or cellos, for example, can ever travel without unacceptable risk in the hold of an aircraft," they said.

'Concerto for Laptop'

A spokeswoman at the Department for Transport said instruments would have to be checked into the hold until the security situation was downgraded.

I think we would all agree that the time has come really to put an end to this unfairness
Mark Elder,

But many instruments are too fragile to go in the hold, the Musicians' Union told BBC News.

An early casualty of the restriction was New York's Orchestra of St Luke's, which cancelled an Edinburgh Festival concert and a BBC Proms appearance.

And Russian musicians returning from London after the Bolshoi Theatre's season in the capital had to travel overland on the Eurostar via Paris to fly home.

They were under contract to keep their instruments with them and could not check them in as hold baggage, chief conductor Alexander Vedernikov said.

Speaking on Saturday, Mr Elder said: "The one aspect of the situation that really affects us here on the platform is the enormous difficulty that so many musicians are having at the moment in travelling by plane into this country and out of it."

He said the situation was "greatly to be regretted".

"I think we would all agree that the time has come really to put an end to this unfairness," he added.

"Otherwise it seems to me that next year we should all look forward to 'Concerto for Laptop and Orchestra'."

The Department for Transport has said the security regulations would "be in place for as long as they need to be".

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