It’s every musician’s worst travel nightmare: that a valuable instrument will be damaged or lost in transit.
That nightmare came true in early January for Myrna Herzog, whose 1685 Edward Lewis viola da gamba (worth $200,000) was severely damaged on an Alitalia flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Tel Aviv, Israel.
The instrument was traveling in a German Gewa hard case — not a dedicated flight case — but Herzog says the airline assured her the viol would be handled with care. The case bore “several red tags of ‘Fragile,’ without bridge, soundpost, pegs, strings, or tailpiece, to ensure safety,” she told the Strad.
Herzog, director of the Israeli classical music group Phoenix, took to social media when she couldn’t reach anyone at Alitalia to account for the horrific damage. In a Facebook post, Herzog said:
ALITALIA# HATES MUSICIANS!!
This is how Alitalia# delivered to me my original 17th century Lewis viola da gamba, after ensuring to me that it would be TAKEN BY HAND into the plane and out of it! It was savagely vandalized, and it seems that a car ran over it.
Though a limited release form signed by Herzog may limit Alitalia’s culpability, Herzog has received an outpouring of support from fellow musicians on social media, and she has taken the instrument in to a restorer to assess repairs and costs.
Now’s as good a time as any to review ways musicians can protect themselves and their instruments while traveling.
To start, read James N. McKean’s piece on how to avoid the most common causes for a lost or broken fiddle, which includes tips for traveling.
For those flying in the US, this post breaks down FAA regulations for traveling musicians and what your rights are.
And, to ensure that your case offers you the maximum protection, check out a thorough guide to buying viola and violin cases, which include cases for all kinds of travel.