Airline Nightmare

Airline Nightmare

Reprinted from the Boston Globe of August 20, 2012

In a state of panic and fearing catastrophe, I am writing this midflight as I travel from Calgary, Alberta, to Los Angeles on American Airlines.

I thought I did everything right: bought two seats, a ticket for myself and one for my Andrea Guarneri cello made in 1669. I checked in, got two boarding passes, and went to the boarding gate without problem. It all went smoothly—the cello and I were even pre-boarded—one of the easier of the literally thousands of flights we have taken together. Until . . .

As the cabin begins to fill, the flight crew informs me that this is a “code-share” flight, and that although I have an AA ticket, the plane is operated by WestJet, and my cello is not allowed. (Cellists beware: WestJet not only code-shares with American, but with carriers including Korean Air, Delta Air Lines, and Japan Airlines.) Of course, I object, at first pleasantly, eventually vociferously—to no avail.

In desperation, I try the overhead luggage bin. The cello is too big. “What about the coat closet?” I ask.

“Sorry, sir. This aircraft has no closet.”

I get testy, and the captain appears. I suggest strapping the cello into the (assigned and paid-for) seat and letting him inspect it for safety. But I am asking the impossible: the cello is not allowed, he informs me.

Check the cello in baggage or get off the plane. That’s my choice.

“Sweet,” I say. “If I get off, how will you get me there?”

“Please understand, sir, the cello will not be allowed on any other WestJet aircraft.”

“Will you put me on another airline?”

“That will be your own responsibility.”

My mind races: If   there is another carrier that flies its own planes to LA (and I know of no way to check), two one-way tickets bought at the gate would be más o menos [more or less] $2,000. And it’s late afternoon. Is there even another plane today?

“Hurry up, sir. We cannot delay departure.”

So I do the unthinkable—hand my love of 45 years to a baggage handler, a nice guy who promises he will rope it down so it will not bounce, and it will be delivered to me by hand in Los Angeles.

The violent takeoff on a bumpy runway and ensuing turbulence—beverage service has just been discontinued—make me realize I have made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I am near nervous breakdown; my imagination is out of control. I see my cello in pieces, fingerboard off, cracks in the back and—worst of all—the bridge pushed through the top.

Turbulence now seems to be over, but I cannot calm myself. The flight attendant is now becoming concerned for me; she gives me a free sandwich, but it’s one of the only times in my life I can’t eat. She sees that I’m writing. I think I’ll show her this.

“It was made in 1669,” she reads. “No wonder you’re nervous. Could I ask what a cello costs?”

I whisper its value—at first she has little reaction, but it now looks like she is going to talk to the captain!

Time has now passed. It’s been a three-hour flight. We are landing.

I am holding my breath.

We are at the gate. I don’t know what they discussed, but the captain has just left the cockpit to go below and personally bring me the cello!

Something is wrong. Five. Ten. Fifteen minutes have passed. The other passengers have disembarked and I am alone on the jetway. They must be afraid to show me.

Writing this all down while waiting gives me something to do—I am furious. I will sue. I will blast this story all over the Internet. I will . . .

Here comes the captain with Miss Cello. I open the case, pluck the strings (still in tune).

No cracks, all is intact.

I cry.

NOTE: You can also read the article on the Boston Globe website.

About the Author:

Paul Katz

Paul Katz is known to concertgoers the world over as cellist of the Cleveland Quartet, which during an international career of 26 years made more than 2500 appearances on four continents, in all of the music capitals, great concert halls and music festivals of the world. As a member of this celebrated ensemble from 1969-1995, he performed at the White House and on many television shows including “CBS Sunday Morning,” NBC’s “Today Show,” “The Grammy Awards” (in 1973, the first classical musicians ever to appear on that show,) and was seen in “In The Mainstream: The Cleveland Quartet,” a one hour documentary televised across the U.S. and Canada.

Mr. Katz has received many honors, including the American String Teacher’s Association “Artist-Teacher of the Year 2003;” Indiana University’s “Chevalier du Violoncelle,” awarded for distinguished achievements and contributions to the world of cello playing and teaching; Chamber Music America’s highest honor, The Richard M. Bogomolny National Service Award, awarded for a lifetime of distinguished service in the field of chamber music; and an Honorary Doctorate of Musical Arts from Albright College. Mr. Katz served for six years as President of Chamber Music America, the national service organization in the United States that has in its membership virtually all of the country’s 600 professional chamber music ensembles, as well as hundreds of presenting organizations, music festivals and managers. As an author, he has appeared in numerous publications and wrote the liner notes for the Cleveland Quartet’s three-volume set of the complete Beethoven Quartets on RCA Red Seal.

Mr. Katz has appeared as soloist in New York, Cleveland, Toronto, Detroit, Los Angeles, and other cities throughout North America. He was a student of Gregor Piatigorsky, Janos Starker, Bernard Greenhouse, Gabor Rejto and Leonard Rose. In 1962 he was selected nationally to play in the historic Pablo Casals Master Class in Berkeley, California and was a prizewinner in the Munich and Geneva Competitions. Of special interest to cellists are his recordings of the Dohnanyi Cello Sonata for ProArte Records and the Cleveland Quartet’s recording on Sony Classical of the Schubert two-cello quintet with Yo-Yo Ma. The Cleveland Quartet has nearly 70 recordings to its credit on RCA Victor, Telarc International, Sony, Philips and ProArte. These recording have earned many distinctions including the all-time best selling chamber music release of Japan, 11 Grammy nominations, Grammy Awards for Best Chamber Music Recording and Best Recorded Contemporary Composition in 1996, and “Best of the Year” awards from Time Magazine and Stereo Review.

In September of 2001, Mr. Katz joined the faculty of The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, following five years at Rice University in Houston and twenty years (1976-1996) of teaching at the Eastman School of Music. He has mentored many of the fine young string quartets on the world’s stages today including the Ariel, Biava, Cavani, Chester, Harlem, Jupiter, Kuss, Lafayette, Maia, Meliora, OmerParker, T’ang and Ying Quartets. One of America’s most sought after cello teachers, his cello students, in addition to membership in many of the above quartets, have achieved international careers with solo CD’s on Decca, EMI, Channel Classics and Sony Classical.  They occupy positions in many of the world’s major orchestras including principal chairs of orchestras such as Detroit, Los Angeles,  St. Louis, Oslo, Norway and Osaka, Japan, and are members of many American symphony orchestras such as Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, National Symphony, Pittsburgh, Rochester and St. Louis.

Mr. Katz has been a participant at many of the world’s major summer music festivals and schools including twenty years at the Aspen Festival, Marlboro Festival, the Yale Summer School of Chamber Music, the Perlman Music Program, Yellow Barn, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in Germany, ProQuartet in France, Domaine Forget, Orford, Toronto Summer Music, and the Banff Center for the Arts in Canada, the Steans Institute of The Ravinia Festival, The Heifetz Institute, and is a Director of the Shouse Artist Institute of the Great Lakes Chamber Festival. His hundreds of master classes worldwide include many of the major music schools of North and South America, Europe, Israel, Japan and China. Mr. Katz frequently sits on the juries of international cello and chamber music competitions, including the Leonard Rose International Cello Competition, the Gyeongnam International Cello Competition in Korea, and the international string quartet competitions of Banff, London, Munich, Graz and Geneva.

Paul Katz currently resides in Boston, MA with his wife, pianist Pei-Shan Lee.

Mr. Katz plays an Andrea Guarneri cello dated 1669.

Cleveland Quartet Homepage
Internet Cello Society (ICS) Interview with Paul Katz
New England Conservatory Faculty Profile
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