Musicians Sing Out in Airline Baggage Protest

Information: An article about the difficulties of travelling musicians, featuring Mark Seymour.

Author: Michaela Boland, The Australian.

Date: 22 September 2011.

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Article Text

Singer-songwriter and former Hunters and Collectors frontman Mark Seymour, at home in Mount Martha, Victoria, says air travel for bands is a nightmare.

Richard Branson made his first fortune from rock’n’roll – now his Virgin Australia has reached out to musicians again, offering them a way around new airline baggage restrictions of only one free bag in the hold and a small one in the cabin.

Singer-songwriter Holly Throsby has burst into tears of frustration at airports several times in the past year while attempting to check through her luggage and instruments.

Veteran guitarist and former Hunters and Collectors frontman Mark Seymour, who flies most weeks, said air travel for bands had “become a nightmare, no question”. “If they’re not busy, and we allow 90 minutes to check in, and we fly in the middle of the day and pay additional baggage costs of hundreds of dollars it can be OK, but we rarely encounter that,” he said.

Yet two weeks after musicians asked Qantas to reconsider luggage restrictions introduced a year ago, they have not had a response.

“This is the biggest story for the music industry in I don’t know how long,” said Music Victoria chief executive Patrick Donovan.

The part state-funded agency approached Qantas on September 7 after Virgin Australia offered musicians a baggage allowance of three pieces, weighing up to 32kg in total, with the possibility of purchasing in advance another 32kg for $15.

A fortnight ago, Virgin offered all Qantas Club customers lounge access and equivalent frequent flyer status.

Bands will also be able to pool luggage across the group to take advantage of those who don’t have instruments, such as roadies, but the trade-off is that the industry must nominate Virgin as its preferred airline.

The industry welcomed Virgin’s offer but it wants Qantas to match it, because the former does not fly to some regional destinations, such as Broome.

The Australian Music Industry Network estimated the sector’s 65,000 musicians collectively spend anywhere between $10 million and $20m a year on domestic flights.

Seymour’s manager, Michael Roberts, who also manages James Reyne, said: “Both Mark and James are travelling around the country constantly with a group of three, or up to nine, people”.

Each artist spends between $30,000 and $40,000 on air tickets but check-in changes stipulate they can now check in one piece of luggage and carry another on board; that item cannot be their guitar, even it if weighs less than the 7kg cabin allowance.

“So they have to decide — their guitar or clothes — it’s ridiculous,” Donovan said of musicians who are touring more than ever because they earn so little income from recorded sales.

Throsby said: “For musicians, travel is completely essential and we have to do it by air to make it viable.”

A Qantas spokeswoman said a reply was sent to Music Victoria late on Tuesday detailing the airline’s policies, which were updated in June. She said it was impractical to make blanket allowances for musicians.

“There’s a lot of people every day with special circumstances. Where does it end?” she said.

She said group check-in, where luggage could be pooled, was available for parties of 10 or more and smaller groups could be accommodated upon request.