ISM denounces change to British Airways musical instruments policy

Change to carriage of musical instruments policy by British Airways denounced as “retrograde and damaging” by the UK’s professional body for musicians

A recent change to British Airways’ carriage policy means that small instruments can no longer be carried as hand luggage and placed in overhead lockers. The change to policy was made with no public announcement or consultation and has left musicians, the music industry and tour operators angry at the retrograde action.

The ISM, the UK’s professional body for musicians, has been campaigning for consistent policy in relation to the carriage of musical instruments and finds BA’s actions to be ‘retrograde and damaging’. In the last two years the ISM has received over 1500 cases of musicians who have experienced problems when taking their instruments on planes. In January 2011, ISM reached a breakthrough agreement with easyJet (the first of its kind) and is now calling on British Airways to follow their example, and that of carriers in the USA, and implement a consistent policy for the carriage of musical instruments.

British Airways policy previously allowed for the carriage of small instruments as long as they were less than 126cm. This allowed for instruments such as violins to be transported safely in the overhead lockers. The change to BA’s policy means that instruments now have to be less than less than 56cm x 45cm x 25cm to be carried as part of hand baggage allowance. These measurements prohibit the transport of a small instrument such as a violin.

BA’s policy now requires instruments to be checked as baggage and placed in the aircraft’s hold, which carries the greater risk of damage to valuable items. Otherwise BA advises musicians to purchase an extra seat for the carriage of their musical instrument but gives no guarantee that an extra seat will be available.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society for Musicians, said:

“Given that easyJet changed its policy to support the creative economy and our professional musicians it is baffling that British Airways has taken such a retrograde and damaging course of action. It is unreasonable to expect precious and valuable instruments to be placed in the hold of an airplane and it can be prohibitively expensive for musicians to purchase an extra seat for a small instrument such as violin.”

Julian Lloyd Webber, Cellist, said:

“It is almost unbelievable that British Airways should discriminate against musicians like this. The airline needs to realise that it is a service industry – and that includes providing a service to musicians who are among their most regular customers.”

Pippy Trentham, Director - OneStage Specialist Concert Tours, said:

“Seemingly overnight, British Airways have changed their official luggage regulations, so that musicians carrying certain instruments can no longer take them in the cabin of the aircraft. Many passengers booked their seats long before the regulations changed and are now faced not only with additional charges, but also the worry that their valuable instrument may be damaged in transit. It’s hard to think of any equivalent purchase where this would be acceptable.”

The ISM is calling on British Airways to return to their previous policy which allowed for small instruments to be carried in overhead lockers, and to support professional musicians and their contribution to the creative economy.”
The ISM campaign for all airlines to adopt the minimum standard agreement is supported by Valerie Vaz MP.

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Notes to Editors

  • Musical instruments carried in the hold of an aircraft are subject to pressure changes, temperature changes and rough handling which can destroy instruments worth thousands, if not tens of thousands, of pounds.
  • There is no consistency in policy across the aviation industry
  • Musicians face issues ranging from inconsistent policy, extortionate fees and, in a number of cases, damage to precious instruments
  • New US federal legislation demands that any instrument that can be safely stored in the overhead compartment or underneath the seat may be brought on board as carry-on luggage. Additionally, the bill sets standard weight and size requirements for checked instruments, and permits musicians to purchase a seat for oversized instruments, such as cellos, that are too delicate to be checked
  • Existing UK law allows each airline to set their own policy regarding musical instruments, and size
  • In the last two year the Incorporated Society of Musicians has received over 1500 cases linked to problems transporting musical instruments on planes. The cases were in response to a survey asking whether they had experienced any difficulties when travelling with a musical instrument and, if so, to tell ISM about their case

Links to related articles:

easyJet’s musician friendly hand baggage policy

ISM Instruments on Planes Campaign

Another instruments on planes fiasco

Instruments on Planes campaign takes off

Musicians take Instruments on Planes petition to Westminster

Lloyd Webber backs campaign for standard airline policy