Delta Ejects Cello, Musician From SkyMiles Program

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A cellist who had been collecting frequent flier miles on his instrument for the past 11 years won’t be getting any more free flights.

Lynn Harrell has posted on his blog a letter from Delta informing him that his Delta Airlines SkyMiles frequent flier accounts have been terminated as of Jan. 2, 2012, and all existing miles have been rescinded. The letter also states that he would not be allowed to open a new account with the program.

Harrell, 68, routinely purchases a second seat, as is customary for cellists traveling with expensive instruments.

The cellist’s blog post reads in part:

"One of the realities of a career as a cello soloist is lots of flying and since trusting airlines with a multi-million dollar instrument as checked baggage is enough to trigger a fight-or-flight response, cellists have to suck it up and simply buy a second ticket for the instrument. After all, it’s not as though you can simply borrow the local Stradivari or Montagnana! Over the course of my entire career, I’ve been building miles under the cello’s account and in turn, those miles help reduce the costs of flights for the cello in future trips."

A Delta spokesman said the airline reached out to Harrell several years ago to advise him that the terms and conditions of its SkyMiles program state that mileage cannot be accumulated for tickets purchased for musical instruments. "Recently, our audit team determined that he had continued violation of the program rules and his accounts have been closed,” he said in an e-mail.

Harrell’s complaints, which have touched off a stream of commentary on Twitter, come at a time of heightened scrutiny towards airline instrument policies. In August, Paul Katz, the former cellist of the Cleveland Quartet, told WQXR’s Conducting Business:

“It used to be that cellos could have frequent flier numbers. But the airlines in their generosity have basically programmed computers not to accept cellos. They can’t program their computers to reject the buying of a ticket for a cello but if you try to put in a frequent flier number they will stop that.”

Katz, who said he has been on over 4,000 flights throughout his career, went on to recount some of the perks his cello received during the golden age of air travel:

What do you think? Was Delta within its rights to terminate Harrell's Skymiles account? Leave your comments below.