PHOTO: A completely innocuous cello. (photo via Flickr/Robin Zebrowski)
While not nearly as recognizable as a guitar or drum set, the cello is a fairly ordinary musical instrument, making it all the more head-scratching that a professional musician was booted from an American Airlines flight earlier this week after his stringed instrument was deemed a flight risk.
According to Washington's ABC7, 46-year-old John Kaboff was set to fly to Chicago by way of Virginia's Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport when the flight's pilot and crew became concerned about his cello, which was in a separate seat he had purchased.
"They said it was just not an approved musical instrument for flight travel," Kaboff told ABC7. "Since it would actually touch the floor a little bit since it wasn't strapped in, it would pose a safety risk."
Kaboff said he asked for a seat belt extender to secure the cello, which measures about four feet in length and weighs roughly 70 pounds inside of its case.
"Either I could voluntarily leave, or I could be removed from the airplane," said Kaboff.
After exiting the plane, a gate agent told Kaboff that someone had made a mistake and apologized on the airline's behalf. He was immediately booked on the next flight to Chicago.
American Airlines has since issued an apology. "We’re reviewing the issue internally and apologize to Mr. Kaboff for the inconvenience he experienced yesterday," the carrier said in a statement. "Mr. Kaboff and his musical instrument were accommodated on the next flight to Chicago and our customer relations team has reached out to him directly."
The airline also said it will refund Kaboff about $150 for the cost of the cello's seat.
What makes the incident even more shocking is that Kaboff said he has flown with his $100,000 cello on American more than three dozen times in the past few years without issue. He told ABC News that he's flown with the airline twice this month with no problems.
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Kaboff said it's been 12 years since something similar has happened to him and encouraged better training for flight crew in regards to what is and isn't allowed on the plane.
"Before humiliating a passenger in front of a 150 people, for no reason whatsoever, they should know what a cello is, and what is really approved to be in flight," Kaboff told ABC7.
Cellos are permitted onboard planes so long as they meet certain weight requirements. In this case, Kaboff's instrument was well below the 165-pound threshold.