Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Of Air Travel, Guitars and Hostage Takings

June 29, 2010

I think I might have mentioned that going to Valencia last Thursday I was held at the airport in Paris for nearly five hours thanks to the strike by many civil servants, and in this case in particular it was the air controllers. We spent at least two hours sitting on the aircraft during that departure, and it cost me most of the day of work in Valencia at the Formula One race.

Did I mention that I had run into another problem too? Concerning my guitar? Last year I travelled, as I have said, all around the world going to all the Formula One races with my guitar as carry-on luggage on all sorts of airplanes and the only time I ever encountered a problem was on a Singapore Airlines flight from Paris to Singapore. They would not allow me to take my guitar into the cabin of the airplane as hand luggage. It was the first and only time this had happened, but they told me the guitar would go in a safe area in storage, as a fragile object, and it would not be thrown into the hold with the baggage.

I had no choice but to agree. But you can imagine how surprised I was when I discovered that the Singapore Airlines aircraft in question was in fact the A380, the largest airplane in the world – the monster of an aircraft that holds up to 500 or so passengers. And so it was that the only aircraft that said it had no room for my guitar was the biggest in the world. I travel with a soft case around the guitar, so I was worried. But it survived just fine.

Well, going to Valencia last week I had booked on Iberia, the Spanish national airline, as I have often done in the past. When I got to the airport, however, I learned that the flight was not run by Iberia but by Vueling, a crappy little low-cost trash airline of some kind. At the check-in I was told that I could not take my guitar with me in the cabin; “Company rules at Vueling.”

I put up a bit of a fight and complained and said it was absurd, etc. But I could do nothing. They took the guitar, but they assured me it would be put in a place for fragile objects. I remembered the Singapore flight and accepted. But when I met Pepe, the singer and guitar player I have mentioned in previous posts – who plays in open mics in Paris but who is from Valencia – he told me he never had a problem taking his guitar in the cabin on Vueling.

Okay, so now things get interesting in more than one way.

Upon arriving at the airport in Valencia yesterday to return to Paris I was again told at the check-in desk that I could not take the guitar aboard. “Company rules,” I was told. Then the man looked at a sheet of paper and said, “Not only that, but you will have to put the guitar in the hold and paid 20 euros.”


“Yes, on Vueling you pay for extra luggage.”

“But I booked on Iberia.”

“If you were going to Barcelona or Madrid or something you would have been on an Iberia flight, but Iberia flights direct to Valencia from Paris are operated by Vueling.”

I argued and said that it was all crap, and that even if I had had this problem on the way over, I had not been asked to pay 20 euros and I had been told the guitar would go in a space for fragile objects.

I was directed to the Vueling ticket counter where I was told by a bitter woman that there is no such thing as a space for fragile objects, that all objects went in the regular hold. Moreover, it was Vueling company rules to charge 20 euros for the extra luggage.

I want to point out that both flights – it turned out – were in aircraft that had plenty of room to hold the guitar in the overhead luggage area. It was one of those overhead luggage things where you have a massively large space that spills over two three or more sets of seats. In other words, a guitar can lie down in there no problem.

I put up a fight and said it was extraordinary that I was being so badly treated and so inconsistently treated. It was taking a musician hostage emotionally. My Seagull S6 guitar is not an expensive one, but I was lucky with it and the sound is fabulous and unique. It has been complimented all over the world by guitar players. I got lucky with the wood, the construction, etc., and if it was ever broken or lost, I could not replace it.

Of course, I lost this battle and I was held hostage for the whole flight wondering if my guitar would be there in one piece when I returned to Paris.

That was as an emotional hostage, I repeat. But what then happened in Paris got even better: We arrived on time and taxied quickly up to our stopping point on the tarmac in a rainy, dark, hot Paris Orly airport. We waited a little while, longer than I expected, and then the captain of the light announced that the ground staff of the airport had called a strike some 50 minutes prior to our landing. We would not be let out of the aircraft.

Yes, that is right: The passengers were held hostage by the ground staff of the Orly airport who were on strike and did not want to roll up the ladder to the aircraft door. Fortunately we only waited 40 to 45 minutes in the aircraft. But it was not a very pleasant experience as I think we all had visions of sitting there all night long. And I wondered how long the aircraft could operate its air conditioning, etc.

When I got out finally I went to try to recuperate my bags and the guitar. I spend some 20 minutes waiting for the guitar with no sign of it. There was no ground staff anywhere to ask why all the other bags had come out – including my own – but not the guitar. When I went to try to find someone in a far off part of the airport, I suddenly noticed out of the corner of my eye at the opposite end of the luggage room on a belt in a lonely pile of fragile and large objects, my guitar case. I had come through a separate door and surely, surely it seemed it had been located in another part of the airplane’s hold. In any case, it was and is all of a piece. I sighed relief. But I feel enormous resentment and will never fly Vueling again. I suggest that all musicians carrying instruments should also boycott Vueling.

During my travels last year I somehow received a piece of paper showing legislation in the United States that guitar players should carry around that says that within the United States, in any case, guitars cannot be rejected from the cabin. There’s a great reason for that, too, I’d say: They always fit and musicians do not deserve being treated like lower class citizens, do they?!!

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