‘How is this okay?’ – outrage as seven music students’ brass instruments lost by Lufthansa

26 July 2022, 14:16 | Updated: 18 September 2023, 10:15

Seven students age 16-18 have been left without their musical instruments for 25 days
Seven students age 16-18 have been left without their musical instruments for 25 days. Picture: Tom Redmond

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Students from Chethams School of Music in Manchester have been left without their musical instruments for 25 days, with no word of an expected return.

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On 1 July 2022, seven students of the Chethams School of Music arrived at Manchester Airport to find their musical instruments had not arrived with them.

Six trombones and one tuba were meant to be travelling with the students in the hold of their Lufthansa flights back to the UK from Italy, but 25 days after the flight, the seven brass instruments still remain missing.

Tom Redmond, joint principal and director of music at Chethams, was travelling with the students and says their nightmare began at Napoli (Naples) airport.

“Prior to the trip, we knew the trombones and tuba would be going in the hold,” Redmond told Classic FM. “But we organised with the airline that although the instruments would be going in the hold, we wanted to be able to carry them to the steps of the play, just to ensure that they were safe.

“We were able to do this when we left Manchester airport a few days prior, but when we were returning from Naples airport, we were told we wouldn’t be able to do this. So we took the instruments down a corridor to the the oversized baggage counter where they were x-rayed, scanned, and tagged.”

Little did the students know, this would be the last time they saw their musical instruments.

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The students from Chethams School of Music were travelling with the German airline, Lufthansa, from Naples Airport
The students from Chethams School of Music were travelling with the German airline, Lufthansa, from Naples Airport. Picture: Getty

The students are part of the Chetham’s Symphonic Brass Ensemble, who were in Italy at the end of last month to perform at the Giardini la Mortella – a private garden on the island of Ischia, created by the wife of English composer, William Walton, Susana Walton.

Redmond and the students boarded a flight from Naples to Frankfurt, and then made a connection from Frankfurt back to Manchester.

“There was a slight delay on our flight from Naples to Frankfurt, which meant it was a tight turnaround when we got to Germany, but we still made the flight,” Redmond explained. “So there's always a worry with connections that tight, whether your baggage made it in the same time as you did.”

When the students arrived in Manchester, the six trombones and tuba were nowhere to be found. One suitcase was also missing.

At the lost luggage counter, they were told the suitcase was still in Frankfurt, but they could not locate the seven musical instruments.

A spokesperson for Lufthansa told Classic FM the airline is “very sorry that due to airport staff shortages at our hubs many baggage items could not be delivered as planned.

“Currently these delayed bags will be delivered to their owners as quickly as possible. However each suitcase needs to be handled separately.”

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The next day, the students were due to play Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring with the Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra in their end of year concert.

“Despite being checked in and scanned,” Redmond told Classic FM, “the airline couldn’t locate the instruments.

“We don’t even know if they left Naples. We don't know if they were lost in transit when they got to Frankfurt. So our students had to call in favours the next day, and borrow instruments from other students to ensure our orchestra had a trombone section.”

Despite Redmond, along with a team of staff from Chethams, calling up Lufthansa every two to three days since 1 July, they are yet to receive any response from the airline. Redmond has even emailed the CEO of the airline, to no avail.

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Chethams, which prepares students aged eight to 18 for a career in music, sees leavers progress to leading conservatoires across the world.

The tuba player is due to start her undergraduate degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in September, and four of the trombone players have conservatoire auditions starting in the autumn. The summer prior to conservatoire auditions is a critical time for any young instrumentalist in terms of practising, which none of the musicians are now able to do, considering they are all missing their instruments.

“Four students’ pathways into higher education are being jeopardised by this situation,” Redmond explained.

“And it’s not just about the instruments, the cases are worth hundreds of pounds, and then there are mouthpieces and accessories that are integral to these musicians playing that they need to practice with.”

Once luggage has been missing for over 21 days, Lufthansa officially classes the items as ‘lost’, and this distinction has led to extra forms needing to be filled.

90 percent of the students at Chethams are on bursaries which allow them to study at the renowned music school, and replacing these instruments is no cheap feat. Redmond told Classic FM that the tuba alone is worth around £8,000, and the airline won’t cover anywhere near that much in compensation. Students families are therefore having to turn to their own insurance plans to see what is covered.

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Redmond says this incident is part of a wider conversation in regards to musical touring.

“There’s a complete crisis within the airline industry at the minute in terms of baggage loss, and I know there are problems with staff shortages,” Redmond admitted. “But how is this okay?

“You trust your luggage, which in this case are our students lives, to an airline, and to have had no contact from Lufthansa feels like they have actively taken no responsibility for what has happened.”

Classic FM reached out to Lufthansa for a comment, who replied, “we assume that the music school has filed a baggage claim. This paper contains a link that shows the latest status on the whereabouts. We ask for your understanding.”

Redmond told Classic FM that he had followed the link however, the status whereabouts of the musical instruments still remains unknown when entering the baggage barcodes.

“The bigger story here is how musicians are treated when they travel,” Redmond continued. “If this had happened to a professional ensemble, that would have meant professional musicians would have had no instruments for 25 days, which would have an impact on someone’s ability to make a living.

“Musicians are already struggling with travel restrictions due to Brexit, and then you throw into that event that you may or may not get your luggage back.

“There’s always been stories of musicians having their instruments broken whilst travelling by airlines, or cellists booking a seat for their instrument, and then not being allowed to use it.

“It’s an ongoing saga when it comes to travelling musicians and it makes those of us in the industry extremely uncomfortable.”