For anyone who is interested in my Aer Lingus/Menzies Aviation situation, here is an update.
In my initial letter of complaint to the CEO of Aer Lingus, I described in full my experience of the evening of the 18th June, and the behaviour of ‘Nick’, the ground crew ‘supervisor’ employed by Menzies Aviation, the company contracted by Aer Lingus as ground crew in Bristol airport, and the events leading up to and including my being forcibly removed from the flight for refusing to put my violin in the aircraft hold.
In response to this initial letter to the CEO, I received a reply from Aer Lingus ‘Guest Relations’.
They begin by saying they are sorry I was unhappy with the situation.
They say they made an internal investigation of what happened. Here are their claims, and my responses to these claims which I have made in my second letter, sent to the CEO of Aer Lingus this morning.
Aer Lingus Guest Relations say their records confirm that I was told at check-in that my violin would have to be tagged and travel in the aircraft hold. They describe this as a ‘common request’.
I replied that it is not a common request. I have never had this ‘request’ made of me before in over twenty-five years of flying.
And no matter how ‘common’ they may incorrectly assert this request to be, it is not reasonable. It is unreasonable in the extreme to expect that a violin or any fragile instrument should ever be placed in the hold of an aircraft.
I also pointed out that this was not a request but a demand, and a demand made in a most aggressive manner, with no consideration for the fragility or value of the instrument or for my security and that of my possessions as a passenger flying with the airline.
An interesting aspect of the letter is that it acknowledges the fragility of the instrument. This, they say, is why I was permitted to carry it myself to the gate at which stage I was to hand it over for placement in the aircraft hold.
I said I appreciate their description of my violin as ‘fragile’ and that I agree with their description. Like all violins and most musical instruments, care needs to be taken at all times so that these vulnerable and valuable instruments are not placed at risk of damage. The smallest bump can upset the delicate nature of the set-up of an instrument, by damaging,for example, the bridge, the strings, or the sound-post. The smallest incident can result in serious damage, which if permanent, would render the instrument of no further use to the player. I wrote that I find it a strange logic that a violin would be thought of as so fragile that a musician would be permitted to carry the instrument to the gate only for the owner to be expected to hand it over to a stranger who may know little of the care required by this fragile item for storage in a place that is unsafe for violins.
Their letter continually refers to my violin as ‘over-sized’. I replied that my violin is not ‘over-sized.” It is clear that my case is larger than the stated dimensions for carry on luggage on the Aer Lingus website, but violins have always have been larger than those dimensions, and this has never caused a problem before.
Because, and importantly, according to the Aer Lingus website, violins, along with any other small musical instrument that fits in the overhead storage compartment, may be placed in the overhead compartment, irrespective of these size specifications.
Their letter states describes my leaving the aircraft that evening as my ‘deciding not to fly’.
It is not true to say that I chose not to travel. In reality, I had no choice. I either had to put my violins at risk in the hold to satisfy the whim and ‘authority’ of “Nick” or be removed from the plane, by force if necessary.
At the time of my removal from the plane, my violin was already safely stored in the cabin overhead compartment with the plane fully boarded and ready for take-off demonstrating that there was enough room for my violin. Consequently, there was no need to remove the violin at that time.
But, even if there had been an actual shortage of space that would have required further off-loading of baggage, the selection of my violin for placement in the hold makes no sense.
According to Aer Lingus Guest Relations, my violin was fragile. Many of the other bags that had been placed in the overhead compartment that night – some of which could have been accurately described as ‘oversized” – were commercially produced, purpose-built luggage, specifically designed for travel, including travel in the hold of a plane.
So, if there still was an issue of designating items to be placed in the hold, and a reasonable, competent individual was presented with this problem, I asked Aer Lingus which items they think ought to be selected for placement in the hold: robust, purpose-built luggage or my fragile violin?
And I made it clear that “Nick” did not ‘request’ that I put my violin in the hold or even offer any genuine options. He demanded in an aggressive manner that I must put my fragile violin in the hold or be removed from the plane. And, if I did not comply with his demand, he told me he would have the police come on board to forcibly remove me. Further, he told me that if I did not comply immediately with his demands, he would have me barred from flying on Aer Lingus ever again (an action that I discovered afterwards he did not have the authority to do).
I point out that this whole affair has come about as a result of the actions of one person and remind Aer Lingus that it was his insistence that my violins be put in the hold when there was no actual need for this to happen, that caused the problem in the first place.
Clearly, the supervisor that night was more interested in displaying his authority than in solving a problem in a specific and reasonable manner.
And when I tried to report his abusive misconduct to a superior, it turned out he himself was the only one I could report to. I wrote that I was not surprised that their internal reports do not reflect the true nature of our encounter. “Nick” lied to me and I am sure he would not hesitate to lie to Aer Lingus in his internal reports.
Aer Lingus claim that ‘on a goodwill basis’, I was rescheduled onto a flight the next day.
I find their use of the words ‘on a goodwill basis’ interesting. I informed them that I do not see it as ‘goodwill that I was subjected to prejudiced, unreasoned and abusive behaviour like this from one of their employees, that I was prevented from flying and removed from the aircraft, under threat of force, in a humiliating manner when all I wanted was safe and respectful passage for myself,my violin and my other possessions to Dublin.
I do not see it as ‘goodwill’ that I was prevented from flying after I had purchased and paid in full for my ticket, that I was prevented from flying at the time of my choice, and forced to arrive 12 hours later than I had intended and needed to.
I do not see it as ‘goodwill’ to read in their stock reply by email that they, in effect, condone the abusive and unfair, senseless, threatening and lying behaviour of an employee of a company contracted by Aer Lingus as ground staff.
I suggested to Aer Lingus Guest Relations that if this is their idea of ‘goodwill,’ they might consider redefining their understanding of the concept.
My original complaint was not with Aer Lingus, an airline that I, as an Irish citizen, have always felt proud of as a national airline and one that I have enjoyed flying with and felt safe with.
Still, on that night, an employee of a company contracted by Aer Lingus prevented me from travelling for no reason other than his puffed-up sense of self-importance, and in the process was abusive, threatening and lied to me. The problem of whether there was enough room for my violins in the overhead compartment that night had already been solved before he demanded that I leave the plane.
I pointed out to Aer Lingus that they did not address these grave issues in their response to me.
I informed Aer Lingus that my Facebook post about this story received an enormous response, the vast majority of whom expressed deep shock and disapproval at the way I had been treated. Although I had made it clear that my complaint was not with Aer Lingus but with Menzies Aviation and Bristol Airport, many people expressed disapproval and disappointment with Aer Lingus, as up to that point they had perceived it as an airline with a good reputation. Many musicians expressed their on-going anger and frustration with airlines in general, as well as a new anxiety that we might now have to add Aer Lingus to the list of airlines that cannot be trusted to allow us to take the necessary care of our instruments.
I pointed out to them that we musicians are acutely aware of the fragility of our instruments, and with years of experience we have built up an individual discipline of care with which we ensure that our instruments remain safe and cared for. It is rare that we ask or expect others to carry or care for our instruments, as we understand the kind of care that is required, let alone asking strangers who do not share this same discipline to take care of our instruments.
Imagine the possible consequences of my succumbing to the inordinate pressure I was placed under by this person, “Nick”. Imagine if he had succeeded in frightening me to the extent that I agreed to hand over my violin, and that this had resulted in irreparable damage to the instrument, all because of the simple fact that this one employee put his inflexible wishes and lack of common sense ahead of not only me, the customer, but the reputation of the airline for whom he was responsible.
Aer Lingus is an airline that has commanded a lot of respect with musicians for many decades. Like many of their customers, I have chosen Aer Lingus deliberately to ensure I am not treated the way that Ryanair is reputed to treat its customers. I am sure Aer Lingus does not want to be seen in the same negative way as airlines like Ryanair have been seen for many years.
I suggested that Aer Lingus Guest Relations considers this fact: For me to have been treated so badly by a member of a ground crew contracted by Aer Lingus creates an overall extremely negative impression on how the whole airline values its customers. For them to try to dismiss or ignore his bad behaviour in this incident erodes our confidence in the airline further.
I suggest also that Aer Lingus takes the positive step of clarifying its currently self-contradictory guidelines with regard to carrying musical instruments on-board their flights so that it is not possible for an individual employee to cause havoc as a result of his or her own sense of self-importance thereby causing severe distress and annoyance to customers.
There are a number of musician friendly airlines, such as Easy Jet and Norwegian Airlines, who have already adopted reasonable regulations in this regard that I suggested they may wish to review.
Finally, I suggested that they read my letter with the seriousness with which it was written. I insist that they do not attempt to dismiss me again with another typical customer service letter that does not have the best interest of their customers at heart. I will continue to pursue my complaint until a satisfying conclusion is reached.
I finished by informing them that a friend of mine just flew from Cork via AerLingus to Heathrow and then on to Frankfurt via Lufthansa, placing a suitcase in the hold. When he arrived at his hotel, he noticed this damage to his suitcase. (See photos.) An impact sufficient to cause this damage would be disastrous for a violin or any other fragile musical instrument.
Events like this will happen. The only way to prevent damage to instruments is to guarantee safe passage within the passenger cabin.