No Miles For You!

Rejection is a powerful feeling and one we have all experienced in one form or another but I have to say that I was dumbfounded when I received a Dear John letter from Delta Airlines at the beginning of 2012. Like most rejection letters, it started off with such a polite tone I thought it was going to be good news but it turned ugly in short order and by the end, it seemed as though they were trying to make me feel like some sort of master criminal. And it seems my offense was nothing more than accruing miles for the full fare tickets purchased for my cello.

No Miles For You!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.

All of this helps keep my fees under control and ultimately passes along lower ticket prices to those buying concert tickets.

I have to admit part of me sees the irony for being punished by an airline for innocently buying two full fare tickets for each trip, but to have them administer corporate justice 11 years after the fact is just plain mean; not only did Delta cancel my account but it summarily gobbled up all of the associated miles and placed a permanent ban on my ever rejoining their miles program. Just take a look at the letter:

Harrell Delta Airline Letter

Well, I suppose one does have to track down and apprehend the criminally inclined, even if it’s only the potential of wrongdoing. I assume that Delta’s long delay in contacting my travel agent (who never received any warning in 2001) and getting around to administering punishment is because of so many other, perhaps more untoward infringements, deserved accelerated investigation. I can only imagine the terrible problems that rise to the level of investigation with passengers stealing toilet paper, pilfering multiple copies of the Skymall brochures, or children sneaking an extra can of soda when the flight attendant isn’t looking.

It certainly wouldn’t have more to do with airlines making money by selling customer’s miles, could it?

Given all of the extra work airlines incur for tracking down criminally minded cellists, I can understand why a zealous leadership is always watching out for criminal acts with an eye toward reducing the financial burden of running an airline. I can see the motivational office posters now: “They must be stopped” or “Only You Can Prevent Cello Miles Theft.”

I feel relieved that I had not used any of my Delta Miles for personal reasons; goodness knows what complications there would be in rewinding vacation trips, upgrades, etc. Fortunately, I never used Mr. Cello’s miles for anyone except Mr. Cello!

I am lucky, I guess. I breathe a sigh of relief. But I am sorry and perplexed that airlines like Delta are willing to turn down the opportunity to maintain long time customers and income (my career has been in full swing for more than 40 years!) for nothing more than the ability to make a quick one-off buck now by selling my miles. Oh well, to each their own.

When all is said and done there are other airlines that do recognize that paying for a full fare seat to transport a cello deserves to accumulate mileage. To all of those airlines, and you know who you are, I say thank you and you can expect me and Mr. Cello to continue to be a loyal customers for years to come.

134 Responses to No Miles For You!

  1. Carol Lee Maddox November 12, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    This is completely insane. If you paid for a seat, then you are completely entitled to mileage credit. Someone needs to tell Delta where to get off…perhaps a boycott is in order?

    • Lynn Harrell November 13, 2012 at 8:46 am #

      Yes, I hope that this can change a trend..

      • Leo November 18, 2012 at 12:07 am #

        Let’s have this message go viral!

      • s kovacevich November 18, 2012 at 3:44 am #

        delta have always been disliked…….

      • David July 15, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

        Lynn gets the Cobert Bump!!!!!

      • Cheryl Mailer July 17, 2013 at 12:05 am #

        This is a terrific PR opportunity for all other airlines with mileage programs. Let’s see if any one of them gets it.

      • Syd Davis December 7, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

        I heard this story on NPR radio and was outraged. What a stupid mistake the airline has made. Our son is a trombonist and often runs into problems regarding putting his horn in the overhead compartments. Go get ’em Lynn! Delta owes you and your cello an apology and a lifetime of frequent flyer miles.
        Your long lost friend from Larchmont,
        Syd (Munger) Davis.

    • Scott Stuart November 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

      I stopped flying Delta years ago. They really have no clue when it comes to customer service.

    • Natalia Lomeiko November 14, 2012 at 4:23 am #

      Unbelievable! Count me in for a boycott!

    • Doug January 21, 2014 at 12:08 am #

      Lawsuit. If this policy was not in place when the miles were accumulated then it’s arbitrary, capricious and discriminatory. He should at least get the miles back to be exhausted. If not proper compensation.

  2. Aron Z. November 13, 2012 at 4:01 am #

    Dear Mr. Harrell,
    Your negative experience surprises me, based on what I went through with Delta. Like you, I discovered my cello’s Skymiles account suddenly closed this past year (not sure if it was before or after your letter). When I called, they politely explained that accounts can no longer be held by anyone other than a human being. They said that they had e-mailed me several time to inform me of the closed account, but somehow I had missed those.
    However, not only did they avoid any acts of aggression toward my personal skymiles account, they agreed to apply my cello’s expunged miles to it! This resulted in an interesting conversation where I had to describe, on the honors system, which flights I’d taken in the past year with my cello. These were then credited to my account as “Extra Seat Purchase”.

    They told me that for any future flights I would only need to call to have this done, and a colleague received the same confirmation in letter form: “In the future to receive mileage credit for the extra seat purchased for your Cello, you will need to contact us either via phone or email once your flights have been completed so we can add the miles from the purchase of the extra seat to your SkyMiles account. You will receive mileage credit for one extra seat only and the bonus will not apply towards Medallion Qualification Miles or Medallion Qualification Segments.

    I would check into this, just in case that letter is an unfortunate outlier.
    In the meantime, I look forward to continue to travel with Delta (with and without my cello), to a future business class flight to the Far East, and to your next solo appearance.

    Aron Z.

    • Lynn Harrell November 13, 2012 at 8:50 am #

      Well, I am happy for you. I will look into this, and maybe at some point I will be readmitted into a full membership of traveler -customer of Delta.

      • Li-Wei Qin November 13, 2012 at 11:20 am #

        Dear mr. Harrell, I am a cellist too. wondering if you could tell me which airlines would except reward programs for a cello please? I do fly a bit and this would help me a lot! Many thanks in advance!

        Li-Wei Qin

  3. Michael November 13, 2012 at 5:41 am #

    From the letter: “Per the terms and conditions of the SkyMiles program, mileage credit is not awarded for tickets purchased for musical instruments.”

    It seems to me that it was Delta (not you) who violated the terms and conditions, by awarding the mileage credit in the first place.

  4. John Zapp November 13, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    Sorry to hear about this. Wouldn’t you feel that if you have to purchase a ticket for an instrument to ride safely in the cabin then your instruments ticket would be eligible for the same perks as your own ticket. Same price, same rewards.

    • Lynn Harrell November 13, 2012 at 8:56 am #

      Yes, but see the article on taking miles and selling them to others, I was not pleased to learn about that.

  5. A fan November 13, 2012 at 7:06 am #

    Calling your instrument ‘Mr Cello’ is just creepy. How about ‘Mortimer’ or something?
    P.S. Thanks for posting this story… as if I needed another reason to avoid Delta!

    • Lynn Harrell November 13, 2012 at 8:58 am #

      It was an old travel agent who suggested it. The problem is ,of course,internationally: Mr. Cello does not have a passport!

    • Susan November 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

      Leonard Rose used to fly with his cello, which always went under the name of “Cello, Rose”. Many time he heard the page “Would Mrs. Cello, Mrs Rose Cello, please come to the counter…!”

  6. akismet-a210967088501789fa72924ea1fad2d4 November 13, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    Mr. Harrell – I find this decision by Delta airlines to be very poor marketing and public relations, if not down right egregious. If you pay for a ticket for Mr. Cello, and especially a full-fare ticket, you should be able to accrue benefits on that purchase like any other traveler. Mr. Cello’s account is not a business account owned by an entity and used by multiple persons – it is an account owned by a single individual used only for Mr. Cello’s use. It is owned by you, a human, and presumably humans can have more than one Skymiles account – the only stickler is whether “he” can earn mileage. I suspect if a peson of size (fat!) that buys two seats earns FF miles on both seats to the same account. I see no difference. In fact, Mr. Cello requires less in-cabin and baggage service than other passengers so “he” is cheaper to transport netting a higher profit for Delta. Get with it Delta – do the right thing – reinstate these two accounts and use some common sense!

  7. CelloMom November 13, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Mm, makes me feel better that both CelloPlayer and I are just students. So we _could_ rent a cello on the other side of the flight, neither of us are good enough yet to be picky about it!

  8. Jess Anderson November 13, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    As a fellow musician who has heard you here in Madison a number of times, I well know what a great artist you are. I’m outraged that some idiotic functionary refuses to recognize that you have paid the going price, outrageous as it is, for your cello. You can count on me never to fly Delta.

    • Ralph Kummerow November 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

      I have just cancelled my air miles with Delta and offered the accumulated miles back to them! There are plenty of other airlines to take me to great music events! Never really had much harmony with Delta anyway!

      • Gerry Gentile December 3, 2013 at 10:03 am #

        That’s silly. Don’t cancel. Use the accumulated miles.

        Then cancel.

  9. Katherine November 13, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    I just remembered the “Lines” ad that Delta was running until recently, which featured a traveler with a cello and a substantial cello solo in the soundtrack, along with a bit in the voiceover about not letting “the rules overrule common sense”. Perhaps this could be used to shame them 😉

    • Drew McManus November 13, 2012 at 10:27 am #

      Great catch Katherine; talk about ironic! I did a quick search and found that advertisement at YouTube: I noticed they didn’t show anyone putting the cello into the checked baggage compartment.

      • Eric Edberg November 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

        I like the line in the video: ” . . . and never let the rules overrule common sense.” Not in this case!

    • Benny Rietveld November 14, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

      Excellent call!

  10. Golden Veil November 13, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    I find this outrageous! It seems logical that if you do indeed pay a human fee for your cello it should indeed earn human air miles (to be used solely by it.) I didn’t see the “selling of miles” article but I’m sure that it would be clear that the miles were used all these years for the cello’s passage. At the very least, Delta should give your cello’s air miles the same opportunity as the cello of cellist of Aron Z (find out the date). At this point, that’s how I’d now respond to this perplexing letter from Delta’s Jensey Vee. And if the Delta contract says that one can use one’s miles for someone (a human someone) other than oneself, at least you could use them for yourself and another human…. that is if you ever travel with a seat mate other than your cello!

    By the way, I’m trying to find out what date y played in Florence Italy in 1984. I think it was the spring time!
    Could you please be so kind as to let me know when that was?

  11. Katherine November 13, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    (Full disclosure: that’s my husband playing the solo, which is why I remembered it)

  12. Christopher Weait November 13, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Lynn, It is amazing that you have been victimized by their corporate greed and insensitivity. I’m hoping they will come to their senses after seeing your well-considered report. Warmest possible best wishes, Chris Weait

  13. Robert November 13, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    If a person pays for two items, be they seats or commodities. I fail to see how they can be penalized for claiming an available and legitimate reward they are entitled . Yet another example of the big companies bending their rules to cheat the individual. Good luck Mr Harrell

    • fireandair November 14, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      He didn’t even claim the reward. They GAVE it to him. It’s like a shop mistakenly handing someone $20 more in change, and then reporting them to the cops for theft.

    • Carlyn November 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

      Exactly! If I bought myself an extra ticket just because I didn’t want to sit next to anyone would I not get miles for that extra seat I’d bought? Amazing ~ this needs to cause them some shame and many vociferous recriminations.

  14. Lyon Leifer November 13, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    As a flutist, I can never repay my Mom sufficiently for suggesting the instrument (without telling me so then) on the basis of it being small and easy to carry. Of course, I sympathize immensely with you and all the low string players who have to pay out major dollars to safely transport instruments. Delta has been my last choice, due mainly to checked bag issues and hassles transiting through Atlanta. Also, I just read a post from someone who said he’d rather fly Aeroflot than Delta in Europe! Your experience with Skymiles is indeed sorry, if also hilarious, and apparently something one might well expect from that airline.

  15. lauren November 13, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    The hip to waist ratio would suggest that the cello is, in fact, female.

  16. Tim November 13, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    Congratulations, Lynn, for standing up to these bullies.

    By the way, I really enjoyed your performance of the Shostakovich Concerto recently in Birmingham (UK)

  17. Art Wegweiser November 13, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    But do watch Delta’s repeated commercials about how great they are. Sheesh – what does a double bass player do? And a harp must have to be borrowed. At least ;pianos are fairly commonly available.

  18. Guadalupe November 13, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Seriously, it takes me a lot of effort to keep my nerves with anything related to flights… why they don’t like us cellists? what’s wrong with them? If it’s not about the extra seat, then is about the miles, or whatever… there is always an excuse to put us down. Aitline companies: give us grace! They should be happy we bring art and wonderful worlds of emotions everywhere, specially nowadays when human beings are in such a need of finding themselves spiritually. God, we should actually travel for free because what we do is important!!! Anyway, thanks Maestro Harrell for being always so wonderful artists, and specially so nice and charming person 🙂

  19. grace November 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    I would get a lawyer. You might have a Laches argument here.

  20. Brinton Smith November 13, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    Hi Lynn-

    Delta did the exact same thing to me about 6 months ago. Same letter, same supposed 2001 contact, same cancellation of my unquestionably legitimate personal miles. 5 separate calls to the number on the letter were not returned and skymiles customer service said they could not find my account (because they deleted it!) and couldn’t help me. I am done flying Delta, period. I will buy a more expensive ticket before I’ll give them another cent. Hope you are all well. All best- Brinton

  21. Rex Westen November 13, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    Mr. Harrell –

    I am pretty sure that your instrument has better provenance than I do. Perhaps getting Mr. Cello a passport is appropriate. Montagnana Cello, born 1733, Venice, Italy. Could anyone deny after hearing Mr. Cello that this is a sentient being deserving the full protection of citizenship?

    • Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:18 am #

      Indeed, it does feel like it’s alive. Thanks

  22. Jeannette Howell November 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    I’m so sorry Mr. Harrell! You do not deserve to be treated like this! We will be paying for an extra ticket when we fly with my daughter’s cello, and United has already confirmed that the miles for “Miss Cello Howell” will accrue for us. I will stay away from Delta. I hope you have a nice weekend! -Jeannette

    • Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:19 am #

      Yes, I’ve found United helpful as well…. all best for you and my young colleague, Lynn

    • Karen Martinson Clibon February 11, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

      Have you heard the song “United Breaks Guitars” by a Canadian artist who had an unfortunate experience with this airline?

  23. Stephen Clarke November 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    This is just crazy. First we had “United Breaks Guitars”. Now “Delta Boots Cellos”.

    • Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:20 am #

      I know. But United has been more than kind to cellists… Lynn

  24. Sonny Rowe November 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    I avoid Delta like the plague. It’s funny how their lack of financial acumen leads to poor customer treatment.

    • Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:21 am #

      I guess that’s it.. But some serious misjudgments there… Lynn

  25. tom November 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    You are about to go viral with this…”passengers, please fasten your seat belts”! Good luck sir…Ill look for a performance by you sometime soon.

    • Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:22 am #

      I hope so . If just to help our charity, Lynn

  26. Max Field November 13, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    Recently, I was advised to purchase second seat for my expensive archtop guitar and, after boarding, the flight attendant took my guitar away from me said it couldn’t set in the seat but had to be stowed and she put it in a closet. I was forced to pay for two seats but could only use one. No one sat in the empty seat and it was nice having the extra space, but that’s beside the point. It should be one way or the other — the seat is either for the instrument, or it’s not and if it goes in the closet, I shouldn’t have had to pay for the additional seat. I have heard that the AFM has interceded on behalf of members in the past.

    • Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:25 am #

      this is wrong. When this has happened to me ,I insist on a refund of my ticket particularly if they try to put another passenger in the seat. Lynn

  27. Jessica November 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

    Before the name of the airline was changed to Delta…my Brother referred to it as Northworst Airlines! 🙁
    The airline should be lucky you weren’t flying with a piano!!!!

    • Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:27 am #

      HaHA! Yeah! I have not heard of Bassists having a problem; could be they all just get a different bass when they arrive for a gig… Lynn

    • Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:32 am #

      Arrgh! Maybe I can apply for a Parole after 5 years! Lynn

  28. Capri Montgomery November 14, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    You paid for the seat so you should be able to get miles for it. That’s a full price ticket for a seat no matter what/who sits in it and that should count. I have always heard it’s not safe to check the instruments in like regular baggage. I figure if I ever have a need to fly with my cello (unlikely as I’m not that good with it) I would buy a seat for it too.

    • Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:30 am #

      For sure. But that MY miles were stripped and I am not allowed to enroll EVER in the future for myself is the bit that I want them to be revoked with apology. Maybe I should have to serve 10 years of no enrollment first…. 😉 Lynn

  29. Tim Jansma November 14, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    Did Delta offer to reimburse you for every mailing list to which they sold your cello account information? For years, Cello Jansma has been getting multiple credit card offers. Apparently, cellos are not only good flight passengers, they have fabulous credit.

  30. Carpenter Stephen November 14, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    It would seem to me that if a person purchases a ticket for a seat, the airline has the funds for that seat. From a company standpoint, in selling the ticket they are agreeing to accept a body in that seat in exchange for the money. To add stipulations as to what kind of body is in the seat has always seemed over-reaching. Worse, there is no accessible true cost to any airline seat because the prices are all over the place. A seat that someone pays $500 for is next to a seat that someone has paid $200 for, next to a seat that is complimentary for an FF.
    So at the end of the day, this is a discrimination issue and interestingly, concert musicians with large instruments are a small enough “class” that they can be bullied as is the case with you and Mr. Cello.
    At the end of the day, any airline should not care who or what is in the seat, just that the seat is occupied. Someone at Delta really screwed up on this one and rather than fix the screw up with apologies, they’ve decided to tough it out. Too bad for them. the whole thing is dis-ingenous and everyone knows it.
    I hope it is fixed soon, and in your favor because we need you to be pushing back the dark wherever and whenever you can.

    • Matt Harris (@MatthewOfIbiza) October 15, 2013 at 5:54 am #

      Yes, Delta sure acted “dark” and in a “benighted” way and the cello and concert artist Lynn Harrel applauded and knighted for showing pluck! and staying calm through the turbulence caused by a hellbent marketing canoneer bent on high-f(a)luting corporate banishment and punishment of the small consumer who only wanted fly somewhere to spread the light of good in music and good will.

      Don’t let them get you down, Lynn. The Web is so powerful, don’t people realize what a knucklehead risk it is nowadays to even have boilerplate like that and then have the temerity to send it out? No doubt the person’s supervisor forced the other more favorable exchange to happen, but the mojo to apologize, corporateland has not got enough sustenuto and breath for that.

  31. Laura Long November 14, 2012 at 7:02 am #

    Just read about you on NBC and I find this ludicrous. It doesn’t matter who or what is sitting in that seat, you paid for it. I see it being no different than if you bought two seats and had a child or pet sitting with you, that is your seat. This is just another way the airlines are pushing customers away. My family only flies when distance demands it. I hope they’re shamed enough to give you your miles back. Good luck

  32. George Schwarz November 14, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    Susan White, Executive Director of the Amarillo Symphony, posted your experience with Delta Airlines on Facebook: here is my reply:

    First and foremost, Delta Airlines used to be one of the premier carriers in the United States. Its Deep South Atlanta, Georgia heritage was reflected in the way how well management treated its employees and, as a result, none of its employee groups were unionized — not the pilots, flight attendants, ticketing people or ground crews. But things have changed. Delta now treats its employees like crap. So it is that the customers reap the ill wind.
    American and United airlines are no better. Designating seats further forward in the aircraft as “premium” requiring an extra fee is, to me, one of the worst reflections on an airline management’s disrespect of its customers. There was once a time when a flight would arrive in a hub city and the cabin attendants would request passengers who are not making connections to stay seated so those trying to make a connection could do so by expeditiously leaving the aircraft. Now, you have to pay for that.
    I have written American and United have gotten back the typical public information officer/customer service agent bullshit. I’ll spare you and the other readers of my newsfeed the details of those letters. Suffice to say, I have heard rumors that Amtrak will be rerouting the Southwest. Chief through Amarillo, perhaps as soon as 2014 because travel of the Raton Pass will no longer be viable due to maintenance issues. Should that be the case, I will darken the door at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport even less frequently.
    One suggestion I would make, if I may, would be to get with your orchestra association and figure out a way to put pressure on all the airlines to honor the money spent accommodating those instruments in seats. It should not matter whether the extra ticket, paid for at the proper tariff, was used to accommodate another passenger, your favorite Martian or a large musical instrument.

  33. November 14, 2012 at 7:05 am #

    I am a bass player. My choices are (1) drive or (2) hope for a decent rental/loaner at the venue or (3) turn down the work. I sincerely hope this is not your future! It makes one feel terribly provincial!

    • Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:44 am #

      It may finally come to that ! In breaking a string and grabbing the nearest cello ( usually the leader’s) I have had to play on an instrument for the rest of a piece that sometimes is so different than what I currently use, that I would not have been able to make a successful career. Lynn

  34. Brian Brown November 14, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    This whole thing wouldn’t be an issue if the airline industry would address the fact that baggage handlers are brutish neanderthals who can’t be trusted with even a cheap suitcase, let alone a priceless cello. Until that changes, events like this will continue.

    • Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:34 am #

      Maybe you are right. Years ago AA had large pods for baggage . So in the claims area you would get your bag directly from the plane as it were. probably not feasible today. Lynn

  35. Brandon November 14, 2012 at 7:21 am #

    From the point-of-view of Delta’s profits this is completely idiotic. So what if it’s a musical instrument? They are getting a free paying customer who is receiving the skymile benefits that any other paying customer could get. It’s like your local burrito place getting angry that they had to punch out two holes on your free burrito card because you purchased an extra burrito for your imaginary friend.

    Instead they lost a regular customer that probably accounted for 100 flights a year.

  36. violist November 14, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    I’ve been casting about for a new airline to abuse me, United having gone all out this year, but from testimonies such as yours, Delta is no longer to be in the running!

    I commend you to the sites and if you want suggestions on how to redress this particular issue.

    By the way, thanks for giving me decades of musical pleasure both through recordings and live performances. Cheers, Michael

  37. Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:14 am #

    indeed. and no cans of soda or sandwich etc. 🙂 Lynn

  38. Lynn Harrell November 14, 2012 at 8:16 am #

    Thank you, Michael! I’ll look into these… warmly, Lynn

  39. CC Heim November 14, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Actually, it sounds more like a Delta failure. Delta, upon their initial 2001 discussion with you, should have disallowed the accumulation of miles in the cello’s account if that is against their terms and conditions. How is it the passenger’s job to ensure that miles are NOT being accumulated? Further, I’m sure that Delta requires you to purchase a seat for the cello to travel with you within the cabin rather than as a simple carry-on due to its size. So it stands to reason that you WOULD be buying tickets for the cello, but Delta fell down on the job by granting miles to the cello. Clearly, they are placing the blame with the wrong party. Thumbs DOWN!

  40. Linda Shanley November 14, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    I would suggest that you contact Christopher Elliott . He is a consumer advocate who has resolved many travellers issues as well as other consumer issues. But I agree 100% if you are buying 2 seats, you should have the rewards for both.

  41. fireandair November 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    Even if you can’t accrue miles on a cello, well … they can’t run a quick script on their site to look for someone registering “Cello LastName” and not assign miles? THEY had a loophole — and you didn’t even look for it. They mistakenly assigned miles to your cello despite their own internal policy, and then somehow it became your fault? Please.

  42. JohnQuePublique November 14, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    Remind me to never tell them I’m a professional vocalist and have my instrument stored “in body”! They’ll want to be charging me twice for the same seat!

  43. Steve Donnelly November 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    Unfortunately our recent experience with Delta was no better…

  44. Anne Andorn November 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    Seeing this news note brought me back to a very cold Cleveland night, full of snow, you were playing at the Music School Settlement, I think it might even have been your 21st birthday(?) and after the first movement you stopped the trio and said “our hands were too cold, we will start again” to the delight of all the students gathered there – thanks for the memory Anne Andorn

  45. Gina Wethington November 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    I am not one bit surprised at this. Customer service has gone to the wayside in many industries but I have experienced my own horror stories with several airlines and I am just glad you weren’t flying American, they can’t even control their pilots and attendants in-flight or their unruly passengers who wont put their words with friends away (chuckle). I would definitely call Delta and see about getting all those miles back. You may get lucky !!!!!

  46. Marinne Wurlitzer November 14, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    Hello Lynn: A voice from the past with a note of sympathy. Delta is entitled to have a policy but certainly not to be so rude. How inefficient, cruel and quite stupid of them – what’s the matter with their PR department? This will come back to haunt them if that is any consolation. Marianne Wurlitzer

  47. Larry November 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Glad to see that you have gotten this website up and running to inform the rest of us what shysters these guys are. No more Delta for me, just on principle. Delta has a Facebook page where it would be appropriate for people to let them know what they think of them IMHO! Killing your personal air miles in my opinion, is tantamount to stealing a lot of money from you.

  48. Andrew November 14, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    Among the terrible things about Delta’s actions is that 11 years ago you were free to take your business elsewhere but didn’t since they continued to award Mr. Cello his miles. They already have those 11 years of business and they’re rescinding the things they gave you to retain your business.

    Anyone who feels strongly about their actions should head over to Delta’s site and fill out a complaint (or better yet, call their home office.) Complaint form: — they might see the light if they realize how the public feels.

  49. Benny Rietveld November 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    I guess I’m surprised, yet not so surprised. Corporate greed and (especially) stupidity are at an all-time high, it seems (and that’s saying something). I certainly would take Aron Z.’s advice and try to contact someone else there. Perhaps the letter was written by an overzealous middle management watchdog who just started their new job.

    But I appreciate your outlook and attitude towards the situation. You must sound great! 🙂

  50. linnakat November 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    A smart airline would see a sponsorship opportunity — Mr. Cello flies free for a line in the program. When I played with the Nairobi Orchestra I remember at least one concert where British Airways was a prominent sponsor because they helped with the cost of flying in a soloist and his cello from the UK.

  51. Stephen Z Goldberg November 15, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    I think that all professional orchestras, opera companies, etc should inform Delta that unless this policy is reversed they will book their travel on other airlines. As an individual I will certainly try to find other companies with which to fly. FYI – I am an amateur cellist.

  52. Professor Peewee November 15, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    I bought a Yamaha Guitarlele, which fits under the seat, for a recent trip to Germany, but I suppose that’s not an option for you…

    At least they thanked you for your participation. I thought that was nice.

  53. Nicole November 15, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    This makes my blood boil…and I’m not even a cellist! Hope Delta is shamed!

  54. Jessica S. November 15, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    Time to switch carriers, I suppose. I would make an excellent commercial for whomever you popped off to!

  55. dundili November 15, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    I had many reasons not to fly Delta before, and your experience just confirms it. Looking forward to hearing you play again, hopefully soon.
    In the meantime, American and United offer superior mileage programs, so I think you will enjoy the future flight opportunities even more!

  56. Harold Gotthelf November 15, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    Steven Isserlis has also complained about his cello’s treatment by airlines: (
    I guess that all you great cellists will have to switch to the piccolo.

  57. Richard Shagam November 15, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    Check out They offer on-line petitions, which have done, among other things, saved people from eviction, rid schools of ‘pink slime”, and most famously, drawn attention to the Traylon Martin shooting–resulting in the arrest of the shooter. Perhaps, it can save Mr. Cello’s frequent flyer miles

  58. DC Palmer November 15, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    Is this a first draft of an article for The Onion?

  59. cary lewis November 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    Luckily, after our account was canceled, we rejoined under a new name and were able to retain it until the end of our traveling-with-cello days. And we were able to use up the miles. Perhaps you should incorporate the cello, and take advantage of the fact that “corporations are people too, my friend!”

  60. John Tomlinson November 16, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    Most of the airlines have been hiring auditors to search for loopholes or abuses of the frequent flyer programs because they know that the liability that they have created with these programs could put any one of them out of business. The real question is are there really enough cellists out there flying around on free mileage so that by stopping them you can afford to pay the salary of an auditor. My guess is not – so once again an airline is ending up with a net loss as well as a public relations black eye. I fly the cheapest and easiest (most direct) airline whenever I am forced to travel. The fact is that EVERY airline will screw you if they get the chance. Welcome to our deregulated world (before airline deregulation this kind of thing would never have happened).

  61. Steven Honigberg November 16, 2012 at 5:23 am #

    There are innumerable activities I would rather be doing than waking up knowing I have to get on an airplane with my cello. It has become that treacherous. I’m surprised my endpin hasn’t been pulled from my cello and discarded. I’m sure you have taken note of what has happened to two distinct violins in the Frankfurt airport…

  62. Bard-Alan Finlan November 16, 2012 at 5:50 am #

    What a bureaucratic nightmare! I can’t imagine what you must have to go through to get Mr. Cello through TSA checkpoints; does he have to remove his peg?

    • fireandair November 16, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

      I’ve heard horror stories of people having to subject priceless instruments to TSA nonsense. Rachel Barton Pine plays a 1742 Guarneri del Gesu that must be worth more than the airplane she flew on, and one time she had to talk a helluva line to get the TSA to not swab the thing. Can you imagine? What were they expecting it to contain — 18th century plastic explosives?

  63. Alla Aranovskaya November 16, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Our Quartet ( St. Petersburg String quartet) has a lot of stories like that. Even more, 3 years ago we were kicked out of the plain by the crew of BMI in Scotland , because the stewardess was in a bad mood and did not want to put us on a plane with our instruments. Our concert was supposed to take place near London that evening and we had to rent a car, drive 600 miles almost 90 miles per hour to get to the concert. Finally , we were late and the audience had to wait for us almost 1.5 hours.

    Should we ( all musicians of the world ) wright the petition addressed to all of the air and actually train companies and We must demand that they have to stop the musicians discrimination .

  64. Gailalong November 16, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    This is duscgusting. I definitely suggest you call and speak to someone higher up or right a letter to the president/CEO of Delta.

  65. Linda Rogers November 16, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    How bizarre of them! I certainly hope they reverse this policy.

    • Fielding November 19, 2012 at 9:49 am #

      i’m another to whom Delta, many years ago, in effect said “We don’t want your business” when — besides all the other terrible service — a counter agent at LAX kept me waiting at check-in for 10 min while she went to find a tape measure, ultimately finding my fishing-rod case about an inch and a half over max limit. rather than pay the $100 for that 1.5 inches, i made the mistake of asking to see a supervisor. a half-hour later, I was still standing at the ticket counter waiting. I paid the $100 and have never flown with Delta since. Reminds me of the old Steve Martin line, chiding his audience: “I don’t NEED you!” Clearly Delta doesn’t need us, i.e. customers.

  66. Andrea Tippery November 18, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    I’m not surprised at Delta’s dealings. My brother worked for Comair and I heard about all sorts of dealings, but Delta did you wrong. I’m not a fan of flying and certainly not a fan of Delta. If we can’t fly, we don’t go. Thank goodness my primary gig is public school teaching and my instrument is viola. All my performing is local and I don’t have to fly with my instrument. I avoid Delta like the plague. My thoughts are, if you paid for the extra ticket, you should get the rewards for that extra seat. Corporate greed at its worst. Best of luck to you, Mr. Harrell.

  67. Lui Siu-Hang Simon November 18, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Delta’s reply is really offensive. They are losing a long-lasting relationship with a prestige customer like you. I will spread your story and alert my musician friends from Delta.

    I am also looking for a musician-friendly airline.

    If I were an airline PR, I won’t ignore the huge potential market of “musician’s 2nd seat ticket”. I think it even worth to invite prestige musician for an advertising shoot, and dominate this market…

  68. rolson310 November 18, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    Simple solution. Hire my kid to hold the cello on her lap.
    Why this works:
    She’s skinny like a chicken so you can get her and a cased cello in one airline seat
    She plays cello too but not so nicely, so she knows how to treat cellos, and cellists, respectfully. Her cheap cello can go cargo.
    She has a passport
    She wants to travel
    You could give the airline a real name and use her miles again and again
    She can also carry the cello on and off the plane
    She wouldn’t mind ditching school at the drop of an end pin.

    Just a little humor. Inspired by your brilliant performance today.

  69. Kaizi November 18, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    Why does that airlines do this behavior ?
    It is the right that Customer buy the seats . How come this company can cancel it ? Unreasonable !!!

  70. Jeffrey Marchand November 19, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    I am very sorry to hear of this myopic decision by Delta Airlines to effectively CHEAT you out of your accumulated airmiles. It just reminds me of bad past experiences with this airline and why I will not fly with them under any circumstances. I hope they will come to their senses and rescind this idiotic decision.

  71. Adena DeMonte November 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

    This is the dumbest example of poor customer service I’ve ever heard about. If they had any brains, they’d let you keep the miles for your personal seat and cancel miles for any flights where you paid for another seat. It’s normal for frequent flier programs to only give you credit for your seat (even if you book for another person) so that would be fair – but to cancel your whole account is ridiculous. I will be avoiding Delta from now on and hope other airlines are not this ridiculous.

  72. christine mello November 22, 2012 at 6:27 am #

    Sounds like a desperate attempt for a desperate company. What sillines! I had no issue on Delta with my Mr. Cello in 2010, but will have to find a new airline in the future for fear of being labeled a cello criminal for any future travels, little they may be.

    Again, what silliness!!!!!!

  73. david atherton November 23, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    I saw this blog on my FB friend Mary Au’s page. I made a response and she asked me to post it here so I am doing so w/ a tweak or two. I am not a musician, I have no issue with the charge for the extra seat–you use the space, it is fair to pay for it. But, if you pay for it, you deserve ALL the perks that come from that purchase. Here was my post:

    Some brain dead bureaucrat. What possible difference does it make who or what sits in the seat? You buy the seat, you should get the miles. I would send a copy of every booking you make in the future to the CEO of Delta Airlines with a copy of this letter. I think by the time he received this 30 or 40 times with that many thousands of dollars going to other airlines, you would get a policy change, certainly, if ten or 15 or 100 cellists did this, there would be an impact. Corporations are soulless. It is their bottom line that is important. Show them the stupidity of a bad policy and the COST of a bad policy and you will get change. ADDITIONAL NOTES: I would do this industry wide if you really want change. I would make a formal letter explaining the problem, why you think it is not right, include a copy of the obscene letter you got from Delta and append your trip itinerary and highlight the cost of the tickets then send it to the CFO, CEO, Public Affairs Officer and any other top level person in Delta. All cellists and Alpenhorn players should do this. Secondly, I would have every traveling Cellist buy one share of Delta stock so you can get a seat at the shareholders’ meeting. That way, you can possibly get your message out to the broader market. If there is a share holders report that gets broad dissemination, you might send an annual report of how much Delta lost by a Cellist boycott.

    Of course, this assumes there is enough critical mass to make a difference. It all comes down to bottom lines. Hurt that and you make change. If the combined cellist business amounts to $18.23 cents, you are just spitting in the wind. But for sure, unless you take action that is noticeable at the top levels, change will not happen. Complaining to the mindless bureaucrat that sent you the letter will get you nowhere. Dave A

  74. nelly November 23, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

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  75. Caroline in Los Angeles November 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Isn’t “criminally minded cellists” redundant? 😉

    (Similarly outraged but in need of a laugh today)

    Yours in three clefs…

  76. HELENE DOLAN December 9, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    This makes me so frustrated and is so unfair. Delta s Customer Service is at an all time low. Delta enrolls you and your Cello in their frequent flyer program. Delta takes all the information and knows you are traveling with a Cello. You are in their program for many years traveling all over the world with your Cello,
    paying full fare for yourself and Mr. Cello….. I think I have the picture.
    But, only now, Delta Airlines decides to be both judge and jury and slap your hands. They punish you for collecting miles in their mileage program, for two full revenue seats on
    their aircrafts. Then, they abolish not only the Cello s miles, but your miles as well. There is something terribly wrong with this picture.. Shame, Shame on Delta.
    As I see it, this is total discrimination. If it is their policy not to allow miles for your
    Cello, tell travelers when they initially enroll in their mileage program…not after 40 years of traveling. Also,inform
    the traveler that they can accumulate miles, but not for their musical instrument, even though you are paying full fare for that instrument! Let the traveler decide
    whether or not to use that particular airlines. That would be the logical and correct way to run an airline.
    The fair and just solution as I see it, is
    to restore your mileage program with a hugh apology. Outrageous, the way you have been treated!
    Lynn, I am so sorry you have been put in this situation. The airlines just do not care about justice, integrity,
    or just doing the right thing… I say…JUST DO THE RIGHT THING DELTA AIRLINES!
    Rock on, Lynn!

    Helene Dolan

  77. David Morgan Thomas February 27, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    According to Contract Law an agreement is binding at the point in time it is made and can not be modified retrospectively. Take Delta to court and they should lose! Very best wishes- happily mu Guad is normal fiddle size! Dai

  78. Pianist and now, Historian March 17, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    David – your fiddle may be of regular size… but my husband’s must be bigger! 😉 We have utterly stopped flying transoceanic flights (almost anything that requires a border crossing these days, as we are pretty equidistant between Mexico and Canada – a long way) a result; if we can drive there, we do drive there. If we must fly, we gird ourselves for battle. Extortion is what it is.

    P.S. He purchased a new suspension case with extra insulation several years ago and since then it has been great for the violin, but a constant battle with airlines… Size does matter. 😉

    And yes, I am trying to make light of scurrilous ba€£¥rds stealing what they “graciously” gave. My issues have been minor compared to my husband’s: I had accumulated miles with United since they *started* their FF program and ditched them some 20 years later when I couldn’t get them (as was my right) to stop selling my information right, left, upside down and sideways. I would come home some evenings and find “perks” mail so thick on the doorstep that the mailman took to using a brick on the porch to hold it all down. Enough is enough! At least I never had I lug by instrument (a Baldwin) anywhere!

  79. Jānis Svilans June 27, 2013 at 3:55 am #

    This is a GENERIC problem. We cellists cannot eventually boycott every airline. We need to UNITE and develop relationships with CELLO-FRIENDLY AIRLINES. Most aircraft have cabin space eg. wardrobe, that could accommodate a cello for a fraction of the cost of an extra seat. Alternatively, there should be no problem for airlines to allow the purchase of an extra seat for a cello, with the same benefits that may come with buying that seat for a person. The financial advantages for an airline company to become the preferred carrier for cellists would be significant. I shall start a petition as part of the upcoming (at which Lynn Harrell will be the star attraction) to get the wheels in motion, not only in Australia, but worldwide. I was sorry to discover that Mr.Harrell has been subjected to such gross injustice by Delta, but instances of discrimination against cellist travellers will continue unless we are PROACTIVE in tackling the problem. Jānis Svilans (cellist), Adelaide, Australia.

  80. David July 15, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    register it as a corporation & lien it’s title, then file an action against delta because it would be a person.

  81. Derrick Robinson July 16, 2013 at 8:03 am #

    Dear Mr. Harrell,

    I have written to Delta Airlines on behalf of both you AND your cello.


    Derrick Robinson

  82. Andrea Rehberg July 16, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Dear Mr. Harrell, I have been listening to recordings by
    you for many years. You are a great man and a wonderful cellist,
    but to top it all (!) your performance on Colbert was awesome and
    terrifically well judged. Best of luck to you in your fight against
    the corporate juggernaut. Sincerely yours, A. Rehberg

  83. Lemuel Schenck July 19, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    I saw the Colbert report concerning Mr. Cello. I think I have a solution. In light of a recent SCOTUS ruling all you should have to do is to incorporate Mr. Cello. Mr. Cello is then a person and as such, he can be a member of SkyMiles.

    Should they object, you could certainly file a discrimination suit and Delta certainly would not want to go there.
    Remember the words of a famous candidate for President, “Corporations are people too my friend.”

    Good luck and thank you for championing the cause of equality for all!

  84. Lyam Bricknell July 24, 2013 at 1:35 am #

    I realise I’m a bit late to the party here but, this is completely ridiculous. You would logically assume that the miles are accrued simply through repeated patronage and multiple journeys, I wouldn’t think having a pulse of some kind was required for this system to work. It’s just another company using any excuse they can to save a buck. The shortsightedness of this is amazing. It’s either spend a fortune on the extra seat, with no reward for doing so (beyond the well being of the cello, which is paramount really). Or entrust it to baggage handlers and have an irreplaceable masterpiece of an instrument, damaged or potentially destroyed. It’s not like this issue is going to become less relevant, these instruments will only get older so it’s going to become more of an issue as time goes on. I’m so angry about this, it’s a total outrage. But my kudos to you Mr Harrell for being so good humoured in your article, a few paragraphs there really made me giggle.

    Any chance you’re coming out to Australia soon? That would be incredible.

  85. Tom Lansing November 30, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    I agree with everybody on this blog that Delta is a scummy company in its treatment of frequent flyers. They look for every which way to get them back from you, after you earned them. Awhile back, a few years after I had retired, I still had a couple hundred thousand Delta frequent flyer miles. Since I was retired I wasn’t as attentive to my e-mail as during my working years, after all I was retired. Delta managed to slip one lousy e-mail past me, one lousy e-mail, no letters, just one lousy e-mail. It said something to the effect that I had to do something real quick in order to retain my miles, one lousy e-mail. No letter, just one short lousy e-mail. A month or so later, when I was routinely checking my balance on Delta’s website, I noted that the miles had been deducted. I tried everything I could to get them back, to no avail. I wrote a, Mr. Robertson, who had recently taken over the Delta frequent flyer plan for delta at that time, and pulled off this sneaky scam, several letters. I never received one iota of a response from him of course. Beware out there ALL DELTA FREQUENT FLYERS, no matter how loyal a customer you are, they will try to get you. .

  86. B-A Finlan December 4, 2013 at 7:51 am #

    If the United States Supreme Court considers corporations “people,” then why not cellos; they certainly have more personality than do most corporations?

  87. John Schultz January 14, 2017 at 3:05 am #

    I was lucky enough to hear Lynn Harrell perform way back in 1976, in Liverpool. Thank goodness he managed to get there with his cello. I met Alisa Weilerstein in Frankfurt airport in 2012, waiting with her cello for a Lufthansa flight to Manchester. I did wonder how she managed to transport the instrument: now I better understand the huge challenges.


  1. Cellos Are Back In The News | Adaptistration - March 15, 2013

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    […] “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,” Harrell explained on his personal blog in a post entitled ‘No Miles For You!’  […]

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