Musician mourns his vintage, handmade guitar stabbed by airport forklift
Remi Claude Arsenault's guitar is seen in this Facebook image. (Remi Claude Arsenault/Facebook)
Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, August 31, 2018 10:26AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 31, 2018 3:53PM EDT
It's a one-of-a-kind guitar, an instrument so beloved musician Remi Claude Arsenault calls it his "best friend."
So when the musician's vintage 1978 instrument was given to him at the Charlottetown airport last week with gaping stab wounds left by a forklift, he was deeply upset.
"I was shaking pretty badly," Arsenault said. "When you see your instrument in that shape, it's almost like someone in the family is sick."
The Urbainville, P.E.I., man said Friday he was on his way home from the Milwaukee Irish Fest, where he was performing with Natalie MacMaster, Donnell Leahy and Family, when the irreparable harm to the instrument occurred.
An Air Canada employee was very sympathetic but informed him that the airline could replace the case only -- not the instrument, he said.
Arsenault posted photos of his broken guitar on social media, saying it was "not Air Canada's finest day."
"My best friend appears to have been stabbed by a forklift," he said in the Facebook post. "The airline has offered to pay for a new case. I think they're missing the point."
The post appeared to hit a nerve with musicians fearful of entrusting fragile instruments with airlines and was shared thousands of times.
"The musician world is a small world and when you see something like that it reaches out to all the musicians and everybody can relate and feel the pain," Arsenault said.
"Everybody has to take flights to go do their gigs, and things like that shouldn't happen."
An Air Canada spokeswoman says the airline is looking into what could have caused the damage and has been in touch with Arsenault to ensure it has all the appropriate information regarding compensation.
It's unclear which airport the damage occurred at, said Arsenault.
The incident was reminiscent of other complaints by Canadian musicians that accuse airlines of playing fast and loose with their instruments.
In 2009, Halifax musician Dave Carroll penned "United Breaks Guitars," a trio of protest songs about how his Taylor guitar was damaged during a United Airlines flight by reckless baggage handlers. The most popular song has been viewed more than 18 million times on YouTube.
More recently, country music artist Terri Clark took to Twitter to express her dismay with WestJet. The Medicine Hat, Alta., native said the airline had left all her band's gear and instruments behind in another city three times since March.
In Arsenault's case, he said Air Canada appears to be taking responsibility for the damage, and has asked him for an appraisal for a new, comparable guitar.
While he's satisfied with the airline's response so far, the musician still laments the loss of his vintage guitar.
"It's a high end instrument with a lot of unique little bells and whistles," Arsenault said. "It was built in 1978 by John Larrivee and the wood has aged and gives a certain sound today. It was custom made, it's a one of kind for sure."
He called the guitar company and spoke to the son of John Larrivee who said there was too much damage to repair the guitar.
"It will never be the same," Arsenault said.
The 1978 vintage guitar hasn't been appraised, but he said the same model today is about $5,000.
Gabor Lukacs, founder of the advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, said because the damage occurred during a trip that included an international destination, the Montreal Convention applies -- a treaty that establishes airline liability under several scenarios including damaged baggage and cargo.
He said the airline is liable, according to Montreal Convention rules, and that in light of the nature of the damage it would not be able to limit or cap its liability but instead pay for the full cost of the guitar's repair or replacement.
"This is a case of serious, severe damage by a forklift," Lukacs said.
"No matter how well you pack your guitar, no baggage will reasonably withstand a physical interaction with a forklift."
He added: "This is not just a guitar that was dropped accidentally. This strikes me as serious brutality -- something on the scale of almost deliberately causing damage."