Tuesday, October 27, 2009

United Airlines: Unfriendly to Guitars?

Ever since that “unfortunate” incident with Dave Carroll’s guitars a few months ago, are most airline company’s unfriendly when it comes to guitars and other musical instruments?

By: Ringo Bones

Growing up in the 1980s, I’ve often viewed United Airlines’ corporate slogan “Fly the friendly skies” with such surrealism after a number of incidents of passenger jets being hijacked by “PLO-sponsored terrorists”. Fast forward to 2009, the same surrealism returns again after the unlikeliest of songs by David Carroll titled United Breaks Guitars, retelling his “ordeal” with United Airlines’ baggage handlers became a runaway success. Noting that the only other song in existence that recounts about broken guitars is Broken by NY Loose where Brijitte West sings an ode to her broken Gibson SG that also became a hit back in 1997. But is United Airlines really at fault? After all if the prominent Blogosphere journalist Arianna Huffington harbors doubts whether Dave Carroll’s damaged guitar and mental anguish is really worth 180 million dollars, then how airline companies handle our fragile baggage – like musical instruments – should be looked into.

One of my audio-buddies who was fortunate enough to be a touring Classical Music cellist – though not fortunate enough to afford his own touring plane – has told me that as far as 1999, airline companies are not really that friendly with touring musicians and their “fragile” musical instruments. My cellist friend had a first-hand experience with Southwest Airlines’ baggage policy. Southwest Airlines’ baggage policy states that they would not guarantee safe arrival if the instruments were checked: they call it a “conditional” guarantee. Meaning Southwest is responsible for loss only, not damage. No wonder why most musicians – especially guitarists - buy their own touring plane as soon as they can afford one. But – in defense of David Carroll’s recent incident - have you seen a typical musical instrument case lately?

Most budget guitar, cello, and violin travel cases / flight cases that are made with ABS thermo shell and other high-strength exotic fiber composites that I have personally examined. Like those from Bam and the Gage Case are sturdy enough to withstand a direct hit with a 9-mm parabellum automatic pistol and sub-machinegun rounds. While up-market flight cases designed to protect musical instruments with pedigree – like a 1724 “Ludwig” Stradivari or a “Balokovic” Guarneri del Gesu, even your typical eight thousand dollar CF Martin & Co. acoustic guitar – will more than likely stop a 7.26mm X 39mm Kalashnikov round fired from 30 meters away. Maybe Mythbusters will test my hypothesis someday.

Given the “workmanship” that goes into a typical musical instrument flight case, United Airlines’ baggage handlers must be doing their very serious Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme impressions to have damaged Dave Carroll’s guitars that are safely tucked in into their respective guitar flight cases. Even a newbie lawyer can safely say, “case closed” - but is Dave Carroll really 180 million dollars richer? Maybe that’s a question only he and his travel insurance provider can answer.

1 comment:

  1. Brijitte West of NY Loose singing Broken, probably one of the few music videos MTV ever played that matters. I was only 12 when I first saw it, and I thought that Guns N' Roses had been replaced Axl Rose with a cool chick.
    On Dave Carroll's breakout hit United Breaks Guitars about the singer / songwriter's recent tiff with United Airlines is probably the main reason why touring musicians resort to buying their own executive jets as soon as they can afford it. And if I ever was fortunate enough to own one of those million-dollar Stradivarius or Guarneri violins, I won't even consider leaving my house with then - let alone touring with such an irreplaceable "gear". Even those 8,000 US dollar CF Martin & Co. Acoustic Guitars is too rich for my blood. And by the way, bullet-resistant cases usually almost cost as much as the very expensive guitar they're supposed to protect.