Mahler, Air Travel and the Age of Anxiety

First, I have an article in today’s Independent in which I talk to three marvellous conductors about why Mahler is bigger now than ever before. Fascinating stuff from Sir Mark Elder (The Halle), Vladimir Jurowski (LPO) and Andris Nelsons (CBSO), who are all Mahlering like mad at the moment.

It is eminently possible that we love Mahler now because we are all s***-scared for the future of humanity. But nearer to home, anxiety levels are rising because of a specific and immediate problem concerning the attitudes of airlines towards musical instruments.

If you remember, in the aftermath of a terrorist plot a few years back there was a crackdown on hand-luggage and musicians not wanting their wooden tools-of-the-trade to be destroyed were in serious trouble. Eventually progress was made thanks to careful manoeuvres by the MU and a hard-hitting speech from Sir Mark (as above) at the Last Night of the Proms in which he pointed out that unless the situation changed soon, musicians would be unable to travel and we’d find we could only attend Concerto for Laptop.

But now, certain budget airlines – and others – appear to have realised that they can extort money from hapless musicians who can’t travel without their instruments.

A baroque musician friend last night told me (and the rest of Twitter) that Eurostar is the latest travel organisation to decide to make life a little nastier. She writes: “Our cellist just got bumped off Eurostar as they made her buy a seat for her cello then revealed that her train was sold out.”

This came a couple of hours after the Incorporated Society of Musicians threw its weight behind the nearly-13,000 people who have signed up to the Musicians Against Ryanair group on Facebook. The airline fiddle policy’s latest victim was a 12-year-old violin student from Chetham’s School of Music trying to get home from Germany with her parents. The ISM’s press release states:

Her parents were told the violin was not allowed as hand luggage, and were given an ultimatum to either put the violin in the baggage hold of the plane, which would cause irreparable damage to the instrument, or to purchase an additional seat at a cost of 230 euros. This was despite the fact they had received confirmation from the Ryanair customer service department (prior to purchasing any tickets) that the instrument would be accepted. They had also checked in without problems… 

David Abrahams, Head of Legal Services at the ISM, said: ‘We are deeply concerned about the recent cases involving musicians travelling on flights with their instruments.’

‘The idea that musicians should be forced to purchase an additional seat on board an aircraft because they are carrying an instrument that can be stored safely in the overhead lockers is unfair, discriminatory and irrational. These airlines are punishing musicians for being musicians.’

Is this violin policy a corporate extortion fiddle?

Maybe legislation is the only way to put a stop to this pernicious nonsense. It shouldn’t be necessary, but if it is, it had better be done sooner rather than later. Because if other airlines see fit to follow suit (hopefully they won’t, but sometimes viruses mutate…) musicians will end up unable to travel. And then there will be no more Mahler; only Concerto for Laptop.

We’re all aware of the unspoken subtext of budget airtravel. “Because it’s cheap, the customers will put up with anything. So let’s sink as low as we can: they deserve no better; they are contemptible because they allow us to treat them like pigs.” It’s a vicious circle.

Don’t put up with it. Make a stand before it’s too late. If it takes lawsuits, marching protests, the lobbying of MPs and so forth, then so be it. And join Musicians Against Ryanair here.

Yours sincerely, Furious of East Sheen.


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