Musicians call for clarity when flying with instruments

The director of Mount Royal University's Conservatory is calling on Canadian airlines to set a firm policy when it comes to transporting musical instruments.

Students pay for four extra seats only to be told two cellos not allowed on flight

The director of Mount Royal University's Conservatory is calling on airlines to set a firm policy when it comes to transporting musical instruments.

Paul Dornian said a group of students from Poland returning home from Calgary earlier this month were told their four cellos could not all take their paid seats on the plane.

Air Canada told the students it had a policy of no more than two cellos per plane.

Dornian said he’s never heard that rule before and says the students had no problem flying with four cellos to Calgary.

Fourteen music students travelling from Poland on Air Canada were told only two cellos were allowed on one flight even though they paid for four extra seats. (Tina Fineberg/Associated Press file photo)

He said musicians always tell the booking agent if the seat is for their instrument.

"In most cases, if you do that sort of work ahead of time, then you know the airline seems to be fine with it," he said. 

"Just in these cases, as I said, I think somebody was overzealous at the gate. The people at the check-in seemed to think everything would be just fine."

The group of 14 students had to take two separate flights to Toronto and then they were all allowed on one plane back to Warsaw.

Lack of firm policy frustrates other musicians

Internationally-renowned musician Paul Katz also had problems flying with his cello after he bought a separate ticket for his 343-year-old instrument on a recent flight out of Calgary.

He got through check-in, security and even pre-boarded the plane with his Andrea Guarneri cello before he was told a regulation would not allow it on the plane.

"In the end, I was given no choice, I was told I had to take the cello off the plane or put it underneath," he said.

Katz said he had to get to Los Angeles, so he agreed to put his cello in baggage, but suffered through the entire flight.

"I just went out of my mind with fear, and my imagination went crazy," he said. "In the end, the ... baggage handlers strapped it down well and I got it back, and it was safe, but cellists know there are many horror stories of instruments getting cracked up down in baggage and that's why we buy seats."

Kim Aull, who teaches Suzuki guitar at Mount Royal University, said she’s never sure where flight staff will let her store her guitar when she flies.

"Sometimes I get to take it right on the plane and store it with carry-on luggage, other times they ask me to check it at the gate and other times I have to check it with my suitcase," Aull said.

Dornian said he thinks any flier should be happy to fly next to a cello.

"They don't make any fuss," he joked. "They don't need any beverages; they never complain."

An Air Canada spokesperson said the airline does limit how many instruments can be on a flight, but it depends on the size of the aircraft.