Delta Ejects Cello, Musician From SkyMiles Program

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - 04:33 PM

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Airlines SkyMiles frequent flier accounts have been terminated as of Jan. 2, 2012, and all existing miles have been rescinded.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.


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Comments [20]

Michael Mertaugh from Portland, Maine

A musician who travels with a full-fare cello -- which weighs next to nothing and therefore consumes far less fuel than a normal passenger (not to mention an obese passenger) -- is helping keep fares low for other passengers. It is outrageous that she should be denied frequent flyer privileges for her cello. Henceforth, I shall be careful not to fly Delta.

Dec. 11 2012 09:43 AM
Leslie from Belfast, Maine

This has been going on for a while. What I don't understand is that:
Cellists buy a business class or first class seat for their cellos, worth more than some people. The cellos don't eat, don't drink, don't talk back to the staff, don't use those God awful bathrooms.

I just don't understand.

Dec. 10 2012 05:33 PM

GREED...I do not fly much; hate it...last time I brought a viola in a Jaeger case, it was the overhead baggage, and the folks were positive and friendly about it...NO PROBLEMS...Of course that was in 1994

Dec. 10 2012 03:21 PM
Vitor Finkel from Rio de Janeiro

It was attributed to Albert Einstein the following statement:
"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Thanks for Delta to help in demonstrating this Einstein's theory.

Nov. 23 2012 05:24 AM
Janis from California

Even if one wants to acknowledge that a cello can't accrue miles ... then why did the airline stupidly assign miles to something blatantly named Cello Harrell? Their policy sounds to me like, "Hey, Mr. Harrell. Your cello isn't allowed to accrue miles. We will however continue to idiotically assign the thing miles, and it's YOUR job to fix our error or else we'll boot you out of the program." What, they can't hire a codemonkey someplace to write a three line script to check for people buying tickets for Cello LastName and not assign those tickets FF miles?

They screwed up, and he's punished. What a crock.

Nov. 16 2012 07:41 PM
ed from CT

The airlines at one time were excellent.
Today, they are trash. "Stewardesses (and stewards) have become outwardly rude and obnoxious...this is the true "Trickle down theory". It begins with management.
Music and great musicians are rare and bring so many gifts to our raggedy society. They (unless we are speaking of Itzak Perlman etc.) are not all millionaires. It costs them to travel and live on the road. As far as I'm concerned, this is total nonsense by the airlines...if you purchase a tkt, you should get the miles. Period. That's capitalism at it's finest.

Nov. 16 2012 02:08 PM
susanna from upstate new york

Delta is not only cheap, they're stupid. Hell of a combination.

Nov. 15 2012 04:16 PM
Allen from New York City

I have also been a Delta frequent flyer and have had overall good experience with the airline. But this decision is simply foolish. If the musician has paid for two seats, he should be credited with frequent flyer miles for himself and the instrument. The airline has received compensation twice, so why should he not receive the same? Delta should recredit his account and apologize -- to Mr. Harrell and to all music lovers.

Nov. 15 2012 03:06 PM
Dorian from Great River, NY

With all of the ill will related to terrorism and the necessary security checks at airports, a man whose profession helps to uplift the human spirit with the beauty of music surely deserves a break - given this,he has paid for an extra seat, and whether it is for his cello, or pet rat, he deserves the frequent flier miles. The people at Delta who created this policy should be ashamed of themselves. I will no longer consider Delta when making my frequent travel plans.

Nov. 15 2012 12:25 PM
Stephen Z Goldberg from Garden City, NY

I think that orchestras, opera companies, etc should not use Delta until it changes its policy. I am an amateur cellist so I don't fly with my instrument very often, but certainly if I have to by a ticket at least the cello should be credited with miles

I recall that in his autobiography "Cellist," Gregor Piatagorsky travelled as a couple. He was 'accompanied' by Miss Cello Piatagorsky.

Nov. 15 2012 12:19 PM

Delta is an awful airline: union-busting, headquartered in the former Confederacy.

Nov. 15 2012 11:03 AM
Norma B. from Durango, Colorado

It's called "GREED". You're a captive audience if that airline is the only game going to where you need to go, so they can call the shots because they know you have to buy their tickets. But a full-fare ticket is a full-fare ticket for a cello, a bass, a manequin, or a tool box, and should be just as subject to frequent flyer miles as a human. Delta is NOT being smart about this, just GREEDY. Because I am able to choose not to fly and due to the increased hassle of all flying, I don't. And it would be a cold day in Dante's Inferno before I'd fly Delta anywhere, anytime.

Nov. 15 2012 10:51 AM
Michael Kalman

I will not be flying Delta from this point forward if I have an alternative.

Nov. 15 2012 09:53 AM
Marc Goldenberg from White Plains, NY

The seat was paid for, so what's the difference? If he was a ventriloquist with a full size dummy, would the dummy get miles? Come on.

Nov. 15 2012 09:53 AM

If a ticket is paid for, why should it matter to Delta whether a human or an instrument occupies the seat? Why should it matter for a frequent flier program, either, since the seats are PAID FOR and that is income that Delta would not have had should Mr. Harrell have chosen to fly with another carrier?

Musicians are poorly enough paid as it is, whether for actual performances or for the travel to and from, and they and their instruments often treated with disrespect. This is just another instance of a corporation looking to its bottom line (although VERY nearsightedly, since this is sure to cost them business), and Delta deserves whatever loss of business may result from musicians and music lovers who are angered at the disrespect to the man, his profession, and his instrument.

While it may be within Delta's rights to deprive Mr. Harrell of the frequent flier miles for the second seat he bought and paid for, it is both short-sighted and stupid. It is also definitely within the rights of the music-loving (and -playing) community to fly with another carrier -- as I shall be sure to do in the future!

Nov. 15 2012 09:17 AM
kriss from Piscataway, NJ

That cello is definitely a frequent flyer!

Nov. 15 2012 09:17 AM
Waverley from New York

Delta is ignoring simple math: a ticket=miles, period. A seat for a cello is not a freebie. If every passenger owned a cello and had to buy an extra seat Delta would be ecstatic: twice as many seats sold without the incumbent weight, well worth the free miles.

Nov. 15 2012 09:15 AM

Without a doubt, it's within Delta's rights to define its frequent flier program. Does this rule help the company? No. Does it create bad karma for Delta? Yes. Does one need good karma? At 30,000 feet, one needs all the good karma possible!

Nov. 15 2012 08:20 AM
j from NY


Nov. 15 2012 04:20 AM
Dennis from California Central Coast

Probably within their rights, but how stupid to exercise said rights. If he had to pay a person;s fare for the cello, why not get that person's miles?
Isn't gaining customer sympathy an important part of doing business?

At least I know that next time I fly I would rather chose another airline, even if it meant going to a different nearby airport.

Nov. 14 2012 11:50 PM

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