British Airways angers musicians over changes to hand luggage

Musicians used to bringing violins on board British Airways may have to consign them to the hold, as the airline tightens its hand baggage rules.

The saying “less is more” is applying more and more to airline hand baggage limits.

British Airways recently changed its rules by restricting the main piece of hand luggage from 50 to 22 inches in length.

The move affects passengers carrying small instruments such as violins on board, as British Airways will now only accept them in the cabin if there is enough space on board.

According to the rules, violins usually count as a main item of hand baggage alongside a personal item such as a handbag or laptop.

But if the flight is full, passengers will now have to check their violins (and other smaller instruments that exceed its new limits) in the hold at an extra cost, or buy another seat, if one is available.

The change in rules has angered the UK’s professional body for musicians, who are concerned about fragile instruments being damaged in the plane’s hold.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has also criticised BA for not publicising its new rules.

easyJet now more flexible than BA

While British Airways is still being flexible with musicians up to a point, it isn’t the generous policy that passengers flying with ‘traditional’ airlines have come to expect.

easyJet limits passengers to just one piece of carry-on, but its rules clearly state that musical instruments, including violins, flutes, clarinets and trumpets in cases are allowed on board.

The instrument is counted as the one allowed piece of hand luggage, and a small handbag or laptop is also accepted if “it’s not practical to check the item into the hold baggage”.

But should passengers with musical instruments become the exception?

Critics argue that passengers with musical instruments shouldn’t be getting special treatment.

easyJet passengers with sports equipment, for example must buy an additional “sporting allowance” of up to 12kgs.

This allows the second sports bag to be checked in as long as the combined weight of both bags does not exceed 32kgs.

One ticket, different rules

The fundamental problem for travellers flying out of the UK is that airlines have different rules, the ISM points out.

In the States, federal law requires airlines to accept musical instruments in the cabin, as long as they can safely fit under the seat or in the overhead storage. Instruments must also meet standard weight and size requirements.

In the UK however, airlines can set their own rules on musical instruments and their size.

The rules become confusing when travellers book with one airline, only to end up on a codeshare partner with different rules.

British Airways’ codeshare with American Airlines on routes over the Atlantic is one example.

Travellers who book a return American Airlines flight that is operated by British Airways might be in for a shock at the check-in desk.

While BA explains clearly on its website that passengers should be aware of different baggage allowances on airlines it codeshares with, the ISM argues that travellers deserve consistency.

Unless more airlines in the UK specify which musical instruments can and can’t be taken on board, the minority of people who travel with instruments will need tape measures at the ready.

And they might want to choose their airline wisely.

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