Flying With Instruments

I love my instruments. Everything from my Fender Stratocaster to my KoAloha ‘ukulele is dear to me and has some sort of story behind it. In a lot of ways they have turned from being just instruments to becoming a close friend and ally. I know this is true for a lot of people, musicians and casual players alike. This results in tedious amounts of attention when transporting your instrument anywhere and even slice of blind faith that your instrument will arrive safely.

One big question that I have heard countless amounts of times: Can I take my instrument on the airplane?

Though it seems like a simple yes or no question, there are a lot of stipulations regarding both answers. At this point the best response is yet another question: How big is your instrument?

Included in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 are the specifics on how you can transport your instrument. Basically falling in one of three categories, your instrument has more options of flying than ever before.

Here is the basic breakdown from the Cornell University Law School.

Basically there is allocated space in the overhead compartment for instruments that can fit in them. To help match the demands and needs of non-instrument carrying flyers, the overhead compartment is still on a first come first serve basis. This makes getting on the plane as early as possible key to securing your spot and those reward programs and special memberships a little more alluring (especially for the touring musician). While your instrument doesn’t get priority over the designated space, your instrument wont be considered a second class citizen.

That being said do your homework and set your preflight arrangements so you can get on the plane earlier. Some airlines will give you dimensions of the overhead compartment or at least the maximum size for carry on luggage to help plan your trip. There are resources dedicated to keeping an open discussion for techniques and tips for the traveling musician such as:

Bob Brozman – Packing and Flying With Guitars

&

Flying With Guitars

I have traveled both with my guitars and ‘ukuleles around Hawai’i and a handful flights to the mainland on various airlines. Personally I have had no trouble moving my instruments and a lot of times I have had attendants assist in making sure my instrument was safe to the point of storing it in their own designated space.  While taking care your instrument is very important, keep in mind a little courtesy and patience can go a long way. I like to think of it that you are working with the airline and it’s attendants to make the experience quick, painless, and as safe as possible.

So throw in an extra smile with a please and thank you. I always figure: couldn’t hurt yah?

Let us know your experience taking instrument flying!

-Neal Chin

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