Instruments are categorized as 'special baggage' and musicians pay Rs 1,000 per item on domestic flights

Are airlines in India being unfair to musiciansImage for representation
news Friday, September 04, 2015 - 16:28

Many musicians in the country are not happy at being made to dance to the tunes of what they feel is an unreasonable and expensive rule – they are made to pay special rates on flights for their instruments but given no guarantee against damage.

In 2012, members of the Raghu Dixit Project, a Bangalore based multilingual folk music band, were surprised when they were asked to shell out extra money by SpiceJet airlines to transport their musical instruments.

A small confrontation followed and the band ended up paying Rs 1000 for each instrument as it came under a different category according to airline policy.

According to the airline’s website, musical instruments are categorized as “special baggage” which would be charged Rs 1,000 per item on domestic flights and double the amount on international ones.

A video of the confrontation that The Raghu Dixit Project members had with the airline staff

The rule

Special rates for musical instruments came into effect after the Directorate General of Civil Aviation approved a tariff charge in May 2013. However, it had already been enforced by some airlines – as in the case of The Raghu Dixit Project – the previous year and these same rules are still in effect today.

Musical instruments are categorized as “special baggage” for which airlines charge Rs 1,000 per item on domestic flights. Adding to this, baggage will also be charged Rs 250 for every kilogram, once it crosses a weight of 15 kilograms.

These rules have caused no end of trouble to bands which travel frequently by air. “Charging for instruments because they are instruments and then not taking any responsibility for their safekeeping is totally wrong,” says Uday Benegal from the Mumbai-based rock group Indus Creed.

“Either you treat it like any other baggage, in which case every musician has to make sure their gear is packed securely and weighed like any other piece, and are thus responsible themselves for its condition, or the airline ensures and insures its safe passage if they are going to charge for it based on category,” he adds.

Many of them also complained about the negligence that airlines showed while handling the instruments.

Gaurav Vaz, who manages The Raghu Dixit Project in India, and also plays bass guitar for the band says that they are also made a sign a waiver form that lets off the airlines scot-free in case the instrument is damaged.

“We as musicians don't want sympathy on how hard it is for us in India. We just want a fair rule," he says, adding that they have received a few damaged guitar cases themselves.

“It's disappointing to see the instruments getting manhandled and damaged despite paying those extra costs and marking them as fragile,” says Agam, member of a Bengaluru-based Carnatic progressive rock band.

In 2013, tabla virtuoso Anuradha Pal had started an online petition urging the Minister of Civil Aviation to scrap the rule.

“We musicians are ambassadors of Indian culture across the world. Rather than being supportive, airlines are exploiting us, charging for musical instruments, when they are well within weight and dimension limits prescribed by the airlines themselves,” the petition stated.

However, her petition died out over time due to a lack of signatures and the cause was lost.

Spice jet did not reply to TNM's query.