Mr. Bill Ayers
President and CEO
19300 International Boulevard
Seattle, WA 98188
Dear Mr. Ayers:
On Saturday, February 21, 2004, I flew on your airline from Burbank to Seattle, Flight #561. I am a professional musician of over 40 years standing, and a professional photographer of nearly 30 years. Thus, I often fly with my equipment. Sometimes I carry a guitar, sometimes I have photo gear, sometimes I have both.
On the day of my flight, I arrived at Bob Hope Airport/Burbank and checked in at 11:30am for a 2:00pm flight. I was the only person in line. I had in my possession one large soft case travel bag, a collapsible nylon mesh bag, a box of fragile glassware, a camera bag which doubled as my personal bag and a standard sized acoustic guitar in a hard shell case. It was my intention to check the large travel bag, and insert the box of glassware into the nylon mesh bag for carry-on. It was also my intention, as it has been for years, to carry my camera/personal bag and instrument on the plane with me.
Your counter attendant, however, saw it differently. She insisted that regardless of how I combined or configured my items, I would still be one item over the limit for carry-on. She insisted that I would have to check either the box of fragile glassware or the guitar.
At the time of my check-in I had in my possession a photocopy of a letter from Mr. Thomas R. Blank, Assistant Administrator for Security Regulation and Policy for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Security Administration. I have attached a copy of Mr. Blank’s letter herein. In his letter, dated January 17, 2003, to Mr. Thomas Lee of the American Federation of Musicians, Mr. Blank states:
“On December 20, 2002, TSA instructed aircraft operators that effective immediately, they are to allow musical instruments as carry-on baggage in addition to the limit of one bag and one personal item per person as carry-on baggage on an aircraft.”
I tried to present this letter and information to your attendant. She had no interest in reading it, and inferred that I was being argumentative. This surprised me, since at no time did I do or say anything that should have brought about such a response. In fact, I was doing my best to comply with her requirements.
In addition to the letter from Mr. Blank at TSA, I was in possession of an advisory notice from Mr. Eugene Mopsik, Executive Director of the American Society of Media Photographers, Inc. The advisory, dated November 20, 2003, states the following:
“Thanks to the effort of ASMP and the cooperation and understanding of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), working photographers and other members of the traveling public may now take on board an additional piece of carry-on baggage containing photographic equipment. This means you are allowed to carry on two bags – when at least one is photographic equipment – along with a personal item. …The TSA has said to go ahead at this time and take advantage of the new policy.”
I had no opportunity to present this information, either.
If I may, I would like to call your attention to your own website, regarding Alaska’s baggage policies. Under Section V, Baggage, Rule 190AS, Paragraph E, Item 6 Fragile Items, it states:
- c. The classes of items listed below are deemed to be too fragile or perishable or otherwise unsuitable as checked baggage and are subject to the conditions of acceptance set fort in paragraphs a) and b) above:
- v. Glass (see also chinaware/ceramics/pottery): Glassware, crystal, lamps, mirrors, bottles, and other glass containers and any liquids contained therein, telescopes, binoculars, barometers and eyeglasses and contact lenses that are not in their hard cases.
- ix. Musical Instruments and Equipment: Guitars, violins and other stringed instruments, organs, horns, percussion, wind and brass instruments, amplifiers or speakers in conjunction with electronic instruments.
- xi. Photographic/Cinematographic and Precision Equipment: Cameras, disposable cameras, photoflash equipment, photometers, spectroscopes, phototubes or other devices using sensitive tubes or plates, projectors, lenses, film, flash bulbs…
One thing seems quite clear: Under any of several scenarios, I should have been allowed to carry on the camera/personal bag, the glassware box and the guitar, without question. The TSA has adopted these policies and instructed the airlines accordingly. The policy regarding musical instruments is well over a year old; the policy regarding photographic equipment dates back three full months. And your own website acknowledges that these items are fragile and unsuitable to be checked as baggage.
Instead, I was forced to gate-check my guitar. When I picked it up in Seattle, the guitar felt nearly frozen. It should go without saying that subjecting an expensive professional instrument to the temperature extremes found in an unheated space at 31,000 feet is detrimental to the instrument. In some cases it can result in permanent damage. I would prefer to not run that risk on an irreplaceable instrument. I would prefer to not have my livelihood risked because my means of making it has been compromised by an airline attendant’s unwillingness to comply with, or even be informed of, standing TSA and airline policy. And I should think Alaska Airlines would not be enthused about the prospect of replacing a valuable instrument, let alone the inconvenience to one of its long-standing patrons.
The following information is also relevant:
- My guitar easily fits into the overhead compartments of the 737’s and MD-80’s Alaska uses on the Burbank/Seattle route.
- The glassware box and camera bag in question were both substantially smaller than most carry-on luggage. The camera/personal bag measures 16Lx10Wx7.5H inches, the glassware box 9x13x7.5 inches. Combined they are still smaller than many carry-ons. Either one fits under the seat in front of me, leaving the other for the overhead bin.
- On all three other legs of my Alaska round trip, which took me to and from Manzanillo, Mexico, taking my guitar on the plane was never an issue. I had the identical carry-ons in Manzanillo as I did in Burbank.
Given the foregoing, can you please resolve these issues for me?
Is there any reason at all that your employees in Burbank would not be fully aware of TSA or Alaska Airlines policies?
Why would your Burbank counter attendant be unwilling to at least review the TSA and ASMP letters?
Why would your Burbank counter attendant be unaware of Alaska’s policy regarding fragile items?
What kind of response should I expect from your attendants the next time I fly Alaska Airlines with my professional equipment and/or instruments?
I very much look forward to your early response. Thank you very much.
Mr. Thomas R. Blank, TSA
Mr. Eugene Mopsik, ASMP
Mr. Thomas F. Lee, President, AFM New York
Mr. Hal Ponder, Legislative Director, AFM Washington, D.C.
Mr. John McCutcheon, President, AFM Local 1000