Flight attendant tries to force violinist to check instrument into hold: ‘We don’t go with federal law’

17 August 2021, 14:19 | Updated: 17 August 2021, 14:41

Flight attendant tries to force violinist to check instrument into hold
Flight attendant tries to force violinist to check instrument into hold. Picture: Rachelle Hunt/Facebook

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

“It’s not OK to treat anyone this way,” a violinist says, after a flight attendant refused to let her carry her instrument on board.

A United Airlines flight attendant tried to deny a violinist the right to board with her instrument, despite federal regulations stating that musical instruments can be stored in overhead bins.

Violinist Rachelle Hunt, a member of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, was one of the first to board her flight from Knoxville to Washington Dulles. But after stepping onto the aircraft with her violin, Hunt was told by a flight attendant that this wasn’t permitted.

In a video posted by Hunt to Facebook, the flight attendant can be heard saying “we don’t go with the federal law”, followed by “Would you stop it?”. Hunt eventually replied: “I’m sorry, I’m standing up for my rights because this instrument cannot be checked.”

Hunt states: “I was only able to board with my violin after a long argument because I refused to give in and was luckily able to speak with an understanding pilot. He intervened eventually and the flight attendant very grudgingly agreed to let me take my violin as an ‘exception’. Federal law is not an exception.”

In an email to Classic FM a spokesperson for CommutAir, the regional airline operating on behalf of United for this flight, said: “We regret this misunderstanding and are carefully reviewing all guidance issued to our employees specific to musical instruments to avoid this from happening again in the future.”

Read more: 10 tips for flying with your musical instrument

In the Facebook post, Hunt claims the attendant “insisted I had to check my violin despite me being the first one to board”.

She continues: “I showed the flight attendant the federal law that states that airlines are required by law to accept violins as hand luggage if there is room, and she said ‘We don’t go with the federal law. We go with the United…’.”

Hunt has since made a formal complaint against the airline, and has notified the American Federation of Musicians and DOV – German Orchestra Union.

In her post, Hunt explains she is a Star Alliance Gold member with priority boarding, “so that I can preboard with my violin exactly to avoid these problems”. She has urged the airline to inform its employees of the laws around which musical instruments can be taken onboard.

She continues: “United Airlines – you do have to follow federal law, no matter what your flight attendants insist. And it’s not ok to treat anyone this way.”

A United Airlines spokesperson added: “This isn’t the experience we want for passengers traveling on CommutAir. Our carry-on bag policy complies with FAA regulations which permit musical instruments to be stored in our overhead bins as a personal item.”