Yesterday, I travelled from Seville, Spain to Brussels, Belgium with Hamid Drake & Bindu Reggaeology. Our tickets were sold to us by Iberia Air, but the flight was operated by Vueling. When we boarded the plane in Seville, Jeb and I had no problems getting on with our trombones, but Hervé and Hamid were each carrying a guitar, and they were hassled greatly. Eventually they were allowed to bring the guitars on, but only after all of the other passengers were on, and the flight attendant determined that there was room for the guitars. Even that required some persistent negotiation. At the time, it entered my mind that the two dark skinned band members carrying instruments were hassled and the two light skinned ones were not, but there was no other evidence that it was anything other than guitar prejudice.
When we made our connection in Barcelona, it was a different story. As soon as I entered the plane, I saw the two guitars in the flight attendants area, and thought that we might be in for the same scene, but the flight attendant then told me that I must check my trombone, and said the same to Jeb, actually following him down the isle because he didn’t notice the trombone right away.
I explained that I have flown many times, and the trombone always fit, and that that very morning we had flown on the same airline in the same model aircraft, and it fit just fine, but he adamantly said that there was no other way but to check them with the luggage. We asked if they would gate check them, so that we got them back right at the plane door in Belgium, but he aid that was impossible because they must go through security in Belgium (which was a stupid excuse because the flight would be over at that point, and they had already gone through security). We soon realized that his sole intent seemed to be to exercise his power to see that we were not satisfied customers. Several flight attendants were involved in these conversations, but none of them seemed to have any interest in solving the problem in a reasonable fashion. They kept saying that they were not allowed to make exceptions. He then said that if we want to bring the horns on, we must purchase a seat for them. i said “great, how much are the seats,” and he said, “well, it is too late now to do that,” even tough that had been offered (by a different FA) as a option early in the guitar negotiations in Seville. I left my horn and sat down. Jeb continued to argue that he didn’t trust the latches on his case and asked for tape, which they didn’t have, but eventually the guy told Jeb that he would put his horn in a closet in the cockpit. Jeb asked about mine and he said, “No, it goes under.” So even though they weren’t allowed to make exceptions they did.
I tried to be nice and not become enraged or be a jerk, but that didn’t pay off. I got screwed because I was trying not to be rude to the people. Eventually Hervé left the plane (and caught a later flight on a different airline) because he would not allow them to check his guitars. That seems to have been the right call. My horn was checked, and when I got to it in baggage claim in Brussels, the bell was severely damaged. The case has a big roughed up scuff where it was dropped and that spot aligns perfectly with the damage that was done.
The claims office in the Brussels airport says there is no recourse because the case wasn’t damaged (the big scuff is normal wear and tear). I have insurance and we’ll see how that shakes out. A wonderful repairman, named Jos Briers, in Genk fixed my horn so that I can finish the tour, but that bell will never be the same.
I have never before encountered personnel in an allegedly customer service oriented position that showed so little interest in helping the customer find a viable solution to a difficulty. I have never dealt with another airline that had what seemed like an active vendetta against musical instruments.
The things I have learned from this:
1- If they make me check my horn, I will leave the flight. (Gate check is different) Getting to the gig with an unplayable instrument is the same as missing the gig.
2- The people in Belgium, specifically Taxi Peters Genk and Jos Briers, and great helpful wonderful people.
3- I will never again board a flight operated by Vueling.
Vueling code shares with Iberia and they are part of the OneWorld system along American Airlines. I would like to publicly ask AA to disassociate with these people. I know when I deal with AA that I am dealing with a real airline, when I deal with their partners, I would like to be able to know the same, and in the case of Vueling that is simply untrue.