David Orkin: Man About World

You don't need a bottom to take up a seat

A large man and his companion were ahead of me in the queue at Heathrow to check in for a flight to Vancouver.

A large man and his companion were ahead of me in the queue at Heathrow to check in for a flight to Vancouver. Though the clerk asked for both of their tickets, she checked only the man's passport. As I reached the departure gate area, the man and his companion were once again just ahead of me: again, while both tickets were checked, only his passport was asked for.

With 10 hours' flying ahead of me, I waited until the initial boarding scrum had abated. My seat was in the row directly behind the man and his companion: generously, he'd taken the horrible centre seat and allowed his companion the one next to the window. With less chivalry, however, he had turned his companion upside down. Neck veins bulging and beads of sweat on his forehead, he was trying to fasten his companion's seat belt. A steward came to help. Eventually the operation was completed with use of a belt extension.

When the free headsets came round the man took one set for himself but not for his inverted companion. When the meals arrived, however, he asked for both the chicken and the beef: the stewardess hesitated briefly but then relented. Her uncertainty was because, as you have no doubt guessed, his partner was a cello.

So - who says it has to be a person that occupies an airline seat? Inanimate objects have their place too.

Many years ago, in a different life as a travel agent, I was contacted by a woman who wanted to take a double bass on a KLM flight to Rio de Janeiro. I told her that I'd have to check with the airline to see what its baggage policy was regarding double basses. Aghast, she explained that this was a very valuable instrument and she certainly wasn't going to allow it to go as "checked baggage". I said that I'd enquire about the possibility of her buying a seat for it as that was the only other option.

The airline's reservations department told me that buying an extra seat would be possible for a cello, but a double bass wouldn't fit on an economy class seat. It would, I was told, fit neatly on to a business-class seat. I rang the prospective passenger back and filled her in: she was disappointed and said that there was no way that she could afford two business-class fares. Half joking, I said that only one business class ticket was needed - she could travel in economy. There was a moment's silence before she said "Great idea!"

Back on the phone to KLM I had to use considerable persuasion to win its approval for the plan to carry passenger and instrument in separate cabins. The passenger rang again a few minutes later to ask if she could claim the double bass's business-class meal (rather than - or perhaps even in addition to - the meal she would be served in economy). The KLM agent - who was already sounding less enthusiastic - said one economy class passenger getting a superior meal to a couple of hundred other passengers would cause too many ructions. Sadly, the next day the double bass player rang to cancel and all my endeavours went unrewarded.

When the England rugby team won the World Cup last year the trophy was given a seat of its own on the BA flight back to London from Australia. Lucky the trophy wasn't a large string instrument: to quote BA's rules: "Large items such as cellos and double basses cannot be accepted in the First and Club World cabins as they cannot be safely secured in the new First and Club World flat-bed seats."

Current British Airways rules stipulate: "The cello will need to be stowed upside-down at a single window-seat-position Traveller cabin (or Club World cradle seat cabin) - excluding the emergency exit rows."

Airline regulations used to say that a double bass could be carried horizontally in the Economy section if five adjacent seats were paid for: one reason for this rule being changed was that few aircraft are now configured with five seats together with no aisle separating them. Trying to follow the letter of the law, airline reservations staff had been known to book three adjacent seats and two just across the aisle. Others, hardly any more in tune, have been known to ask if a double bass could be split into two single basses to make loading easier.

Other "extra seat" occupants include household pets, and single buttocks - for some larger passengers buying two adjacent seats is cheaper than paying a Business Class fare. (Though they need to check that the armrest between the seats folds up fully.)

So widespread is the habit that airlines have standard codes to help to identify exactly what a seat's non-human occupant will be - there are general codes such as EXST (Extra Seat) - sometimes used for obese passengers, FRAG (Fragile) and CBBG (Cabin Baggage), and more specific ones such as PETC (for pets), DIPB (for diplomatic bags).

If you do have to fork out to buy an extra seat for a cello - or a Rugby World Cup - it might occur to you to sign it up as a member of the relevant airline(s) frequent-flier scheme, and hopefully earn rewards (such as free tickets) for you both. Ask most major airlines and they'll say that their schemes are open only for humans: for example, the rules for United's Mileage Plus scheme state "... a member may not accrue mileage for the utilisation of services ... by any other person, animal, object, or entity". Apparently the American carrier Delta is less strict. A musician who wishes to remain anonymous told me that she enrolled her cello online and they have both taken advantage of miles accumulated to exchange for free return flights to play a concert in Europe.

Attempt to book air tickets for you and your lute and you're likely to find that most mainstream travel agents won't have a clue where to start. Stories tell of musicians who have taken advantage of airline staff's instrument ignorance by carrying on oversized instruments and, when challenged, saying they were violas (which are permitted as carry-on baggage). So contact a company such as Specialised Travel (020-8799 8300; www.stlon.com) which is used to arranging flights for everything and everyone from conductors to chitarrones, oboeists to entire orchestras.

And next time you fly, don't be surprised if, seated in the row in front of you, are a double bass and a cello wearing headphones and listening to a Vivaldi string concerto, oblivious to the wailing of their violin tucked up in a skycot in front of them.

News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing