My Horrible Experience With British Airways

10 July 2013 at 22:34

 I want to share my horrible experience with British Airways in the past 24 hrs, on my flight from Oslo, Norway, to Toronto, Canada on July 9, 2013. I’ve deliberately chosen BA in the past because of their apparent respect and accommodation of musical instruments, allowing guitarists to bring one instrument onboard as their allotted carry-on bag. These are then carried onto the plane by the passenger, given to the steward at the entrance way, then placed in the ‘coat closet’ near the entrance to be retrieved later when exiting. Normally, a very welcome thing. 

On this trip back to my hometown Toronto, I decided to bring back two of my vintage guitars. After careful consideration and with BA’s instrument policy in mind, I chose to bring one as my carry-on, and check the other one as a pre-paid ‘extra bag’, which costs approximately $85.

Upon going to the check-in desk at Gardermoen airport in Oslo for flights BA763 to Heathrow and then BA099 to Toronto, I explained about their policy to bring on my valuable vintage guitar – in this case a 1958 Gibson Les Paul Jr – as my allowed carry-on according to BA’s official policy. This is clearly posted online on their website:

I was told that the flight was overbooked, and that I could not bring the guitar onboard. I wondered how in this day and age of computerization it is even possible to make such an error.  I asked how is that even relevant when the guitar goes into the coat closet at the front of the plane, and has nothing to do with seating or overhead compartments at all? The clerk didn’t seem to care or even be aware of this policy at all, even when I explained to him that it’s clearly posted on the website (see URL above), and which is why I chose BA to fly with in the first place, despite being offered cheaper flights elsewhere! 

The clerk explained that if I wanted that guitar on the flight I had to pay for an extra bag (like the other one) and check it in with the other baggage. As it is a valuable vintage instrument, this was entirely unacceptable and just wasn’t going to happen. I gave the guitar back to my wife, who took it home. Naturally I was upset. Even the pre-paid checked guitar, a vintage 1977 Larrivee acoustic, I was hesitant to check in the first place.  I decided to pad it well internally and send it anyways, as I’ve shipped many guitars previously, know how to pack one well and have had no previous incidents with damage.

And then almost prophetically, I chose to take pics of the guitar case on the luggage belt just before it was sent off.

No damage whatsoever, and the lid taped shut, just in case the latches pop open. Clearly written on the tape was “Fragile, Please be gentle with me guys!, Thanks” along for good measure.

The clerk asked what I was doing, and I responded “For liability, I’ve seen enough damaged guitars from airlines”. He then instructed me to take the guitar over to the back luggage area for fragile and oversized baggage, where he assured me that “it will handled carefully”. I complied with trepidation, but was hopeful that would be better than the normal baggage check-in with handling.   

Upon arrival in Toronto, 4 hours delayed from Heathrow and tired, we waited seemingly forever for the baggage, and then the guitar finally showed up, face down on the belt, with one of the duct tape bands torn off, and two scrapes on the case lid near the bottom and top. There were no cracks in the case or apparent further damage, so being late I presumed it was alright and left.

Today, here’s what the scrapes in the case tolex appeared like:

Then, upon opening the case, removing the extra foam shroud and packing paper headstock padding, to my horror I see this:

A huge 40cm crack in the rosewood side, lower bass-side bout. The styro padding shroud and headstock padding are also visible here.

My finger points to the terminal end of the crack in poor old Larry…I was so fuming angry I had to go rest before writing this to keep composure.

So those of you reading this here are now aware of, I make my living as a professional guitar repairman, and understand exactly how this type of crack happens.  I’ve had to do damage deduction and estimates for my clients on many occasions for insurance claims. Therefore, it cannot be said that I don’t know what I’m talking about here.

As there was no outside damage to the case in the lower bout area that would indicate an impact injury to the crack area, this can be ruled out. The lack of external case damage in the crack area definitely indicates the other most common damage acoustic guitars can sustain, which is shock damage, occurring when the whole case takes a sudden and hard smack down onto one of the flat top or back surfaces of the case. This can cause headstock breaks (this was padded against), and as in this case – thin-walled, solid wood guitars to crack along the grain lines. The hard abrasions on the case lid do indicate that this was the most likely cause, either by dropping it face down, or worse, tossing the guitar case and it landing face-down hard on the case, causing the sudden shock and crack to happen.

So much for ‘careful handing’. Words cannot express my anger and disappointment with BA. How does this continue to happen to guitarist’s treasured and expensive instruments?! >:O

This report is intended to inform the general public about this for consideration, and naturally a claim is being filed immediately after posting this, which will also be used as a reference link for BA to view during the claims process. A repair estimate is being requested by an independent repairman as well for this process.

Allen Hunter – Oslo, Norway / Toronto, Canada