Northern Ireland

Musician paid over £200 for an airline seat for her violin

Zoe Conway Image copyright Zoe Conway
Image caption Zoe Conway says professional musicians should be able to travel freely with their instruments

An Irish violinist has called on the EU to ban airlines from asking musicians to purchase seats for their instruments.

Zoe Conway, from the Cooley Peninsula near Carlingford, County Louth, made the call after Ryanair asked her to pay €280 (£203) for a seat for her violin.

The professional musician, who is on tour in Germany, was travelling from Frankfurt to Dublin on Sunday.

Ryanair said their conditions of travelling with instruments are clear.

In a statement, the airline said customers agree when they are booking a flight that instruments should be placed in the hold of the plane, or purchased a seat.

Zoe's violin was her only hand luggage.

"I always carry it as hand luggage because it's so valuable and delicate and if it was dropped, even from my hand to the floor, it would be damaged," she said.

However, staff at the Ryanair check-in desk of Frankfurt Hahn Airport told Zoe that she would have to buy a seat for the instrument or allow it to be placed in the hold.

Image copyright PAul McCarthy
Image caption Musician Zoe Conway was touring Germany when she was asked to pay €280 (£203) for an airline seat for her violin.

"I couldn't believe it," she said.

"There's no way I could have put it in the hold, I just wouldn't be able to cover the cost of repairing or replacing it."

She said that the emotional attachment to her violin is even more important than its monetary worth.

"For me, my violin is like a child. It's an irreplaceable part of my life, and I say that as a mother.

"As a musician, your instrument is your voice and you need to protect it. If I was to play someone else's violin, it wouldn't sound like me."

After buying a seat for her violin, Zoe was forced to place it in the overhead locker because it would not have been secure in the seat assigned to it.

"What good is a seatbelt that's designed to go around a human waist in terms of protecting an instrument?" she said.

Zoe plans to lobby her local MEP for a change in EU law, so that it would better reflect the law in the United States, where instruments are treated as normal hand luggage.

Image caption Zoe posted on Facebook after being charged for a seat for her violin

"It just seems ridiculous to me that you should have to pay for something that weighs four kilograms," said Zoe. "That's much less than Ryanair's maximum hand luggage weight, it just doesn't make sense.

"We really need a change in the law on this one. It's just so unfair for an airline to be able to penalise a musician for travelling with a fiddle."

Deborah Annetts of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) described Zoe's treatment by Ryanair as unacceptable but not uncommon.

"This is indicative of a far wider problem," said Ms Annetts.

"Priceless instruments are being smashed, musicians are being refused travel and charged extortionate amounts just to protect their professional livelihoods.

"It is simply unacceptable that hard-working professionals are treated this way and left living in constant uncertainty in their profession.

"Travel is a fundamental part of a musician's job, and it can't be right that airlines profiteer from some hand luggage but not others."

The ISM has in the past urged the EU to provide some clarity for musicians on the issue of travelling with instruments.

A spokesperson for Ryanair said: "All customers must adhere to the terms and conditions of carriage, which they agree to at the time of booking, and which state that musical instruments should be checked-in to the hold, or alternatively placed on an additional purchased seat, as they exceed our hand baggage dimensions."