Musicians have expressed shock and anger after a rare $200,000 17th century instrument was severely damaged during a flight.
Myra Herzog was traveling on an Alitalia flight from Rio de Janeiro to Tel Aviv and says she was told she had to place her viola de gamba in the hold.
She claims she was not able to buy a seat for it—something musicians usually do for their instruments—because the Jan. 3 flight was full.
The viola de gamba, or viol, is a string instrument that is played upright and is slightly smaller than a cello.
Alitalia said she was assured her the instrument would be treated as a fragile item, but when she arrived in Tel Aviv the instrument did not appear on the baggage conveyor belt.
“They went down to find it, and got back saying that it had arrived broken, and that I had to fill a form,” she told musical news website the Strad.
“After I did so they brought it, and the sight was really horrific. Even they were horrified.”
Herzog, director of Israeli classical group Phoenix, posted images of the damaged viol on social media, showing it smashed in half.
“I took it to the restorer who says it will take around a year to repair it properly,” she told the Strad.
She added, “In the course of 40 years, I made many trips with viols. People used to let us have them inside the plane. When this was impossible, they were handled with care, and there were no problems.
“Nevertheless, year after year good will is being substituted by greed and disrespect for the musician.”
Fellow musicians expressed their dismay over the way the instrument had been handled in their comments on Herzog’s Facebook post.
Lucy Robinson, who works at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, wrote, “Shameful! Dear Myrna I am so sorry.”
William Relton wrote, “Such a terrible thing to happen. I wish you the best of luck with pursuing your claims against Alitalia. How could they let this happen!”
Other musicians were critical of Herzog, however, saying that it was her fault that the instrument was damaged.
Ryan Whitehead wrote, “That’ll teach you. Don’t put a Gamba under a plane. This is your fault. Why the hell did you check it?”
And Peter Ghirardini wrote, “How can a musician act so naively? Since decades cellists and gambists around the world have to buy a second seat for the transportation of their expensive instruments, but it seems you didn’t want to spend that money.”
Alitalia questioned Herzog’s version of events in a widely reported statement, claiming that she had been given the option to purchase an extra seat, which she had refused, and had signed a disclaimer. Alitalia say they informed her that “the best solution for such a delicate item was to bring it with her in the cabin”.
The airline added, “That said, Alitalia deeply regrets what happened to Mrs Herzog and will proceed, having established the facts, with the reimbursement in compliance with the international regulations in force.”
Herzog said on Facebook that she was not offered a seat and that it was a “blatant lie” by Alitalia.
“They told me that even if I would like to buy a seat, this was IMPOSSIBLE because the plane was TOTALLY FULL,” Herzog wrote. “They made me sign a ticket acknowledging that my instrument was above the measurements allowed to travel inside the cabin, and not a disclaimer of responsibility.”