Musician accuses airline of damaging instrument
A musician says his specially made instrument was badly damaged after he was forced to put it in a plane’s hold.
N’Faly Kouyate says his electric kora, also known as an African harp, was designed so that it could be taken as hand luggage and stored in overhead lockers on flights.
He says the instrument can no longer be played – and he wants British Airways to pay for its repair or replacement.
BA says it is investigating what happened.
Kouyate was flying home to Brussels with BA from London’s Heathrow Airport on 18 August after performing with his band, the Afro Celt Sound System, in Dorset.
He said that staff at the check-in desk had agreed the wooden instrument was hand luggage, and he was given a label for it confirming this.
The instrument measures about 80cm x 20cm x 20cm (31in x 8in x 8in) and weighs about 6kg (13lb).
But Kouyate said that when he got to the departure gate, he was told by a member of staff there that the instrument had to go in the hold.
He said he repeatedly explained how fragile the 22-string instrument was – but to no avail.
“I told her I had been allowed to take it as hand luggage two days earlier on the BA flight from Brussels to London.
“I said that it was the first time since I’d got the instrument about 18 months ago that an airline had refused to allow me to take it as hand luggage, but she said the law had changed.
“She said that if I refused to hand it over, I could be prevented from boarding the flight,” Kouyate told the BBC.
He said he eventually agreed because he had to travel two days later to his native Guinea, in West Africa, where his parents’ graves were being moved to make way for a new road.
Kouyate comes from a line of kora players and is widely acknowledged as a master of the instrument.
He said he was told his instrument would be handled with care as hold luggage and corresponding labels were put on its soft case.
But he said that when he collected the kora at Brussels airport, its bridge and saddle were broken and the body had been damaged.
Kouyate’s colleague from the Afro Celt Sound System, Simon Emmerson said they were awaiting the opinion of the instrument’s maker in France, but they believed it could not be repaired. He said it had cost about £4,500.
The Musicians’ Union said: “We regularly hear from musicians who have encountered problems at the check-in desk or when carrying instruments onto a plane. Airline staff often seem to apply their own discretion, regardless of an airline’s official policy.”
BA said: “Our colleagues take great care with our customers’ luggage, so we’re very sorry to hear about this. We are investigating this as a matter of urgency, and our customer relations team will be in contact with Mr Kouyate to help resolve the issue.”