August 11, 2006
This is part two of the August notes. It is written for musicians concerning travel problems, and is close to becoming a rant, so feel free to skip this one if you just want to read about music.
I just landed here in Switzerland for our last summer gig. I ended up being called out from just a few days at home the day before I was to leave. The reason was the UK terror plot against airline flights. Scares like this can disrupt airline travel just like a bad rumor can affect oil prices, or the stock market. So, I hurriedly made a few phone calls, and left 5 hours before my new flight was to depart.
I just barely made it. The lines, as we imagined, were a bit longer. But it was my guitar that nearly made me miss my flight. My guitar? Yes, I have always carried it in a very slim, soft bag, and the guitar was designed to fit in even the smallest regional airliner overhead compartment, so it has not been a problem. Except, for my "NO FLY" airlines: America West, Song, and all Australian domestic flights. They have caused me to have to bring along an extra case for the entire length of the tour if any of these 'airlines of last resort' are used.
Why not just always check the guitar? Well, let's see.......2 stolen guitars, one damaged, 5 times lost and delayed for over a day, this is what we have seen from checked guitar cases. Plus, I really need to spend time with my hands on a guitar every day, and that becomes easier if it is always with you. We usually don't have huge blocks of time to sit and practice in the hotel rooms, and you have to use every minute if you want to have any chops at all to play. And.....it's serial number "1".
So, Delta airlines is my flight to Atlanta, then to Europe. I feel confident and familiar with this airline, after 39 years, with over a half million miles when I remembered to put my frequent flyer number in. Imagine my surprise when they stop me at security and sternly, but gleefully announce that my guitar, (it is just a slim black gig bag shape at this point) is not going in the terminal and that I should go back through the huge line at ticketing again, put the soft bagged guitar in baggage to be crushed with all the other huge suitcases, then wait through the security line again. Feeling like there's still a chance to appeal to rational thought, and knowing that the F.A.R.'s for part 121 airlines have been temporarily modified only to disallow liquids or gels in carry on baggage, I ask for the supervisor. "I am the supervisor", was not what I wanted to hear, but quickly ended any hope of rational debate.
I left, realizing that nobody had even seen my guitar, just the fact that my bag was shaped like a guitar was enough to ban me from flying. In the best, not necessarily largest, airports in the USA, it is possible to have wireless internet provided free for the public, almost as if it's a service that you get for paying so much for parking, food, and tickets. Anyway, I was able to quickly get online and find that Delta does indeed officially ban guitars, just like Song had done. Then I found out that Delta and Song had merged, making it seem less surprising. So, even though my guitar in its soft carrying bag met all the FAA requirements for commercial air travel, the airlines are free to impose more restrictive, discriminatory rules, I guess.
I had to move fast. Down the elevator, to the train, up the elevator, walk,walk walk to the vehicle. Stash the guitar out of view, now find a better, more secure parking place. A calculated risk, but still a better risk than being loaded and unloaded, piled with other hard bags 4 times per flight, (conveyor belt to cart, cart to plane, plane to cart, cart to intermediate holding or belt) times 4 flights, 16 minimum instrument crushing handlings. I drive for 10 minutes until I find a spot near a security camera and a shred of shade. (Luckily, my Musicman has the easiest adjusting truss rod in case those 140 degree car interior days make a change). Time to go back to the airport and wait through some lines. I hope I can get my hands on one of my guitars that goes with our equipment truck soon after my arrival in Europe tomorrow..................
Number of guitars used in terror plots? 0. Number of shoes used in terror plots? 2. Number of cellphones used in terror plots? Too many to count. Computers used as tools of terrorists? Many have been found. So, why are guitars not allowed, or guitar shaped bags, and why are shoes, cell phones, and computers allowed? Just as with small aircraft being restricted and trucks not restricted from Washington D.C., it's all about numbers. The number of guitars and small planes is small enough to not affect poll numbers much. But trucks, (which have been used in terror plots, of course) are too numerous, like shoes, cell phones, computers and would cause outcry on a big enough scale to bring CNN to the scene. Once you have CNN on the scene, you have pollworthy numbers involved in all likelihood. I am a patriot, but I think that logic should have a place in our national security policies, not discrimination for a few, and dainty political correctness for the rest.
So, Delta is added to my "airlines of last resort", or "NO FLY" list. One spark of humanity put a smile back on my face at the airport. Since I was booked at the last minute, I had a center seat, and wanted to request one of the window exit row seats that they typically don't assign till the ticket agent opens up the gate desk. Well, since the circus of the guitar, I was too late for that, and found myself at the end of a long line looking to do some generally impossible upgrades, or standby non-rev passengers that are usually airline employees. By the time I got to the front, the lady greeted me with a smile and said she would work on a seat change. I came back after half the plane had boarded to pick up my center seat boarding pass, and a surprise was waiting for me. She had somehow got me a window on an overbooked flight. I think it must have involved changing a non-rev seat with my previous seat, since we were paying full fare, as often happens. In any case, I just didn't know what to think about the fact that my oldest, regularly used airline was now to be avoided. But thanks, Delta lady for working out that seat change for a paying customer when it would have been so much easier and typical to just bark out "the flights booked!, Next customer".
© stevemorse.com 2006