Friday, June 22, 2012

Air Travel = Smashed Lutes

Over the last two months I have had to stop building new instruments because I have been inundated with clients' instruments that have been damaged in airline travel.

These few photos represent only the worst cases - no pun intended. This theorbo was flying across the US. Although the case is doubled walled fibre-glass the impact shattered the front end of the lid (not pictured), broke the hinge and split the case walls on both side. Expectedly, the theorbo extension split as well.

It could have been worst. The extension popped cleanly out of its lap joint with the neck. I don't use a nail, screw or dowel to help secure this just for this type of accident. The neck joint to the body also popped, but cleanly. The bass side of the soundboard including the tongue, but not the fingerboard points, also popped but without cracking a rib or the soundboard.

The second theorbo was in the same type of case on a trans-atlantic flight and received a blow on the lower bass side of the case ripping off the clasp and compressing the case end.  The soundboard cracked in several places, the underlying belly wood that remains when the half binding is assembled split from the rest of the belly for the entire length of the bass side.

And, the inside clasp split completely in two! Fortunately, no ribs cracked and the rib joints held.

These two lutes were the most appalling examples because they were in "flight cases". Other lutes that have been sent to me recently have been lucky and suffered only loose bars and small cracks.

It is disheartening for both my clients and myself to see our lutes treated this way. Airlines banned instruments from their cabins and put us at the mercy of baggage handlers and their machinery. Recently, the US mandated that airlines had to allow smaller instruments in the overhead compartments or allow musicians to purchase seats for their instruments. Canadian airlines are following suit. Airlines in the EU are inconsistent or uncooperative. The International Federation of Musicians has launched a petition "demanding European legislation be updated to ensure fair treatment for performers travelling on planes with their instruments."   This links to the petition. It is in all of our interest.

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