British Airways denies cello entry to the cabin ‘because it doesn’t have a visa’, claims musician

A cellist was told she needed a USA ESTA visa for her instrument and would have to pay over $4,000 to re-book her flights

August 3, 2016

An amateur Swiss-based cellist has claimed she was refused entry to a British Airways flight from Zurich to Baltimore because the extra seat she had booked for her instrument required a USA ESTA visa.

Jane Bevan has told The Strad that airline staff requested she re-book all flights, quoting her a cost of over $4,000:

‘I booked the ticket for myself and the cello online using flight comparison website GoToGate,’ Bevan explained. ‘I informed GoToGate about the cello when I made the booking [under the name ‘Chuck Cello’] and their advice was to contact BA directly. For this reason I phoned British Airways a month before the flight to ensure the booking was correct. I spoke with a customer service agent who told me that the additional seat booked for the cello followed airline policy on musical instruments and that there was nothing further for me to do.

‘When I arrived at the airport the clerk told me that she could not complete the check-in for the cello because the system required an ESTA visa. She spoke directly with GoToGate on the phone, but it was not possible for them to resolve the cello visa issue. GoToGate repeated that BA should resolve it directly. As a solution BA told me to re-book the flights quoting a cost of CHF 4,592.80. British Airways have offered me no refund or compensation.’

British Airways have responded to Bevan’s complaint with the following statement:

‘This was a highly unusual incident which arose after the customer booked a seat for her cello as a named passenger. This is what triggered the requirement for an ESTA from the US government. The ticket the customer booked through a third party website was non-refundable. We offer musicians a discounted rate to book a ‘musical instrument seat’, and on, we advise customers to contact us to discuss arrangements.’

Read: Violinist forced to carry unprotected instrument on lap on British Airways flight

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1 Comment on British Airways denies cello entry to the cabin ‘because it doesn’t have a visa’, claims musician

  1. Alistair Hinton // August 4, 2016 at 10:03 am // Reply

    The crucial part of this piece is “…despite me phoning their customer service department directly months beforehand to ensure they were aware I was bringing a cello on board…”.

    I am not a lawyer, still less an expert in US visa requirements, but I note that nothing is mentioned here as to whether BA was correct in insisting upon this visa requirement; any view on this must take account of that aspect of the matter.

    Much as I sympathise with the cellist and deplore BA’s stance and actions as reported here, it is always vital that all booking details be provable, so all phone calls should be recorded but, more importantly, all booking details and requirements should be evidenceable in writing; had either or both been the case here and had BA been at fault either in
    (a) claiming that a particular visa was required for the cello when it was not or
    (b) failing to notify the cellist at the outset if indeed it was required,
    BA would not have had a leg to stand on and would likely have rendered itself liable to litigation and a claim for damages. The absence of such evidence would, however, make it far harder to achieve success in a case against BA unless no such visa was required but it could be proved that BA stated to the cellist that it was required when it was too late for her to do anything about it.

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