Violinists Stage Tarmac Protest Concert After Barred From Flying With Instruments

By Vince Lattanzio and David Chang
|  Thursday, May 29, 2014  |  Updated 11:21 AM CDT
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Musicians Nick Kendall and Zachary De Pue know how to fly with their instruments.

The Philly-trained violinists regularly tour the country educating young musicians, playing with orchestras and performing in their group Time for Three. Each time, they carry the violins on the airplane to keep a watchful eye on the fragile instruments.

But a trip on Monday to the Artosphere Arkansas' Arts + Nature Festival in Fayetteville, Ark. was unlike any other they’d experienced. After climbing jet stairs to board US Airways Express flight 4799 at Charlotte Dougals International Airport, the men were told there was no place for the violins in the plane’s cabin.

"They’re priceless instruments," Kendall said recalling his conversation with the crew. "It’s how we make our daily bread and we can’t subject them to the rough conditions underneath the plane."

Questioning the crew's orders, the men were walked from the small commuter jet down onto the tarmac. There, Kendall said, the pilot insisted federal regulations barred instruments from being treated as a carry on items and that the airline could be fined $10,000 for allowing the violins to be stowed in the cabin.

Frustrated by the situation, De Pue whipped out his fiddle and started playing in protest. Kendall recorded the scene for proof.

“It was just the two of us standing with our stuff and some luggage people hanging out,” the man said. “The pilot just ignored us and went on the flight."

A US Airways conflict resolution officer was dispatched to bring the men back into the airport and offered to re-book them on a later flight. The musicians accepted, but asked whether they’d run into the same problem again. The men were told it was the pilot’s discretion whether to allow the instruments on-board.

Once barred from being treated as carry-on luggage, Congress changed the rules on instruments such as violins and guitars with the FAA Modernization Act of 2012. Since the legislation’s passing in February of that year, airlines have been required to allow passengers to store instruments in the plane’s cabin -- so long as there’s room.

Bill McGlashen, spokesperson for US Airways, said while the airline had yet to receive the pilot’s report on the situation, there was a misunderstanding among the crew regarding the policy. A regional route, the plane was operated by the airline’s subsidiary, PSA Airlines.

"If it can fit, we can definitely accommodate instruments on-board," he said. "We do apologize to the musicians for the misunderstanding and wish them good luck and good playing at the festival."

While the duo did make it to Arkansas by Monday night, Kendall remains frustrated by the experience.

"It was amazing to feel that intimidation and be told rules by the authorities, that we respect, that are completely false," he said.

Kendall decided to post the men's protest video to YouTube, Twitter and other social networks -- quickly getting support from fellow musicians across the country.

The men hope their incident makes enough noise to make sure they and other musicians don’t run into the same issue again.

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