Every struggling musician knows the struggle of flying an instrument, especially the expensive, limited ones. Between the government, various commercial airline safety and precautions, rules seem to change almost daily, and if you don’t see eye to eye, then you could be in a lot of trouble. For instance, could a cello get a ticket and get a seat on a plane, or should it be considered a check-in baggage where its safety cannot be guaranteed by the airlines?
Fortunately, there is a way to minimize frustration, both for you and for the airline you’re flying with.
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However, here are a few disclaimers before we embark on the details:
- First, rules change ridiculously often, so check your government’s up-to-the-minute rules and restrictions for flying with musical instruments.
- Second—and for the same reason—check your carrier’s rules for flying before getting a ticket.
- Third, experiences are on a case-to-case basis, so read up as much as you can as well.
That being said, here are some tips for traveling with instruments:
Different airlines have different rules and conditions when it comes to handling instruments as carry-on items. According to the Transportation Safety Administration, the TSA allows instruments in addition to your carry-on for US Flights. That rule alone can get you through the airport gate, but there are some airlines that do not allow extra carry-ons, even if it is a musical instrument, so make sure that your flight okays it.
Also remember to check which airlines operate from your airport so that you can get access to their Web sites and compare rules for your baggage. Why does this make a difference? It’s because different airlines have different carry-on bin measurements—and this could make a difference for your instrument.
Get a smaller case
While most instruments are put in large, comfortable cases where they can be nestled properly, there are smaller versions that could be more travel-friendly. A few inches off your case could make all the difference in the world.
Why not drive?
Ever wondered why musicians tour with RVs instead of planes? It’s because it’s cheaper to house all the crew, but it’s also easier to transport instruments. Seriously, nobody would want to lug around a drum set or a large keyboard at the airport.
If your instrument is larger than a viola, you have a few options. You could opt for land travel (drive, take a bus or a train) or pay for your instrument’s seat on the plane. However, this does not guarantee that a ticket agent won’t ask or insist that you check in your instrument. Or you could opt to buy the best travel case that you can to make sure that your instrument is safe in for its check-in luggage trip. Be ready for the last resort, though.
Wear your instrument!
The bigger your musical instrument is, the less likely it is that you will be allowed to carry it with you on the plane. Here’s a quick tip, though: strapping your instrument on your back minimizes its profile, so there’s a better chance that the airline could just let you keep it.
Why is this so? It’s a bit of a psychological take—if you don’t look like you’re struggling with your instrument, people will think it really is no problem. So if you carry your instrument on your back instead of dragging it around, you can likely get it on board without a hitch.
Airline personnel are trained to watch for suspicious actions, and considering attacks that have been going on all over the globe, you couldn’t blame them for being on the lookout. So relax. If you cast frequent nervous glances at the ticket desk or guards, they’ll wonder what you’re up to and would only increase the scrutiny on your luggage. Pressing the limits for your baggage allowance does not need to have an extra dose of drama.
Help yourself win your case by printing the airline’s rules for carry-ons and handling of musical instruments. In the event that someone challenges you, producing their own rules demonstrates that you are ready for travel and that you have done your homework. This is a better way to discuss policies—when evidence is on hand and not tight interpretations of a single person.
Be polite and respectful
Courtesy goes a long way. Remain calm if a guard tells you to put your instrument on cargo hold. Keep calm if they’ve issued the last boarding call while doing this. Ask to speak to a supervisor, it is best to resolve the issue properly, so explain yourself properly and argue using facts. Don’t get too emotional about it to keep things in perspective. If you followed the previous tips, it won’t be likely that you’ll have more trouble to deal with anyway.
Yes, it is possible to fly your instrument with you without any added difficulty or expense, just remember to follow the tips listed above for more improved chances of getting your instrument through the gates.
Just remember to keep calm, enjoy your trip, and play well during your set.