Many airlines have loyalty programs that give frequent fliers special perks like bonus miles and upgrades for traveling with them. So it's no secret that people get to collect miles, but what about inanimate objects? The controversy is actually a lot more complex than you might expect.
Grammy-winning musician Lynn Harrell travels the world with his $5 million cello, which is nearly 300 years old. When he travels, Harrell purchases two tickets -- one for himself, one for the cello. For years "Cello Harrell," as his cello is known, has been accumulating frequent flier miles of its own (most cellos that travel with their owners do). That is, until a Delta Airlines internal audit revealed that Cello Harrell had been the recipient of the miles, a practice the airline discourages.
According to Delta, Harrell's cello is not a person and therefore cannot enjoy a "loyalty experience," even if it has its own seat on each plane that its owner flies. Delta banned the cello's SkyMiles account, as well as Harrell's personal SkyMiles account -- taking away a total of a half-million earned miles.
Harrell said of the ban, "the punitive nature of stripping me of my miles smarts." And in defense of his cello, Harrell said, "it weighs only 15 pounds and it doesn't eat." Harrell said he tried to pull strings with Delta, but it was not willing to budge or listen to his appeals.
For its part, Delta said the extra account was terminated because its records indicate that Harrell had been warned about the practice in 2001, but was still violating rules. Harrell said that at that time, Delta phone operators were more than willing to help him set up an account for his cello.
Sarcastically, Harrell said he wonders if at Delta headquarters in Atlanta there is a poster that reads, "Only You Can Prevent Cello Miles Theft."
As of now, neither Harrell nor Cello Harrell are allowed to accumulate miles on a Delta SkyMiles account.