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  • Writer's pictureStevie Connor

The Struggle of Touring Artists: Air Canada’s Mishandling of Musical Instruments

Broken Guitar

Travelling musicians often face the daunting task of ensuring their instruments arrive safely at their destinations. These instruments are not merely tools of the trade but extensions of their artistic selves, often carrying sentimental and significant financial value. Unfortunately, Air Canada has gained a notorious reputation among touring artists for mishandling these precious items. A recent incident involving Newfoundland band Rum Ragged sheds light on the broader issue of how Air Canada deals with the instruments of touring musicians, and the impact this has on their professional and personal lives.

Rum Ragged, a well-known Newfoundland band, recently experienced a distressing episode with Air Canada that encapsulates the frustrations of many musicians. In a heartfelt post, the band expressed their dismay:

"We do not want to have to make this post but here we are. We just arrived from London, UK to Toronto, ON on our route back to St. John’s, NL. You have broken our guitar and lost our bouzouki. On the advice of your company we always gate check our instruments for safety and security that they won’t be lost. Just 3 months ago you damaged our bouzouki (the same one you lost today) you advised us to go through your email and online system to fill out forms and make a claim and we still have not received any answers or compensation. We have seen how your system does not work so we will try this. We hope this gets your attention and maybe you can try to make this right somehow. 😔 Please do the right thing and take responsibility for your brutal handling of these instruments. Do better."

This statement underscores a pattern of negligence that Air Canada has shown towards the instruments of traveling musicians. The band's post continues with specific details that highlight the broader systemic issues:

"The case used is a MONO M80 case. A case we switched to after our custom hardshell case was punctured and destroyed along with another bouzouki of ours in 2018. The idea being that the MONO cases were allowed to go through the gate check process, with the possibility of being a carry on and were likely to be handled with more care this way. MONO Cases are used throughout the industry by many touring artists whom we cross paths with on a consistent basis in airports all over. We actually used this same case on 5 other airlines throughout the UK and EU over the last four months. All airlines gate checked the MONO case and placed the guitar under with baggage and not once was there damage done. The strings we loosened before the flight as we have done with every one of our stringed instruments over the last 10+ years of doing this for a living."

This detailed account not only shows the careful measures taken by the band to protect their instruments but also illustrates the comparative care other airlines provide. It paints a stark contrast between the diligence observed in the UK and EU and the apparent negligence of Air Canada.

Musicians rely on their instruments not only for their livelihood but also for their creative expression. The damage or loss of an instrument can lead to cancelled performances, financial losses, and emotional distress. Rum Ragged’s experience is a glaring example of how such incidents can disrupt the professional lives of artists. The band’s frustration is palpable, especially given that this is not their first encounter with Air Canada’s mishandling of their instruments.

In 2018, Rum Ragged faced a similar situation when their custom hardshell case was punctured, leading to the destruction of their bouzouki. Despite switching to a highly recommended MONO M80 case and adhering to all advised precautions, the band continued to face issues. Their proactive approach, involving loosening the strings before flights and using industry-standard cases, demonstrates a significant effort to mitigate risks. However, these efforts seem futile in the face of persistent mishandling.

The band's appeal for Air Canada to "do better" and take responsibility resonates with many artists who have shared similar experiences. Social media is rife with stories of musicians lamenting the damage to their instruments by the airline. The systemic issues highlighted by Rum Ragged’s ordeal point to a need for significant changes in how Air Canada handles the instruments of touring artists.

To address this recurring problem, Air Canada could implement several key changes. First, specialized training for baggage handlers on the specific needs and vulnerabilities of musical instruments could reduce the risk of damage. Understanding that instruments are delicate and often irreplaceable can foster a more careful approach to handling them.

Second, improved communication and protocols for gate-checking instruments could help ensure they are treated with the utmost care. Musicians like Rum Ragged often choose gate-checking to avoid the harsh conditions of regular baggage handling. Ensuring these items are consistently treated with the same level of care across all flights is crucial.

Third, a more efficient and responsive claims process would demonstrate accountability and respect for the customers affected by these issues. As Rum Ragged pointed out, their previous claims went unanswered, which only compounded their frustration. A streamlined system for handling claims related to damaged or lost instruments could rebuild trust and show that Air Canada values the needs of its passengers.

Additionally, collaborations with musicians and industry experts to develop best practices for transporting instruments could provide insights and foster a better understanding of the unique requirements of touring artists. Such initiatives would not only improve the airline's service but also build goodwill within the music community.

Air Canada’s mishandling of musical instruments is not just a minor inconvenience; it’s a significant issue that affects the livelihood and emotional well-being of artists. The experiences of Rum Ragged and many others highlight the urgent need for the airline to take responsibility and implement meaningful changes. By doing so, Air Canada can ensure that the instruments, and by extension, the artistry of touring musicians, are protected and respected.

Broken Guitar


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