Once upon a time you had to sit on the phone for hours to speak to a surly customer service representative if you wanted to make a complaint, now you can just fire off an angry tweet and someone called Safia or Zen or CG will send you an earnest, polite response.
That is unless you have a blue tick and 12.8 million fans, in which case it becomes a PR nightmare that will dominate the tabloids for a week.
I wasn’t on the flight with Mr I.Am so I won’t weigh in on the debate about whether the flight attendant was racist, nor was I there to witness whether or not Jess and Lisa were, indeed, belligerent and deserved to be turfed off the aircraft.
But one thing that is very clear is these recent events are not the first occasion our national carrier hasn’t quite handled the musicians who travel with it with the utmost care and concern.
It’s been less than a decade since Qantas has allowed musicians to take their smaller instruments on board as carry-on. Given your average violin case is significantly smaller than the bursting-at-the-seams suitcases most people try to ram into the overhead lockers, it seems rather curious that it took them so long to allow precious instruments on board.
Guitars are still a source of concern. In the wake of Mr I.Am’s furious tweeting, Janet Jackson’s bassist Eric Smith went on radio to note he was asked to chuck his guitar under the plane by Qantas.
It must have been an anxious journey for him because back in 2017 Mahalia Barnes, daughter of rock icon Jimmy, took to social media to complain about how Qantas had treated her equipment after cases were damaged. A few years before that, Delta Goodrem’s guitarist Michael Dolce posted pictures on Facebook of his destroyed guitar case and his guitar in bits after it appears it had been driven over while in the care of Qantas.
Of course it isn’t just Qantas that faces these challenges. Earlier this year a 17th Century Viol Di Gamba (similar to a small cello) was destroyed by an airline in Brazil and in 2016 Jetstar misplaced Tash Sultana’s equipment while she was in the middle of a sold out tour.
Musicians don’t need special treatment. If they aren’t following crew instructions or are being rude, they should absolutely be treated like anyone else.
But musicians need different treatment. If they are banging out “beats” on their laptop and don’t hear you, you probably don’t need to call the cops. If they are five feet tall and can’t reach the overhead lockers, they probably don’t need to be thrown off the plane. And if they are carrying precious instruments, the tools of their trade that allow them to do the jobs that got them on your aircraft in the first place, they probably need slightly different care than Karen from finance who is trying to get all her luggage for two weeks in Bali into the overhead locker.
Nathanael Cooper is the deputy culture editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.