I’m traveling with a cello. Why won’t LATAM allow it to fly with me?

Jennifer Stumm’s instrument case tugs at our heartstrings because LATAM Airlines refused to issue her client a ticket for his cello.

Stumm directs the Ilumina Festival, an international arts charity that brings musicians from Latin America to perform in São Paulo.

Her client’s story is a warning to air travelers to book all seats that they need on a flight at one time, because it may not be possible to add seats to a reservation later. It also stresses a reminder to get the names of every business employee to whom you speak during a business transaction, as Stumm learned the hard way.

Traveling with a cello

This ode to customer service problems opens with Stumm’s purchase of a ticket on LATAM for David Carrasco, a cellist in Santiago, Chile. She called LATAM to inquire about transporting his cello. An airline customer service representative told her that she would have to first book her client’s ticket online and then reserve an additional seat for the cello.

Stumm asked the representative if he was certain that this booking procedure was correct, and the representative answered “Yes.” Stumm then booked Carrasco’s ticket for $388. But she did not get the representative’s name.

She then called LATAM to book the seat for the cello. However, the representative to whom she spoke this time informed her that, contrary to what the previous representative told her. For those traveling with a cello, the tickets must be purchased simultaneously. This representative was not willing to change the original reservation.

Contacting LATAM on Twitter

Stumm contacted LATAM several times subsequently by email and on Twitter to purchase a second ticket. But LATAM’s agents were not helpful. Stumm responded to an agent’s suggestion that Carrasco check the cello:

Traveling with a cello is quite complicated. It is not possible to bring a cello as checked baggage. A cello is too fragile. It is of course possible for you to let me purchase an extra seat for the young man who is traveling with the cello. I have done it many times before. It is the fault of your customer service that this situation exists, because they gave me wrong information when I called, and so I need your help in resolving it.

This ticket is for an exceptional young cellist, David Carrasco, to perform at a festival in São Paulo. He is sponsored by a musical charity in Brazil and we are not able to afford to purchase another ticket. I would be happy to publicly tell this story for the many thousands of people on social media who follow me and my work. I would prefer to tell them how helpful LATAM was and how excellent your customer service is!

Given incorrect information

A LATAM customer support agent then asked her for the name of the representative who told her that she had to book the seats separately. But when she replied that she didn’t have this information, another agent of LATAM responded:

It is not possible to process your request if we do not have the necessary information; we have different contact center offices. We have [to] check the conditions and the changes are not permitted.

Stumm did have the times of her calls to LATAM’s customer service agents. But because she didn’t have the original representative’s name, LATAM refused to budge. It did not respond to any further inquiries from Stumm. She then contacted our advocates for help. (Executive contact information for LATAM is available on our website.)

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LATAM’s website indicates that musical instruments must be either transported in an aircraft’s cargo hold or in seats of the same fare and class as that of their owners, subject to additional restrictions on the dimensions and packaging of the instruments.

The bad news

As there was no apparent reason why LATAM would not allow the second seat purchase, our advocate, Michelle Couch-Friedman, reached out to LATAM on Stumm and Carrasco’s behalf on several occasions. As is typical with LATAM, it never responded to Friedman.

Stumm notified us that she was forced to “find another solution for the cello” (we don’t know what course of action she took). We regret that we couldn’t help her and Carrasco. But we are publishing their story to warn travelers that when traveling with a cello, or any other instrument, purchase all tickets together and always to get the names of any company representatives that provide information.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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