Violinists, told to check instruments, take to YouTube from CLT tarmac

elyportillo@charlotteobserver.comMay 27, 2014 

Two violinists took to YouTube from the tarmac of Charlotte Douglas International Airport after they said a US Airways flight attendant told them they’d have to place their instruments with the checked luggage.

Zachary De Pue, concertmaster for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and fellow violinist Nicolas Kendall were able to board a later flight with their instruments as carry-ons. Musicians, they said, prefer not to check their instruments, which might be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We bought these cases specifically so they’ll fit on every airline and virtually every aircraft,” said De Pue. He and Kendall were traveling to Fayetteville, Ark., to play at a music festival with their band Time for Three.

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US Airways, which merged with American Airlines in December but still flies under its own name, apologized but said the plane didn’t have enough overhead space for the violins.

“We accommodated the passengers on a later flight into Fayetteville and apologized to them for the inconvenience,” said spokeswoman Michelle Mohr.

US Airways’ baggage policy says, “Musical instruments are permitted as carry-on baggage as long as they can be safely stowed” and the total dimensions of length, width and height don’t exceed 75 inches.

De Pue said the trouble began while boarding, when a flight attendant told him company regulations required that he check his violin. At the time, De Pue said, there was still overhead space.

De Pue said the flight attendant had a simple ultimatum: “Either check your bags or get off the plane.”

With the line of passengers behind them waiting to board the small, regional jet stretching out onto the tarmac, he and Kendall left the plane and waited outside. De Pue began playing a Bach Partita while Kendall filmed.

“I honestly think if they see us playing the instruments, they’ll believe us,” he said. “I promise you, we are like, real musicians.”

De Pue said he took out “the equivalent of a mortgage” to buy the instrument 10 years ago, which he’s still paying off. The 1757 Italian instrument is valued somewhere north of $250,000, De Pue said.

“It’s a musician’s earnings. It’s the way we make our bread,” said De Pue.

De Pue and Kendall spoke with a “conflict resolution officer,” and were able to board a flight to Fayetteville several hours later. They checked their carry-on bags and stowed their violins in the overhead bins.

It’s not the first time De Pue and his violin have been on a flight with crowded overhead bins. Often, he says, someone else on the flight will volunteer to check their own carry-on, to make room for his instrument.

De Pue said he buys those people a drink.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo

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