Myrna Herzog was traveling from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Tel Aviv, Israel when she was allegedly forced to place her large 17th century viola da gamba in the hold for her Alitalia flight.
Herzog, the director of Israeli classical music group Phoenix, says she reluctantly handed it over only after she was unable to purchase a seat for the instrument, which is slightly smaller than a cello, because the flight was full. A viola da gamba, also known as a viol, is a string instrument played upright, similar to a cello.
The woman claimed the airline assured her that the instrument, valued at over $200,000, would be treated as a fragile item and handled with care by the staff.
When the Brazilian-born musician landed in Tel Aviv, her viol never appeared in baggage claim. Herzog says she went to the baggage reclaim desk to find out what happened.
"They went down to find it, and got back saying that it had arrived broken, and that I had to fill a form," she told musical news website The Strad. "After I did so they brought it, and the sight was really horrific. Even they were horrified."
The hard case in which the viola da gamba had been transported was partially destroyed, and the viol itself had been smashed in half.
“The instrument had a German Gewa hard case bearing several red tags of ‘Fragile’, without bridge, soundpost, pegs, strings or tailpiece, to ensure safety,” Herzog said to Strad.
“In the course of 40 years, I made many trips with viols. People used to let us have them inside the plane. When this was impossible, they were handled with care, and there were no problems. Nevertheless, year after year good will is being substituted by greed and disrespect for the musician,” she continued.
Herzog posted photos of the extremely damaged instrument on social media and received overwhelming support from many musicians who have blamed the airline.
One person wrote on Twitter, “@Alitalia - so this is how you treat musicians? This precious 17th C Viola da Gamba belongs to Myrna Herzog, a internationally respected expert in early music! This is how the instrument arrived in the luggage hall & yet @Alitalia have refused to take responsibility!"
Another wrote, “@Alitalia SHAME ON YOU For DESTROYING Myrna Herzog's viola da gamba on Jan 3rd. Incredible. And it's not just about reimbursing her. This is really serious...”
Sky News reported a musician, Patti Murray Lucas, saying "All of us musicians are traumatised and horrified at the sight of this senseless carelessness! I am SO sorry."
While many sympathized with Herzog, there were others who held her responsible for the tragedy.
Paolo Tagliamento said to Sky News, "Every musician buys an extra ticket if the instrument is not hand luggage."
Daniel Temnik added, Sky News reported, "Next time buy a seat… like every other self-respecting musician does."
Alitalia airline said in a statement that it “regretted” what happened but claim they offered Herzog an extra seat, which she refused even though they told her “the best solution for such a delicate item was to bring it with her in the cabin.”
“That said, Alitalia deeply regrets what happened to Mrs Herzog and will proceed, having established the facts, with the reimbursement in compliance with the international regulations in force," the statement concluded.
Herzog has refuted the claims of Alitalia, saying they never offered her a seat.
Herzog told The Strad she has taken her instrument to a restorer who said it could “take around a year to repair [the viol] properly and is trying to estimate the cost of such repair.”