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Gov't fails to issue rules on musical instruments

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JOAN LOWY | February 14, 2014 12:18 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Busted guitars, mangled cellos, broken banjos, lost lutes — musicians who rely on airlines to get them to performances have seen it all.

Two years ago, Congress stepped in to help, directing the Department of Transportation to write rules to make sure instruments don't get damaged or lost. The rules were due Friday, but the department hasn't even started writing them, citing a lack of money.

"We're working to find funding to support the kind of regulatory evaluations that are required to do the rulemaking," Transportation spokeswoman Meghan Keck said.

The department, which regulates airlines on matters that affect consumers, asked for money in this year's budget for four more staff members to write new agency regulations but was turned down by Congress.

The rules are supposed to implement a law requiring airlines to store instruments in closets and in overhead bins where they fit. Travelers would be allowed to buy seats for larger instruments weighing less than 165 pounds.

Musicians have long complained that airlines frequently require that instruments be checked as baggage, with the result that they are often damaged or lost.

Guitarist and singer Dave Schneider watched as Delta Airlines employees yanked, pulled and ripped at his smashed 1965 Gibson ES-335 guitar, trying for more than an hour to free it from where it had been wedged between a service elevator and a loading dock in an airport baggage claim in December 2012. Schneider had begged Delta to let him carry the guitar on a flight from Buffalo, N.Y., to Detroit, but airline employees denied his request.

One such guitar was listed Thursday on eBay with a bid of $3,851.

Canadian musician Dave Carroll had a guitar smashed after a flight in 2009, and wrote a song and book about it, both called "United Breaks Guitars." Carroll's online video of his song was so popular — and so damaging to United Airlines — that it has become a business case study of how social media can harm a company's image.

More than 30 members of Congress signed a letter this week to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx complaining about the delay.

"We understand the budgetary pinch that many agencies have found themselves in, but the relatively modest cost of promulgating this rule should not have hindered its completion," the letter said.

Musicians depend on their instruments for their livelihoods, the letter noted.

"We don't expect our airlines to carry a tune, but we do expect them to carry our precious instruments safely," Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who organized the letter, said in a statement.

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