Thursday, November 17, 2011
But if you've read this far, you deserve a conclusion of some sort, so here you go:
PHONE CALL #4 (Baggage Resolution, Houston) A week after the nightmare at the airport, I finally gathered the courage to phone the Baggage Resolution number again. I spoke with Mario, who again said that if Mr Cook will do nothing then there is nothing to be done, that the advisory number I had been given did nothing more than give me 14 days after my flight to present my damaged instrument at SeaTac, and that my only course of action would be to return to the airport and try again. He even tried phoning the SeaTac office directly to see if he could get them to talk with me, but they wouldn't.
I told him that the only way I would feel safe returning to the baggage counter was if Cook had been removed from his position as manager there, and I asked who to talk to about that; he gave me the number for Customer Care.
PHONE CALL #5 (800-932-2732): Maria logged my formal complaint against Mr. Cook and gave me a case ID number, but said there was nothing she could do about my loss. The only further action she could suggest was to send complete documentation of the incident and expenses to the customer care office in Houston. She also said that according to 'corporate policy', they would not give me any information about what action was taken, but assured me that action would be taken.
I assembled a package of the entire story, documentation, photos, and a bill for the damages plus related expenses (mileage, ferry tolls, parking, etc). In my letter I asked for two things - remuneration and an apology for the way my complaint has been handled. Here's the closing statement of my account of the incident to them: "I was, and still am, absolutely livid, and very confused at how anyone can stand in front of a wall emblazoned with the words 'Baggage Service' and treat a distressed customer in such a disgusting manner."
This I faxed and emailed to every contact Mike had been able to find for Continental including the Director of Customer Care, Managing Director of Customer Solutions, and the CEO.
Surprise, surprise. I got a phone call from the Customer Care Office. Stacey seemed to have no knowledge of the document I had just sent. She was responding to Mike's complaint via their web page nine days earlier, when I had just been evicted from the Seattle baggage desk under police escort. She stated quite plainly that Mr. Cook had been wrong, both in his failure to take in policy changes required by the Montreal Convention (which has only been in place for about ten years), and in his inappropriate use of the police to remove a customer he was supposed to be helping. She also said that they've had similar complaints about the Seattle baggage desk in the past. She was going to contact the General Manager at Seattle Airport and tell him that this needs to be dealt with - and that Mr. Cook should not be involved.
An email arrived from the CEO's office: "Per our Contract of Carriage, Continental is not liable for damage to musical instruments...". Also expressing "regret" for any "perceived rude behavior" I experienced. This was sent 10 hours after the above phone call, so I thought they were going back on what they had just told me. And referring to misappropriation of police authority to intimidate a customer as "perceived rude behavior" just made my blood boil.
Fortunately I took a couple of days to cool off before I reacted to this, by which time...
Mike has just arrived from Ireland, and we're about to leave for a festival across the mountains. I get a phone call from the Seattle Airport Baggage desk, offering to pay up to their limited liability under the Montreal Convention (so now they know it exists...) This is roughly 70% of the replacement value of the instrument, or of the repair estimate. I'm asked to decide whether to have it repaired, in which case they'll pay the luthiers up to this amount, or to buy a replacement, in which case they'll reimburse up to this amount when I present proof of purchase and they take possession of the broken instrument. In either case, the shortfall is my problem; they're not interested.
I'm not convinced that I should settle for this. After all, the Montreal Convention caps the airline's legal liability, but it certainly doesn't prevent them from paying the full amount of the damage if they choose to. That part is entirely at their discretion.
But at least I've been assured there's some money coming in to help with this. I don't trust Continental to follow through, since they seem so uncoordinated and unhelpful, and more specifically because they flatly refused to put anything in writing, even so far as an email, and did not want the conversation to be put on speakerphone for any additional witnesses to the promise. I don't want to delay; I look into my replacement or repair options. There are no Chinook model hurdy gurdies currently for sale. There are other makes and models that come in a similar price range, but again, none available right now. If I get an instrument with a different keyboard, I have a lot of re-learning to do, and I love the sound of the Chinook, so I really have to opt for repair.
With great relief, I finally get my gurdy to Olympic Instruments for repair. It had been waiting for four weeks.
Olympic Instruments, after much hassle and chasing, managed to extract the promised payment from Continental (less a 3% credit card transaction fee), having completed the main portion of the repair: the top has been replaced. The instrument is still being re-finished, a process made frustratingly slow by damp weather as each layer of lacquer has needed extra time to dry. Next, it still has to be re-assembled and adjusted.
Another phone call from Customer Care. This is the professionally placatory Sharon, calling to make sure that I've been taken care of and (the question she sidled up to several times) that I'm not planning to make any further claims against Continental over this incident. I didn't make any promises. She sent me a $300 travel voucher 'as an apology.' I explained that while I appreciate her apology, it's no substitute for an apology from Mr. Cook who committed the offense, and that a travel voucher can't help make up the $800 gap between the damage done by Continental's baggage handlers and the damages the airline has paid out.
Am I going to make any further claims against Continental? After what I've had to go through to get anything out of them at all, after being treated like a little bitty insignificant customer who should just go away when they don't want to deal with me, I feel that they deserve every bit of grief I can give them, but I don't know that I want to put any more time and energy into it. They have covered their legal, if not their moral, obligation over the damaged instrument. I suspect I could make a case for personal damages, corporate malpractice, intimidation, misappropriation of police authority...
Ask me later.
The important thing is she's back!
Sunday, August 28, 2011
(Fife, Scotland) back in April. >
Thanks to Steven Beard for the photo!
After what we've gone through with them over the past week, I'm not overly inclined to trust them. There was still no hint of "we'll pay for the damage our handlers did because it's the right thing to do," rather it was "this is covered because you were on an international flight, which means the Montreal Convention has forced us to adjust our policy." In other words, if this happens on a domestic flight, the customer is out of luck. Bear this in mind when choosing an airline. I've been hearing very positive things about Southwest and Delta. And Alaska Airline has always been very good to me.
So just in case this is a stalling tactic - and I hate having to be this suspicious - to take me outside the 14 day limit for making a claim that I've been told about over and over again, I'm still going to send, by registered mail, a hard copy of the nine page long pdf with an account of the entire situation, an invoice for damages and all supporting documentation.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
If carrying the gurdy on had been an option I would certainly have done that. I've been a full-time touring musician for 27 years; I don't check an instrument if I can avoid it. My carry-on was a double violin case filled with seven different instruments, mainly my five string violin/viola which alone has a replacement value in excess of the airlines' Montreal Convention limits of liability. We have invested in guitars, hammered dulcimers, mandolins and octave mandolins on both sides of the ocean to get around the necessity of checking them, but could not yet afford a second gurdy. Couldn't really afford the first one, for that matter, but I'd been wanting one for more than 20 years, and my husband had just that last little remnant of a small inheritance... And the gurdy has a flight case that would have protected it with any reasonable handling. It did just fine on the outbound flights. My choice was whether to check it or live without it for five months. And while it doesn't yet play a major role in our stage sets (only a cameo appearance), all of the new material I've been working up for the past six months involves it.
There was a time I could, and did, walk onto airplanes with a guitar, a violin and a small hammered dulcimer, plus all the little instruments I could tuck away in those cases (clothes? Who needs clothes? That's what thrift stores are for!), but those days are long gone.
I'm from Southcentral Alaska, and I lived in Fairbanks for several years. I know what happens to wooden instruments when they dry out. These don't look like dehydration cracks - look at the photo taken across the top of the soundboard (click to enlarge): though it's a bit blurry, you can just make out a downward pointing splinter, near the wheel slot, showing that the wood sheared out of its plane. Dehydrated wood separates in a flat plane, the edges pulling straight apart from each other. It may warp after it's detached, but that doesn't leave skewed splinters. Besides, there's no way that wood could have dried out that much in the hours between leaving Dublin and arriving in Seattle- not while in its padded (and therefore insulated) bag and plastic flight case. It would have had to be out of its case for a couple of hours while we were at altitude to cause even one small crack. Did someone sneak down there with an oxygen mask to play my gurdy for hours on end while we were in the air? Somehow I doubt it.
Anyway, the makers of this instrument explained to me that this particular sound board, specifically the part the cracks are in, is where a block is supposed to be attached that supports the end of the crank shaft. That and probably other braces will need re-gluing, and for that the top has to be removed, and I can't send it in for the work until I know I'll have the money to pay for it. Continental is liable, under the Montreal Convention covering international flights, both for the damage and for expenses caused by the damage. What they are doing is denying their responsibility for the damage. They are, by implication, effectively accusing me of checking in a broken instrument in an attempt to scam the airline- the only basis on which they can deny responsibility. Their Baggage service manager at the airport in Seattle gave me false information about several of their policies in his efforts to deny responsibility and make me go away, and, when that didn't work, had the police remove me from their business premises. And I'm STILL being told by Continental's corporate offices that in order to initiate a claim I have to return to that same damn baggage counter, with the damaged item and all documentation, within 14 days of my flight (I have two more days), because the manager didn't file a claim for me when I did so three days after my flight - a six hour round trip.
Monday, August 22, 2011
August 16, 8am, Dublin: Checking in my Hurdy Gurdy, in its flight case, I asked the Continental representative what, if anything, could be done - in addition to all the large 'fragile' stickers - to insure safest possible carriage for this very delicate musical instrument. She recommended I take it to the oversize baggage area, which also handled fragile items. The man at the oversize bags desk told me that oversize and fragile bags are kept apart from the rest of the cargo, and are individually transferred between flights. He said that it would therefore come out at the end of my journey in the oversize baggage area. He logged it on his clipboard, and described it, after some of the usual "what's a hurdy gurdy" discussion, simply as a musical instrument.
August 16, 8pm: landed in Seattle, grateful to be met by a friend who could give me a ride all the way home. Despite what I'd been told in Dublin, my case came out on the main luggage belt, but it looked undamaged, I'd been traveling for over 20 hours (it's an 8 hour time difference), I had someone waiting to drive me the remaining two-and-a-bit hours home -- I grabbed it and left the airport.
Arriving home a little before midnight, after a five month absence, there was water to be turned back on, circuit breakers switched, hot water tank to drain, kitchen to be re-assembled from rodent protection mode... Having learned on my way to Dublin Airport that a fellow musician just arriving in Seattle would probably be needing a place to stay for a couple of nights, a guest bed had to be set up. (For readers unfamiliar with the lifestyle: it is a serious point of honor among acoustic musicians to provide accommodation for our friends when needed, even though many of us don't really have much room to put each other in.)
August 17: So the flight case for the hurdy gurdy didn't get opened until the next morning, Aug. 17. Also that morning, I started my car, and had the contents of the fuel tank spill out on the driveway due to a broken fuel clamp.
I called the makers of the hurdy gurdy, who had also supplied the flight case for it. One of them was actually coming in to town that day, and offered pick up the instrument while there.
PHONE CALL #1 (to the number given by directory information: 800-231-0856)
Very helpful person who started off saying that musical instruments were not covered, then checked with supervisor and corrected that to 'not covered on domestic flights, but covered on international flights.' I mentioned my concern about the notice on the baggage tag that says all damage must be reported within 4 hours of flight arrival. (I didn't even get home until almost four hours after the flight landed.) She informed me that the four hour limit was for visibly damaged BAGS (as opposed to contents), and that in the case of lost or damaged contents in a bag that showed no outward sign of damage, the limit is seven days, but that I have to take the item, in its case, baggage tag still attached, along with my boarding passes, back to the airport. I mentioned that I was over two hours away from the airport and currently had no car, but she reassured that I had seven days, as mentioned before. She instructed me to call the Seattle baggage service desk first, for which she gave me a phone number, and stressed that I had to tell them I'd been on an international flight, because otherwise they would not help me.
PHONE CALL #2 (to the SeaTac Service center: 206-971-2315)
A very busy staff member who said she was dealing with two incoming flights told me that in the case of lost or damaged contents in bags that show no external damage, any claims had to be initiated by Corporate Head Office, for which she gave me a number. I tried that number, but they had closed for the day.
I called the luthiers again to tell them I couldn't give them the instrument yet. They stopped by anyway to look at the damage.
Here's what they had to say, both about the packing and about the damage >>
PHONE CALL #3 (to the Corporate Office number provided by SeaTac service desk: 800-335-2247)
This number took me to the same phone menu as the first toll-free number. No menu item was offered for initiating a claim, so I selected the one that sounded like it would get me through to someone: the selection for claims more than a given number of days old (I think it was 24 days). I was again told to contact the service desk at SeaTac. I told her I'd already tried that - they'd told me to call this number and that any claim had to be initiated at Corporate Office. She then took the details of my flights, baggage claim tag, flight case, the instrument and its value [I said $2300; I've since been informed by the gurdy makers that the replacement value is now $2500], the damage, and the estimated cost of repair. She also told me that I had to take the instrument to the airport, as they could not proceed without one of their agents inspecting the damage. I told her that their baggage service office at SeaTac had already informed me that they wouldn't deal with the situation unless the process was initiated at head office. She gave me an 'advisory number', which she said would inform the staff at SeaTac that I had talked with head office, and that I would be bringing the item in for inspection.
Got repaired car back from garage. Headed to SeaTac. 50 minute wait for a ferry, endless road construction in Seattle, and a drawbridge... Turned out to be a four hour trip, but I finally got to the service desk a little before 3pm.
Desk person #1 (I didn't get her name) looked the instrument over, and said that they only dealt with damaged bags, not contents. I told her I'd been told otherwise by corporate office, and provided the advisory number I'd been given. Neither she nor her two co-workers on the desk knew what an advisory number was, or what they were supposed to do with it (though they were very nice about it and were clearly trying to figure out how to help me). She phoned the supervisor, I heard her describe the damage to the instrument and describe the case and packing. She described it as plastic, stiffer than ordinary, with extra foam fill in addition to the instrument's padded carrying case.
He told her to tell me that musical instruments are never covered on any flight, domestic or international. I told her that was contrary to what I'd been told by the main office, so she asked him to come down and talk with me.
The supervisor, Mike Cook, did not come down until desk person #1 went to his office when her shift ended (according to her co-worker) to tell him in person to get down there and help me.
When he finally arrived, Mike Cook glanced briefly at the instrument, then stated that the packaging was inadequate. I politely asked him to read a letter I had from the luthier regarding the excellent quality and track record of the packaging.
He read it.
He pointed out that there is no visible damage to the flight case.
I pointed out that it's a very rugged flight case that it would be hard to damage, but that there was very visible damage to the contents, which had been in perfect condition when I entrusted it to them.
He insisted that they never, ever, cover damage to contents where there is no visible damage to exterior of case, and asked me to show him visible damage to the case.
I told him that corporate office had told me otherwise, and had told me to bring the item there for them to look at before a case could be opened about the dispute.
He ignored this completely. He kept repeating two assertions: (1) if there was no damage to the case, then there was no evidence that the damage had been done by continental's baggage handlers. (2) if the instrument had been damaged in transit, it was entirely my responsibility as the person who had packed the case.
He said that there was not enough padded space between the instrument and the lid of the case. I referred him again to the fact that this packaging had been supplied by the makers of the instrument, that this is what they use regularly, and that they have never had a problem with it before.
He requested, again, that I show him any sign that this case had been bumped, dropped or mishandled.
He stated that cases are stacked in bins in the hold, so it would have had to withstand weight on top of it.
I responded that since it was clearly marked, and checked in, as a fragile item, it should not have been subjected to that.
Third or fourth time he asked me to show him damage to the case, I turned to examining the case. There are only tiny signs of scuffing on the top, but I was seriously losing patience and temper by this point, so I pointed them all out, then turned the case on its latch side and showed him a very clear mark of impact with a rough surface, such as tarmac, on the hinge side. He ignored it.
I told him that corporate office had sent me there to have him examine the damage and open a case for resolution, and that I was not leaving until that happened. He ordered one of the desk staff to call the Airport Police to have me removed.
My temper having far passed the point of no return, I phoned my husband in Ireland, who I knew would be more capable of calm discussion than I was at that point.
Mr Cook refused to speak with him.
Officer Hernandez and a backup officer arrived to escort me away from the baggage desk and into a public area of the airport. He said that I was on Continental's business premises, and that this was the same as if someone had entered my house -- that I was trespassing. I informed Officer Hernandez that this was not at all like entering someone's house, that I was a Continental Airlines customer, and as such I had every right to be on the premises and to expect Mr Cook to do his job.
I gave up and left for three reasons: (1) Mike Cook was clearly not going to do his job - he ceased having any interaction with me once the police arrived, though he did remain at the desk for quite some time while I sat not far away conveying all the details to my husband (2) I was paying for airport parking, which, on top of the ferry and petrol, was making this a very expensive trip (3) I was booked to play a festival on Vashon the next day, so didn't have time to get arrested. Officer Hernandez was very patient, though, and before I left I was able to thank both of Mike Cook's subordinates for trying to help.
By this time it was nearly 4:00 pm. The Corporate offices close at 5:30 pm Central time, which is 3:30 in Seattle, so they had already gone for the weekend.
The damage to the instrument wasn't even glaringly evident when I first opened the case. So even if I'd had time to open and inspect it at the airport, I might not have noticed in the weary, jet-lagged rush to meet my ride.
But I unpacked it at home, and immediately took off the wheel cover to reveal that under the keybox and the keys, the delicate soundboard was split into four segments.
That is the part of the soundboard to which the block of wood which supports the end of the crankshaft is supposed to be fixed. We won't even know where the crankshaft has ended up or if the instrument is repairable until the top is taken off.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
I didn't get any pictures of the lovely Arts Center in Glasgow where we had our first performance, but you can see some here.
After that we had a few free days to spend by the sea with two wonderful friends in Prestonpans, just the other side of Edinburgh. Okay, I know it's the Firth of Forth, not the sea, but it feels like a seaside holiday to me. Steven and Elizabeth and their sweet cats Midnight and Zorro have become part of our extended family on the road.
Our next gig was up in Fife. Steven and Elizabeth had been talking for months, since we first posted the date on our calendar, about making a pilgrimage to the famous Anstruther Fish Bar. Didn't sound like the best idea right before a concert, but the perfect solution presented itself... Stay at S & E's friends' house in St Andrews before the show, so we can pig out on fish & chips the previous day. Also turned out to be a great opportunity for a walking tour of St Andrews, which we'd never spent any time in before.
Taking pictures along Lade Brae Walk; the beautiful house we stayed in; impressive ruins in St Andrews; Anstruther Fish Bar (behind the ship).
The concert in the Town Hall in Crail was great fun, and Steven was right there on the front row getting pictures of everything we played on through the evening. Here's the double ocarina. And of course, Mike's lovely Larrivee guitar. In addition to all the instruments we brought, one of the resident performers played a couple of pieces on nyckelharpa. Wonderful!
We had a short stop in Yorkshire next at another of our UK home bases - Birdsedge. Perfect timing, too; the bluebells were out to greet us.
So then, we had a little extra time before we had to be in Dartmouth for Dart Music Festival (fortunately; that's a long drive).
And talk about perfect timing... There was a hurdy gurdy festival that weekend, right along our route. Okay, it wasn't the main route we would have taken otherwise, but I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to sit in a pub and have a jam with roomful of gurdy players! (Thanks to Bridget for posting this photo on the UK Hurdy Gurdy forum).
Dartmouth was the one stop on the tour that I managed to do a post about, so I'll skip that and move along...
Our next two shows were within easy range of, yes, another home on the road. John and Joy took us for a walk around the lake in a nearby park, formerly the grounds of a stately manor house. The house is now a hotel, and the lake is home to many birds.
All the baby grebes wanted to see if we had food for them, but their mother didn't want them talking to strangers.
Just look at her amazing feet!
A wonderful day, but pretty seriously breezy...
And another special treat - one of the resident players at Stockton Folk Club brought his hurdy gurdy. Which would have been a great chance to jam together, but mine's a G and his is D... Well, all the gurdy players will know what I'm talking about!
Anyway, continuing north, after a stop for our first ever show in Cramlington, we drove across to Allendale for a nice stopover with Liz and Terry. Who - would you believe - also had a friend who had a hurdy gurdy. So yet another musical evening fell into place on our night off. Dulcimers, both hammered and fretted, songs, Scottish small pipes, gurdies... Yay!
I'm realizing as I write this that we did a lot more walking on this trip than usual. Liz & Terry introduced us to yet another beautiful garden park, this one created from on old station along a former railway.
If you click on this second picture to enlarge it, you can even just make out Liz and me taking the high road while Mike and Terry walked along the rail bed below.
I was glad we decided to walk along the top of the cut, because otherwise we wouldn't have spotted this great rebar sculpture.
And then of course, when you've been walking in a garden park, you have to stop for a bit of tea and cake, don't you? This is England, after all! (So much for the benefits of all that walking.)
There was still one more stop, at a delightful acoustic music club up in Bellingham, but between drizzle and sniffles, the camera didn't come out again.
We made our way back to Ireland on a red-eye ferry, and here we are, back at work on the old stone house.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Four years later, here we are at last! We trusted the satnav to bring us in, so unexpectedly ended up taking a little ferry across the Dart to finish our journey into Dartmouth. But that was ok - we're used to ferries. This one was something different, though. It's just a floating platform that holds about 8 cars plus a few bicycles and pedestrians, and gets pushed across the river by a tug moored to the side of it. This first picture shows a ferry heading in each direction. The town rises up steeply from the waterfront; this photo was taken from the next street up from the quay.
The three people in the first picture about to disappear behind the building on the right of the photo are heading towards Bayard's Cove Fort.
We visited on our first trip here, and Mike's immediate reaction to seeing it was "this should be a music venue". So guess where our stage was at the festival...
It was an amazing place to play, with its row of archways looking out over the river, a solid wall of rock at our backs and only one entrance/exit - the one with the steps coming in from the left, with a big lamp over it. Too bad they couldn't have some seating in place. Anyone who wanted a seat had to bring their own. Our morning show - a family friendly tour of world music - was in a very nice, very modern arts center auditorium. And we had a look at another venue for some of the festival shows that we both thought was spectacular. I can't even begin to capture the elaborate detail of this ancient church with my little camera phone. The acoustics are just amazing. And there were seats! Maybe next time...
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
We have greeted various New Years in England, in Ireland, in Alaska, in Seattle… But as more of those years pass, the draw of spending the season of winter holidays at home with family grows ever stronger, so it’s become habit to start and finish each year in Anchorage. My parents still live in the house they designed, built, and moved my siblings and me into when I was 10 years old, and it’s an easy walk from here to a huge network of ski trails in the state park nearby.
This has turned into a really nice way, each year, to get grounded before we set out on our travels once again.
After Anchorage, we usually head for the Pacific Northwest. Neither of us has any family around here – at least not that we know well – but here is probably our most extensive network of friends and fellow musicians. We also have a little bit of property here where we can park our campervan and ourselves in between gigs, so we put up with the rain and the occasional wet snow for a few months, or, sometimes, jump in the camper and head off to play some gigs down the coast. Or off across the Midwest, but honestly, in Jan/Feb, we’re more likely to go for the California option!
March is a great time to be with musical friends because of the St Patrick’s Day festivities. The long lists of Irish music we need to refresh from previous years before showing up for a 12 hour gig means a good excuse to spend a LOT of time playing diddly tunes and singing big choruses together beforehand.
Once St Pat’s is over and done with, it’s time to fly to Ireland. The house has been sitting empty all winter and there is almost always some damage control and maintenance to do when we get there. Last time it was broken pipes in the house and a hole in the barn roof. Who knows what it’ll be this time! We also have a car parked up here, so we load instruments and head for a ferry to the UK to play whatever shows our dear friend and agent over there has managed to scrape together for us. Now, of course, we’re on Mike’s home ground, and whatever open time we have between shows is spent trying to catch up with widely scattered friends and relations. Southampton to Aberdeen – no wonder we sometimes go for years without seeing some of them! We try.
Then it’s back over to Ireland. (Sometimes we make more than one journey across the Irish Sea, but the ferry fares are pricey in the summer, so we try to keep it down to one.) Whatever is left of the summer is spent working on the old farmhouse, going to sessions, learning tunes and spending time with our friends here and whichever of our friends get adventurous enough to come see us in our partially restored, nearly habitable, home.
When Autumn comes around, at least until we get some source of heat in the house in Ireland, it’s time to head back over to Seattle where, with any luck, we’ll have a bunch of holiday shows booked and a flurry of rehearsals with our favorite music partners to get ready for them. The past couple of years we’ve been building up a wonderful December pan-holiday show, which we hope to keep bringing to bigger and better venues each year. (Thanks to Stewart Hendrickson for the photo!)
Those finish before Christmas, when we want to be home again in Anchorage. And, somehow, another year has disappeared!