10 tips for flying with your musical equipment

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The the holidays are coming and flight is in the mind of more than one musician. Recently it has become Harder and harder for artists of travel with their instruments, but by following these ten tips, you can make the process of get your equipment abroad it is much easier.

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Guest post by Martin Laird

Gone are the days of reckless flights, when airlines would have absolutely no problem with musicians taking their instruments with them as carry-on baggage. In fact, before the 2000s, there was no problem carrying a guitar, saxophone, or even a base with you. Airlines these days have several policies that clearly violate a musician’s unique need to travel with instruments.

But before being confronted with the situation that every musician dreads: having to control an instrument, here are some tips for flying with your musical instrument.

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1. Know your rights

As of March 6e 2015, musicians are legally protected from being required to control their instruments when traveling with US airlines. The Ministry of Transport published a final rule making it clear that small instruments (such as violins, guitars, and in some cases bass guitars, although this may extend to saxophones and other instruments) should be allowed in the cabin if safe storage is available available. Knowing this in advance will help you decide on a number of things, for example, booking pre-boarding options.

Remember, under new DOT regulations, musical instruments are considered normal hand baggage and do not have priority over other hand baggage.

2. Remember to reserve an extra seat

Each airline will have different regulations as to how they handle musical instruments, however, most of them will accept large musical instruments (e.g. cellos or double basses) if you agree to reserve a seat in as “seat baggage”. Normally, these tickets do not include airport fees and other additional charges, so it may be worth considering this option, especially if you book your flight in advance.

3.Choose the best, most robust case possible

The problem is that flight cases can often be bulky and be the reason why your music equipment is not allowed as carry-on baggage. However, there are companies that produce compact flight cases (often molded to the shape of the instrument of your choice). Such flight cases greatly improve your chances of having your instrument in the cabin. One thing I strongly object to is choosing a soft carry bag, as they have almost zero chances of survival if and when the airline decides to check in your instrument.

You have surely heard of the misadventure of this musician with a certain airline that destroyed his beloved Taylor guitar.

4. Always be prepared to improvise

Yes, although you might think that a winged-type attitude can’t really save you spots, think again. There are several approaches and if you are used to flying you can even identify a routine that almost always works. For example, I always leave my guitar with friends (I avoid driving alone at the airport) when checking in, so that airline employees don’t have a chance to see the instrument before the check-in. flight. This is really a big deal, as most of the issues you will encounter will start before boarding. The explanation is quite simple: if your baggage is not standard, it will come out and airline staff will take care of it immediately. Also make sure to keep it out of sight and if you must approach airline personnel for anything, keep the instrument below eye level. Wear it on the opposite shoulder while distracting boarding personnel with your ticket, or carry it so that it is 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 baggage, so if you’re traveling with a musical instrument, don’t bring a laptop bag or small cart as well. It will certainly attract suspicion. However, you can improvise and use your instrument’s case to add padding (e.g. soft socks and sweaters) and wrap some lighter items that can fit and not damage your instrument.

6. Never, never ask permission

Asking for forgiveness is always okay, however, remember this rule: asking permission will almost always check your instrument. “No” is the most likely answer to any question directed to flight attendants, so completely ignoring their advice may be more effective in getting your instrument into the cabin.

7. Reserve separate seats

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

8. Avoid traveling with other musicians, especially during peak hours.

A group of musicians traveling together is sure to attract attention, so your best bet is to separate yourself from the group. Another thing to keep in mind is that stressed airline staff are less forgiving, so traveling on vacation will be a nightmare.

9. Be courteous and accommodating

If the TSA or other airline staff ask you what you are carrying in the suitcase, calmly explain that this is a musical instrument that you plan to control at the door (although we both know that is not your intention). The key is to always adapt, never argue, and never contradict. Talk about your band, your concert, your plans when you arrive at your destination, but not much about the instrument itself. Distraction is the key!

10. Flattery will take you everywhere

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

In the unfortunate event that you are required to register the instrument, insist that it be hand-delivered to the aircraft and to you on arrival. Maybe in the future the new legislature will make it possible to travel with instruments without any worries, but until then, a little ingenuity will take you a long way!

Authors biography: As a freelance writer Martin has traveled extensively and while the enthusiasm of discovering new places may be enough for some, Martin simply cannot part with his guitar. Although he has had his fair share of misadventures (the most memorable being when his Martin guitar was returned to him in two pieces), Martin has managed to travel with his new instrument for most of the past decade without any problems.


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