Tips for traveling with musical instruments

October 7, 2014 Mark Dauner

Whether you’re a bona fide rock star or aspiring guitar player, musicians of all backgrounds are no strangers to the difficulties of traveling with their instrument. It’s a scary idea to leave your prized possession at the mercy of airline packagers and shipping handlers, and you never know if one wrong move or sudden turbulence could spell the end of your instrument. Here are a few tips for musicians to consider when it comes to airline vacation getaways:

Current airline restrictions on instruments
One famous case of airline instrument negligence was in 2013, when musician Dave Schneider made quite an alarming discovery after waiting for his luggage in Detroit. Schneider was first at odds with his airline after he was told he could not bring his vintage 1963 Gibson ES-335 TD guitar aboard the plane. Schneider hesitantly obliged to checking his $10,000 antique instrument, only to find that his dream guitar had been completely crushed. Schneider asked the airline to pay just $1,000 of the total $10,000 in damages, but the company refused. Luckily, the people at Gibson found out about the incident and replaced the guitar entirely.

Schneider’s incident made headlines because only a year earlier, President Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Among the amendments included in the bill was a set of new regulations centered around bringing musical gear on flights. The legislative goal was to eliminate any confusion regarding instruments as carry-on luggage, and laid out specific guidelines for which types of music equipment were deemed appropriate as a carry-on item. However, there have been various complaints by musicians that the airlines are not abiding by the bill, and checking instruments on flights remains a potential risk.

Tips for packing instruments
For starters, if you’re going to bring your instrument with you during global travel, it’s essential to find a case that is strong and durable enough to absorb any bumps it could encounter during the flight. If you don’t believe your case is resistant enough, consider bubble wrapping your instrument before placing it in the case. Musicians should also call their airline in advance to see whether their instrument would be permitted as a carry-on. You can also loosen the strings of guitars and other instruments before flights so they aren’t damaged due to changes in pressure and temperature.

It’s also a good rule of the thumb to get to the airport as early as possible to ensure that you can find suitable space to store your instrument in the plane’s overhead compartments. If the airline informs that you absolutely cannot bring your instrument on as carry-on, perhaps it’s wise to consider buying an extra ticket for the instrument itself. While this may seem like an expensive investment to ensure your gear’s protection, consider how you’d feel finding your cherished guitar the same way Mr. Schneider did. In any event, always review your airline’s carry-on requirements beforehand so you won’t have any unfortunate surprises when you arrive at the airport.

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