A concert musician who was not allowed to board a flight with her violin says she hopes the incident will raise awareness of regulations that permit violins and other small instruments as carry-on luggage.
Rachel Barton Pine was told by a flight attendant and captain of an American Eagle flight that she could not bring her 18th century violin on board the plane Thursday from Chicago to Albuquerque, New Mexico. They offered to valet-check the instrument, but Pine declined. The airline, which is based in Texas, later apologized.
"Violins are too delicate to be checked," Pine said in a phone interview Friday. "It's not a question of if it might break. It will break."
She said the fact that her violin, a 1742 Guarneri, is a rare and valuable instrument, is irrelevant: "It could be a $50 student violin and the same problem exists."
Pine said federal regulations and American Airline's own policies specifically say "a musician may carry a small instrument such as a violin onto the plane" to be stowed overhead or under a seat.
"A law is only helpful if people know what it is," said Pine. "I hope that bringing this to light will help other musicians know their rights and obligations."
In an email, American spokeswoman Leslie Scott said the captain of the American Eagle flight "determined that Ms. Barton's instrument could not be safely secured in an overhead bin or under a seat. Scott confirmed that the airline offered to valet-check the violin, but Barton declined. She was then rebooked for travel Friday morning on a bigger plane, which Scott said could better handle the instrument as a carry-on item.
"American has reached out to Ms. Barton directly to apologize for the inconvenience," Scott said.
Pine says she flies 100,000 miles a year with American in every type of aircraft — including the type of small regional jet she tried to board Thursday — "and I can guarantee that my violin easily fits on the airplane." There's even a photo of her instrument in an overhead bin on her Instagram account. She says while it's slightly longer than a standard rollerbag, it's narrower and thinner.
Pine also said that she offered to show the attendant that her violin would fit but she was not permitted to demonstrate, and that she cited the regulations allowing instruments on board to no avail. "There's not enough awareness about the existence of this law," she said, adding that American remains her favorite airline and that "this could have happened with any airline."
Pine said she was heading to Albuquerque to play for "inner city kids" and she made it to her Friday appearance on "two hours sleep." She was scheduled to solo Saturday with the New Mexico Philharmonic.