10 Tips For Flying With Your Music Equipment

Original_Flying_with_Musical_Instruments-_Airline_Carry_On_PoliciesThe holidays are coming and air travel is on the minds of many a musician. Recently it has become increasingly difficult for artists to travel with their instruments, but by following these ten tips, you can make the process of getting your gear overseas that much easier.


Guest Post by Martin Laird

Gone are the days of careless flying, when airlines would have absolutely no problem with musicians taking their instruments with them as cabin baggage. In fact, before the 2000’s, there was no issue taking a guitar, saxophone or even a base with you. Nowadays, airlines enforce multiple policies that clearly infringe upon a musician’s unique need to travel with instruments.

But before you’re faced with the situation every musician dreads: to have to gate-check an instrument, here are a few tips for flying with your music instrument.


1.Know Your Rights

As of March 6th 2015, musicians are legally protected from having to gate-check their instruments when flying with US airlines. The Department of Transportation issued a final rule clearly stating that small instruments (such as violins, guitars, and in some cases bass guitars, though this may extend to saxophones and other instruments) must be allowed in the cabin if safe stowage space is available. Knowing this beforehand will help you decide on a number of things, for instance, booking pre-boarding options.

Remember that, according to the DOT’s new regulations, musical instruments are viewed as normal carry-on baggage and are not given priority over other carry-on items.

2.Consider Booking an Extra Seat

Each individual airline will have different regulations as to how they handle musical instruments, however, most of them accept large musical instruments (for instance cellos or double basses) if you agree to book a seat as “seat baggage”. Normally, such tickets don’t include airport fees and other additional fees, so it may be worthwhile to consider this option especially if you’re booking your flight ahead of time.

3.Choose the Best, Most Robust Case Possible

The issue is that flight cases may often be bulky and be the reason why your music equipment is not allowed as a carry-on. However, there are companies who produce compact flight cases (often molded to the shape of the instrument of your choice). Such flight cases significantly improve your odds of getting your instrument in the cabin. One thing I strongly oppose is choosing a soft gig bag, as they have close-to-zero survival chances if and when the airline does decide to check your instrument in.

You’ve surely heard of this musician’s mishap with a certain airline that destroyed his beloved Taylor guitar.

4. Always be Ready to Improvise

Yes, though you may think that a wing-it type of attitude can’t really get you places, think again. There are multiple approaches and if you’re accustomed to flying, you can even identify a routine that almost always works. For instance, I always leave my guitar with friends (I avoid driving alone to the airport) when checking in, so that the airline employees don’t get a chance to see the instrument before the flight. This is a really big deal, since most problems you’ll face will begin before boarding. The explanation is rather simple: if your luggage is non-standard, it will stick out and airline personnel will immediately hone in on it. Also, make sure to keep it out of sight and if you must approach airline personnel for anything, keep the instrument below eye level. Either wear it on the opposite shoulder while you’re distracting the boarding personnel with your ticket or carry it in such a way that it’s almost always out of sight.

5. Don’t Over Pack

The key is to never draw attention to yourself. Most airlines only allow one piece of carry-on luggage, so if you’re travelling with a musical instrument, don’t also bring a laptop bag or a small trolley. That will certainly draw suspicion. However, you can improvise and use your instrument’s case to add padding (for instance socks and soft sweaters) and pack certain lighter items that may fit and won’t harm your instrument.

6. Never, Ever Ask for Permission

Asking for forgiveness is always acceptable, however, remember this rule: asking for permission will almost always get your instrument gate-checked. “No” is the most likely answer for any question addressed to flight personnel, so ignoring their advice altogether may prove more efficient in getting your instrument in the cabin.

7. Book Distinct Seats

Most airlines commence boarding from the rear of the place, so you have a better chance of finding an overhead compartment to safely stow your instrument in if you book a seat in the back of the plane. However, be advised that not all overhead compartments are large enough to accommodate your instrument. In this case, a flight attendant will most likely use a closet to stow your instrument.

8. Avoid Travelling with Other Musicians, Especially at Peak Travel Times

A group of musicians travelling together are sure to draw attention, so your best bet is to separate from the group. Another thing to keep in mind is that stressed airline personnel is less lenient, so travelling during the holidays will be a nightmare.

9. Be Courteous and Accommodating

If the TSA or other airline staffers ask you what you’re carrying inside the case, calmly explain that it’s a musical instrument which you plan on gate-checking (even if we both know that’s not your intention). The key is to always accommodate, never argue and never contradict. Speak about your band, your gig, your plans when arriving at your destination, but not much about the instrument itself. Distraction is key!

10. Flattery Will Get You Everywhere

Remember that airline personnel is just as human as you or me. So it’s obvious that a smile, being polite and some well-targeted flattery will work wonders, especially since they have to deal with disgruntled passengers all the time.  

In the unfortunate event that you’re forced to check-in the instrument, insist that it be hand-delivered both to the airplane and to you upon arrival. Perhaps in the future, new legislature will allow travelling with instruments without any worries, but until then, a bit of resourcefulness will get you a long way!

Author Bio: As a freelance writer, Martin has done a lot of travelling and while the enthusiasm of seeing new places may be enough for some, Martin simply can’t part with his guitar. Though he’s had his fair share of mishaps (the most memorable being when his Martin guitar was returned to him in two pieces), Martin’s managed to travel with his new instrument for the better part of the last decade without any problem.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for such helpful information! My son is a musician and I’m sure he didn’t know his guitar case is considered carry on. I’ll also tell him to keep his guitar out of site of airline personnel.

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