Saturday, August 27, 2011

More on the hurdy gurdy crisis

I've had several people suggest that it would have been a good idea to take my hurdy gurdy as carry on, including one comment that the cracks could even have been caused by temperature and humidity changes in the cargo hold. So I guess it will help to explain the situation more fully.

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.

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