A flight attendant representing United Airlines has been accused of ignoring Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules by trying to force a passenger on a recent flight to check her valuable and fragile violin into the hold despite there being space in the overhead bins for the instrument.
Professional violinist Rachelle Hunt who is a member of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony took to Facebook following the incident aboard a United Express flight from Knoxville to Washington Dulles.
“Yet another terrible experience as a musician flying #UnitedAirlines,” Hunt wrote in her August 10 Facebook post. “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.”
“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,” Hunt explained.
The federal law in question is nearly 10-years-old and allows passengers to bring small musical instruments onboard a commercial aircraft at no extra cost so long as it can safely be stowed in an overhead locker or under the seat and there’s space remaining at the time of boarding.
As a Star Alliance Gold member with Premier Access, Hunt was in boarding group one and able to preboard with her violin in order to snag space in the overhead locker before other passengers got onboard.
“Your flight attendant wouldn’t let me board with my violin and a backpack that fit under the seat. She insisted I had to check my violin despite me being the first one to board,” Hunt complained in the Facebook message aimed at United Airlines.
When Hunt showed the flight attendant a copy of the FAA rules, the flight attendant replied: “We don’t go with the federal law. We go with the united…”.
“Why do musicians always have to deal with incompetent and/ or rude employees? How can this person be a “manager” as she claimed?” Hunt asked.
The flight was operated on behalf of United Express by CommutAir, a regional carrier that operates small 50-seat aircraft with very limited overhead bin space.
A spokesperson for Commutair apologized for the incident, saying in a statement: “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.”
That apology hasn’t placated Hunt who has filed a formal complaint with United and contacted both the American Federation of Musicians and DOV – German Orchestra Union about the incident.
United Airlines later clarified that its carry on baggage policy does comply with FAA rules, saying in a statement: “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.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.