CELLAIRE TRAVEL CASE
by Barbara Hedlund
After reading the informative article on flying with one's cello written by
Michael Bersin, I felt my experiences and this information might be useful
to other cellists. For clarification, I do not get any compensation from Mr.
Walther for doing this. I'm just trying to share information with my
colleagues who understand what a costly hassle it is to fly with a cello.
I discovered the Cellaire Case thanks to noted cellist Laszlo Varga who also
named the case. I have successfully traveled with it on planes in the US
and to Europe since 1991 without paying additional fares. Mr. Varga uses his
when not buying a seat, or when he isn't using a cello he owns and has
stored around the world.
I was first introduced to the case by Mr. Varga at the 1991 Cello Congress in
Tempe, AZ. He had already been using it in his travels at that time. Knowing
that his instruments were presumably more valuable and rare than mine,
and that he trusted it, I decided to try one.
At the time, I had borrowed an aluminum travel case made in Canada to travel
to the Cello Congress and had found it unsatisfactory for several reasons.
The case, although light weight, was not well insulated and left the
instrument vulnerable. Upon retrieval, the instrument was far too cold from
being put under the belly of a small commuter plane in its only cargo bay.
The case also had many sharp edges which scratched the upholstery inside a
car and the outside paint when taking it out of the car. It was small enough
to put on a conveyor belt placing the cello in jeopardy. The case had a
built in combination lock such as the type found on brief cases. This was
appealing for locking valuables while on stage, but not enough to offset
its negative qualities. I was ready to investigate other models.
The travel case was designed by cellist John Walther. The
Cellaire is made of a thick foam core and a washable canvas covering which
encloses a cello hard case. It can be sent on an airplane in the forward cargo
bin where oversized baggage is stowed and animals travel. Due to it's size,
the cello must be hand carried avoiding trouble and potential danger with
My experience has been that unless you have excessive amounts of luggage, I
have not had to pay an oversize baggage fee as long as I only had one
suitcase and perhaps a small carry-on item. Mr. Varga has not had fee
trouble either. Be sure to know what your legal limits for baggage and size
restrictions are for the airline(s) you are traveling on and don't exceed
them. Even if you have to pay, the oversize baggage fee which
is charged for skis, bicycles, etc. is usually around $40.00 (considerably less than
buying a seat).
It helps to check in early, be extremely cooperative, and try to use the
curb side check in. Occasionally curb side doesn't work and you'll be asked
to take it inside for handling. Having the item listed in advance on the
computer when you make your reservation can be a help. At times it can be a
hindrance because it "red flags" an oversize item and makes them see dollar
signs. For overseas flights, it is especially necessary to mention the item
in advance. Make sure you know ahead of time if there's going to be a charge
so you're not surprised at the counter and delayed. Having the information
on the computer saved me from an overzealous attendant at O'Hare last summer.
In preparing the cello for packing in the Cellair case, I secure in its hard
case, tune it down 1/2 step, put in dampits, and pack light clothing in
available spaces esp. under the fingerboard and tail piece, and cover the
belly with a thin cloth. The cello usually arrives tuned at the same pitch
as when I packed it with the sound post intact - so far.
The air temperature in the forward cargo bin is maintained at a safe level
because of the animals. The only disadvantage is making sure the plane is
large enough to have this feature available. Small commuter planes cannot
always accommodate the case. I've seen my case go into the baggage
compartment inside the plane, but that was due to the fact that it wasn't a
full plane. Be sure to check the capacity of the plane you are traveling
on. You want to travel and arrive on the same plane as your instrument.
Once you arrive at your destination, you retrieve your cello at the baggage
claim at the oversize baggage door and proceed with a porter or your own
carry cart. The case is slightly bulky, but not heavy. The cover comes in a
pale green color with no writing on it. I took a permanent laundry marker
and wrote on the outside canvas case "Fragile", "This Side Up", and drew the
international fragile symbol in red ink of a wine glass in several places
for extra insurance. Upon arrival, one can easily disassemble the cover and
carry your hard case in a normal fashion.
If necessary, I know one colleague who keeps it apart en route to the airport
so it fits in his car more easily and packs when he gets there. I have a van
so this is not a problem. His solution works for smaller vehicles. Once on a
trip to play in New York, I shared a car with a couple with an infant and
lots of baby paraphernalia. In order for all of us to get in the car, I
unwrapped the cello, put it in the hard case in the front with the driver,
put the luggage and Cellaire Case in the trunk, and we all sat in the back
Arriving back home, I wash off the grime on the outside cover in the washer
cool water, air dry it (no dryer to avoid possible shrinkage), and store
it for the next trip. The pieces come apart for separate storage if needed.
My son likes to use it to play with sometimes as a bed, a vampire coffin, or
Daschund torture chamber.
The case has been loaned to colleagues who went for auditions who wouldn't
have been able to go if they had to purchase a seat. I have students who
have borrowed them to travel to festivals in Europe. Other travel cases can
have horror stories. I have a friend who had her cello destroyed by TWA even
though she was using her fiberglass Stephenson travel case. This case is
evidently not a guarantee, has to be specially made to fit the cello, and is
more costly. If you decide to change instruments, they might not fit the
Stephenson case any more. With the Cellaire, this not a problem. One has
to buy a hard case for the instrument anyway. A normal hard case fits the
Cellaire Case because there's lots of room for flexibility. Another
advantage with the Cellaire is there's also a slight amount of air space in
which one can pack some small light articles such as umbrellas, rain coats,
poster tubes, etc.
I cannot comment on using the Kolstein travel cases since I haven't used
them, although a student of mine did. They seem to be good products and
useful(I know instrument dealers who use them), but they are heavier and
have to be used upon arrival unless one packs a soft case.
There's no better guarantee than buying a seat, but that option isn't always
available to cellists. If we check our instruments, they can be at risk.
However, if this information can help someone else who was at least curious
about travel cases, then I'm happy to help. There are a few dealers around
the country who own the Cellaire Case for rental if someone wants to rent
before making a purchase. For further questions, please feel free to write
me at our Musicelli Publications Email address firstname.lastname@example.org
Cellaire Cases may be purchased C/O Dr. John Walther, 1440 San Andreas Rd., La
Selva, CA 95076, tel 831-728-2787, Purchase price @ $500.00, contents covered
foam and washable canvas, weight 14lbs. added to cello in hard case at @14 lbs
for a total weight of @34 lbs (less than many suitcases ! ), dimensions 59" long
by 18" high, circumference 88". Shipment via UPS in a box 30x24x19
Submitted by cellist and Musicelli Publisher Barbara Hedlund