Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Who would be a modern musician?

As many of you will already know, at the point at which I flew to Lyon in September, the air security alerts were so very bright red that the thought of anyone being allowed to carry a musical instrument on board a plane were out of this world. I mean, a clarinet is obviously indicative of being a terrorist. So it was that I resigned myself to spending at least a few months without the company of my violin. I didn't even send it a birthday card on October 4th, how very neglectful of me. However, having decided to go home at christmas I began to anticipate the imminent possibility of returning with my violin, now that the rules officially state "musical instruments are permitted". So I merrily rock up to the check-in desk expecting the rules to be as they were last time I travelled with my violin, i.e. that exceptionally, one is allowed one's handbag plus one's violin, on the grounds that it is a rare and fragile item. I check in my suitcase and the girl says "have you got any sharp objects in your hand luggage?" "No." says I, "and you only have one piece of hand baggage?" "Yes, and a violin" says I. But this was not to be: you have to check in one or the other, says the girl. So I express surprise and say it's always been fine in the past, and she says ah, but these days the rules are tighter: one bag only, no exceptions. Somewhat incredulous, I ask her what she intends me to do with my money, my personal effects, and so forth: so she says can I fit them in my pockets or in my violin? And I say, well possibly but what about my computer? "You'll have to choose between your computer and your violin" says she. Well now, I'm blowed if she really believed what she was saying there. So I ask, would it be okay if I just carried my computer? You can try, she says, but you might not gt through security. Well, cunning as I am, and knowing how things work in airports, I think I have a pretty good chance, so I take out my computer, and having stuffed my camera, two phones, two wallets and a passport into the little pocket on my violin case, I toddle off in the direction of security. The man checking that everyone has only one bag doesn't bat an eyelid at the fact that I am cradling my laptop in my arms: he probably thinks I've just already got it out knowing it has to be scanned separately, and isn't interested enough to realise that there's no way it could fit in my violin case. At the other end of the queue, they are not in the least interested in how many bits and bobs you put through the scanner, and computers (as I say) have to be scanned separately in any case: there's no one chekcing it goes back in your one piece of hand luggage afterwards, so sure enough, there is no problem with my simply carrying the computer, it simply makes my life more difficult when juggling passports and boarding cards and an end-heavy violin.
Now I know logic has never really played a part in airport rules, but what really got my goat is this. The rule states "musical instruments are permitted as long as the case contains only the instrument itself and nothing else". From which one imagines, as I did, that a handbag (some work to do on the flight, one's keys and passport) would be allowed alongside. The practice, on the other hand, is quite the contrary: everything must be inside your case. Had my 'handbag' (my rucksack, in this case) been *attached* to my violin, there would not have been the slightest problem. It was simply the fact of them being two bags that bothered them. And note that two items was fine, because one wasn't a bag–I've no doubt that if my computer had had so much as a protective zippy cover over it, I would have risked being sent back by the man at the start of the security queue. So someone needs to invent a violin case not simply with a pocket on the top, but with an entire attachable/detachable bag on it. As simple as that. And thank goodness I'm a violinist because some instrument cases aren't currently made with little pockets on. Maybe I could design one and make millions…then again, maybe the rules would simply change again, as they appear to every couple of months.
Perhaps BAA need to employ someone with some real sense to define the hand baggage rules so that the check in girl no longer needs to say "well you can try, but it's not us who make the rules," nor suggest that you could easily just send one of your two valuable and delicate items to its imminent death in the hold?

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