While sympathy isn’t strong for travelers who need to show their vast wealth to airport baggage handlers with Louis Vuitton luggage, complaining that it needs to be treated with love, musicians have long suffered a far more serious indignity. Ever since the classic, United Breaks Guitars, it’s been beyond question that musical instruments should not be checked.
U.S. Airways, however, is more concerned for your safety, because terrorists play violins. From the Indy Star:
“Zach and I were on our way to meet up with our bassist, Ranaan Meyer, to play at the Artosphere Arts and Nature Festival,” said Kendall. “We were making our connection on US Airways out of Charlotte, N.C., to Fayetteville, Ark., when we were stopped as we entered the plane by the captain and his stewards.”
The crew told the musicians that the FAA would fine the airline if they were found not to have complied with FAA regulations, which, according to the captain, said Kendall, prohibited musical instruments to be carried on the plane.
Zach De Pue and Nicolas Kendall, members of Time for Three, boarded with their violins in hand. They were told they could either check their violins or “forfeit” their flight. As they stood on the tarmac, a crew member came out to retrieve another piece of luggage, they asked for an explanation and were ignored, as the crew member turned his back and walked away.
So they played.
As Radar would say, “Ah. Bach.”
As it turns out, the Captain’s understanding of his god-like powers was somewhat mistaken:
In 2012, Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which states, “An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin or under a passenger seat, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage.”
And U.S. Airways later apologized for having put ignorant grocery clerks in charge of its operations:
“We sincerely apologize for not only their delay, but what occurred at the airport,” said Bill McGlashen, a spokesman for US Airways. “We did accommodate them on a later flight to Fayetteville, and we wish them good luck and good playing at the festival.”
But the question remains why they harbor such hatred toward violins?
When asked about the Modernization and Reform Act, McGlashen said that sometimes on regional jets it’s a different dynamic with carry-on items, and it’s a tough judgement call regarding what fits and what doesn’t, what should be carried on and what shouldn’t.
While there is some merit to the issue of what fits and what doesn’t, the laws of physics trumping even music and culture, the attempt to chalk this up to a tough “judgment call” is nonsensical. These were violins, clearly within the realm of carry-on size.
More importantly, they were being carried on for an actual good reason rather than personal convenience. This isn’t to suggest that personal convenience isn’t a good reason, but that there are better reasons, like the preservation of valuable and fragile musical instruments.
So what does any of this have to do with terrorists? More than might at first appear. First, there is the absolute control over things you bring on a plane, which has made people come to view what might otherwise be seen as an ordinary commercial transaction between carrier and traveler turn into the willing subjugation of flyers for the airlines’ willingness to allow us to pay them, be herded about as commanded by poorly dressed staff and keep silent about it lest they have the air marshals shoot us for our intransigence.
Second, the idea that a captain of an airplane, even one sitting on a tarmac, is so omnipotent that his every whim, his mere word, is beyond challenge. At least the airlines are flying us for free to hand over our autonomy to their staff. Oh, wait.
One might hope, perhaps even expect, that even the former counter-workers at Dairy Queen who are put in charge of airline management after a six-week course in abbreviations would be capable of understanding why a musician, even one who plays a violin as opposed to an ocarina, would not acquiesce in handing over a Strad to be jammed into a hold. It’s not that hard to grasp.
What is hard to understand, except for those of you who are deeply fearful for your safety, deeply obedient to authority or just plain thick as a brick, is how we have allowed ourselves to become so adept at following orders, no matter who gives them, and how those in positions of the pettiest of power flex their muscles mindlessly.
And we keep our mouths shut because we don’t want the TSA SWAT team to storm the tarmac and touch our children in places we’ve told them no one is ever allowed to touch. Sure, the connection isn’t quite direct, but rather reflects how we’ve gone from our expectations of having the businesses we pay behave with some modicum of intelligence and integrity toward us to doing whatever they tell us to do, and thanking them for the opportunity.
Come to think of it, there are some uses for a bow that could come in handy on a regional jet.