Thursday, April 28, 2005

Airport Security Totally Kicked Their Axes

I've been hearing some disturbing stories the past couple of days from one of my schools that went on a band trip last week. Evidently, despite their taking all possible precautions, they came out of the trip with a bunch of broken instruments, and saxophones seemed to be the biggest "victims" in most cases.

Obviously, the best way to keep a musical instrument safe on a flight is to carry it on whenever possible, but tubas, baritone saxes and so on will never have that luxury (unless the horn's owner buys it a seat, which happens with professional players on occasion). I'm lucky enough to have a small-but-durable case to use for my alto, and I've never had to fly with anything larger than that so far. After the things I've heard from this school trip, I hope no horn of mine ever has to go in the baggage compartment.

It goes without saying that, in this time of heightened airline security, some instruments will end up being searched. But still, there's no excuse for manhandling (or in some cases, nearly destroying) these delicate pieces of machinery in the process, especially on a charter flight like the one taken by this band.

It's not like precautions weren't taken; the students were instructed to wrap belts around their cases for protection, but many of the cases ended up being opened and the belts never replaced. One French horn didn't get its mouthpiece properly put away after being inspected, which caused it to receive numerous dents from the mouthpiece being jostled around in transit. One alto saxophone had its octave key post bent sideways; it was one of two that was rendered completely unusable for the festival the band was attending. A baritone sax had a key cage come completely off, and another tenor got its octave key badly bent, but I was able to fix that one this morning. It's obvious to me that these instruments were handled very roughly by people who had no idea what they were doing (they probably just picked them up by any old thing that stuck out). This is unacceptable.

Understand, I'm trying to be realistic here. In no way am I expecting every airport security person to be trained in handling musical instruments; I'm just saying that they should all use common sense and a little bit of care when handling anything they're not familiar with, especially something of precision (such as a musical instrument) that might just be a big part of someone's livelihood. (The unfamiliarity thing became way apparent during our first trip to Vermont in '02, when I was called aside for additional searching; one of the security guys, who was obviously from another country, looked more than a little stressed by the gun-shapedness of my alto neck. Thankfully, his colleague recognized it as a legitimate part of the instrument.) I don't know how much of a claim these instruments' owners will be able to file against the airline, but clearly, someone needs to pay for this besides the people who entrusted their possessions to a company that hires careless people like that.

So c'mon in, commenters: have you ever had bad luck with your stuff being manhandled by airport security personnel, be it an instrument, golf clubs, luggage, whatever? I haven't had this happen personally *knocks wood*, but I'll never forget our trip to Switzerland in '99 with the college band, when the guitarist's luggage showed up a day late with his instrument in three pieces (he reassembled it with duct tape and Elmer's glue--no kidding--and it managed to hold together and stay in tune for three concerts).

I guess it could have been worse; another one of my schools went on their band trip a few weeks ago, and one of their expensive tubas (still in its case, mind you) fell off the little truck that carries luggage from the terminal to the plane and was subsequently run over by another vehicle. Ouch.

The Den is open: A big blogospherical "welcome back" to Dingus, who has started up his site, The Dingus Den, once again.


Kev said...

I think I've told you how I feel about gig bags: uh-uh, no way. My first exposure to one was at a music camp I attended in high school; a trumpet player had one, and in the process of rolling around in the grass with his girlfriend, he rolled over onto the gig bag and squashed his bell.

I've also had saxophone students use them and have their bells bent down into a permanent "pouty" look.

And yeah, there's not much you can do about condensing the trombone down to a size that would fit in the overhead bin; you just have to hope the airline doesn't accidentally do it for you. :-P

Eric Grubbs said...

No problems on my end. Then again, I've only flown twice in the last ten years.

Kev said...

Yeah, I've watched the baggage handlers play catch enough times that nothing short of the bari would be sent through the baggage system, and that's only because I'd have no choice.

I think the other reason I'm so leery of gig bags is because I drive around with the horn so much; my car would have to have a specially-padded trunk or something to do that.

"No problems on my end. Then again, I've only flown twice in the last ten years."

Wow, Eric...I guess you're not bucking for a promotion to "airborne traffic reporter" anytime soon, huh? ;-)

Eric Grubbs said...

Wow, Eric...I guess you're not bucking for a promotion to "airborne traffic reporter" anytime soon, huh? ;-)

Anxiety and paranoia are a blessing and a curse.