Why Did A US Airways Pilot Not Allow Violins On A Charlotte Plane?

May 27, 2014

Zachary De Pue, concertmaster for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and member, Time for Three
Zachary De Pue, concertmaster for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and member, Time for Three
Credit Still from YouTube video

Two classical musicians tried to board a US Airways flight on Memorial Day. They were told that they were welcome, but their violins were not.

Nicolas Kendall and Zachary De Pue are frequent flyers. They perform as part of the group Time for Three (Tf3.)  In recent weeks the trio has performed in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Indianapolis. They've always been able to bring their violins with them, in the cabin of the plane.

On Monday, they were at Charlotte Douglas International Airport for a routine flight, headed for Fayetteville, Arkansas. They were one of the first to board US Airways Flight 4799 when they got word that the pilot would not allow their violins in the overhead bins.

"We had had to walk across the tarmac, and we got to the stop of the stairs, and the captain and chief steward said 'You guys can't bring them on, you have to stow them,'" Nicolas Kendall said. The captain gave them two options: check their violins or forfeit the flight.

The musicians did not want to check their valuable instruments and contacted their business manager, Brandi Numendahl. She was also surprised. "They were one of the first ones on the plane, it's not the smallest plane we've been on," she said. "They've flown on that size plane to Sun Valley, Idaho. We've never, ever, ever had problems. (For some reason) the captain just said the violin is not allowed in the overhead compartment."

The musicians argued their case to the flight crew. Things got tense, a line began to form behind them. When the two refused to check their instruments, they were asked to step off the plane and a  "conflict resolution officer" was called. While they were waiting for the officer on the tarmac, Nick Kendall took out his video camera and Zachary De Pue took out his violin.

"US Air is not letting us put our violins on an airplane. How many artists have to deal with this sh***?" asks Kendall on camera.

The camera then pans to De Pue who begins to furiously play a Bach Partita. De Pue is playing on the tarmac, next to the plane while the plane's door is open. As De Pue is facing the plane, playing his violin, someone inside the plane pulls a curtain across the doorway. (In addition to his work with the Tf3, De Pue is concertmaster for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.)

Soon, a man Kendall identifies as the pilot comes off the plane to load some luggage.

"Can you explain to us what you're trying to do?" Nicolas Kendall asks. The man doesn't answer, but carries luggage on the plane.

De Pue continues to play.

"Oh my God, they're not letting us on the flight, what do we do?" Kendall asks. And then he decided to do the only thing that he could do: record the  incident and post it to social media.

Seatbelts Fastened, Bags Stowed

The plane left without them. The two were met by an airline "conflict resolution officer", and booked on a later flight. Before boarding, though, they say they were met by a representative from US Air and again told to check their instruments.

But by that time, the two had heard about a 2012 Federal Law that clearly allows musical instruments in the overhead bin.

Section 424 requires air carriers to permit passengers to carry a small musical instrument, such as a violin, guitar, onto the aircraft cabin if it can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin or baggage or cargo storage compartment if the instrument can be stowed properly and there is space for such instruments.

Nicolas Kendall and Zachary De Pue did make it to their destination in plenty of time. But they posted their video to social media in order to bring attention to the issue, to perhaps help other musicians.

"It's hard enough being a classical musician, and working and sacrificing in an industry that is so small. It's a huge expense for some people," Kendall says. On the later flight, the violins were tucked away in the overhead compartment.

In less than 24 hours, the video has received more than 50,000 hits on YouTube.

"This is gonna hopefully be something everybody talks about," notes Kendall.

US Airways offered the following  response to WQXR, public radio in New York City:

A US Airways spokesman on Tuesday characterized the incident as a "disagreement over policy" and said that the airline staff acted in accordance with company rules. "Sometimes cases won't fit," he noted, adding that the flight crew were "trying to follow policy."