It's not just about a broken hurdy gurdy anymore. It's also about a total lack of customer service. Calling the police to remove an inconvenient customer would be just beyond belief if I hadn't experienced it myself. Please read on. Sorry it is so long, but this is what happened:
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.
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.)
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
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)
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.