Musicians across the country are seeing red over what they have termed a ‘ridiculous’ new rule, which forces them to cough up Rs 1,000 for every musical instrument they carry on board a domestic flight. The diktat, which came into effect after DGCA approval earlier this month, had already been enforced by some airlines last year. The payment is mandatory, and over and above any extra payment that may have to be made for the weight of the instruments.
At the forefront of the battle is Juhu-based tabla player Anuradha Pal, who is leading an online petition against the rule. Pal’s campaign has garnered about 1,300 supporters so far. Pal plans to take the petition to the Ministry of Civil Aviation once the campaign gathers enough steam. ‘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 states.
Speaking to MiD DAY, Pal added, “Our government keeps finding new ways to tax us, its citizens. I have flown all over the world but never faced such a rule.”
Pal is not alone. Many other musicians have added weight to her cause and shown support, including Uday Benegal of Indus Creed. Speaking to
MiD DAY, Benegal said, “The discrimination is disturbing and ad hoc. This might sound harsh, but it sounds like a scam. The charge is supposed to be for ‘special handling’. I asked the airline whether that meant they would be liable if the instruments were damaged. They said no. Musicians have it hard enough in this country to begin with. The rule is sure to affect the growth of the industry.”
It all started with a YouTube video posted by singer-songwriter Raghu Dixit in November last year. The video shows Dixit and his band members arguing with airline staff over a set of 20 flutes to be checked in. A heated argument ensues, and the airline staffer says, “The rule is in effect from October 1.
Whether you like it or not, unfortunately you have to pay for it.” He is later seen asking Dixit, “Are you going to pay for it or not, because your flight is already boarding.” A frustrated Dixit replies, “Well, my ticket is less than what I’d pay [for the flutes] so…” Dixit and his band had to cough up Rs 4,000 for four instruments, including the case of 20 flutes, before they could board their flight.
A spokesman representing Dixit said, “What we want is that airlines treat musical instruments the same way they would treat any other fragile piece of luggage. We have no problem if they charge us extra because an instrument is over the weight or size limit. But overcharging simply because it is an instrument is unfair.”
The new regulations also mean that the ceiling for free check-in baggage has been reduced to 15 kg. This means musicians, inevitably burdened with heavy instruments in addition to their luggage, have to shell out up to Rs 250 for every additional kilo they wish to take onto the flight.
Pal’s petition mentions: ‘This means that I now have to pay at least Rs 5,000 per flight for my tablas to be checked in – Rs 10,000 for a round trip; this, without even considering my personal belongings. With the current state of the economy, musicians are already suffering with regard to payments.
Between slashed budgets for cultural events and such blatant exploitation by the airlines, how exactly are artists supposed to survive in such an environment?’
Guitarist Ravi Iyer said, “The rule is ridiculous. I usually carry my guitars in a hard case. If the instrument is light or delicate, I take it with me as hand baggage. The new rule forces me to check-in all musical instruments. Recently, an airline attempted to charge me Rs 1,000 for a pedal-board, but when I put up a fight, they only charged me for my guitar.”
The Director-General of Civil Aviation Arun Mishra remained unavailable for comment. The link to Anuradha Pal's petition
Unbundling of fares
Late last month, the Ministry of Civil Aviation allowed unbundling of services to bring down cost of travel for passengers who do not need additional services. Seven such services were allowed to be unbundled. The charges of most of these services, including check-in baggage, preferred seats, carriage of sports equipment, musical instruments and items of value were earlier included in the base fare of airlines. Some airlines have also reduced free baggage allowance from 20 to 15 kg.