World Famous Cellist Banned From Delta Has Passed Away

Cellist Lynn Harrell died last month. In all the news about coronavirus I managed to miss this. He died at home at age 76, most likely of cardiac arrest. Mr. Harrell was probably the world’s second greatest cellist.

Harrell’s cello was naturally a valuable item and he used to purchase an extra seat on the plane for the cello when he traveled. He was a Delta frequent flyer, and he thought that if the cello had a seat that the instrument should also be a member of SkyMiles accruing points for the ticket purchases. Delta warned him in 2001 that SkyMiles membership was limited to people, but Harrell persisted. He continued earning miles for his cello successfully for many years and then eventually in 2012 was banned from the SkyMiles program.

His story gained significant media coverage, and any frequent flyer story in the media is good for my own profile. I actually appeared on The Colbert Report discussing the Harrell case. They brought me on, regular readers might think oddly enough, to defend Delta.

Of course the writers and staff for Colbert are really smart and they weren’t interested in doing another piece on a guy earning miles for his cello. Unbeknownst to us at the time it was filmed, the segment was actually about… same sex marriage. It featured the ‘special relationship’ Harrell had with his cello, and there I was defending traditional notions of membership.

We filmed in a cramped room in a downtrodden hotel down the street from their studio. A Jon Stewart Show segment was being taped in the next room over. They were close to going on hiatus and were getting a bunch of taped segments in the can, so the studios were full.

The question I was asked that I liked best but that didn’t make it into the segment was, “Is this… destroying America?”

Of course my answer — since i was taping The Colbert Report… was yes. That we agree to private, contractual rules and should stand behind those agreements. I said something to the effect that, “if we teach our children that we don’t have to keep our promises, then a little bit of America will die, each and every day.”

That was, naturally, after I first busted out laughing when I was asked the question. The producer explained, “Stephen loves America.”

I went in not knowing who the butt of the joke would be, which I realized meant it was probably me, and I decided to have fun with it. What a great experience, and all oddly thanks to Lynn Harrell, a phenomenal talent who will be missed.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I had never seen that clip.. good to see you having fun with an opportunity many would love to have!

  2. YO YO Ma and Hauser are world famous cellists. A famous cellist ( deceased) was Pablo Cassals.
    Lynn Harrell was very good but not very famous.

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