The great musical-instrument-on-plane paradox. How do you prepare (what case[s] do you buy and what strategies do you develop) when you need to travel on many different kinds/scales of airlines, with a delicate wooden instrument that MAY or MAY NOT be allowed as carry-on baggage (depending on circumstance, how full the plane is, and how much or little the inspectors care that it looks large, solid and "middle eastern")?
I've found a huge range of conflicting advice about transporting what I'll call "gray-area" instruments by plane (i.e., instruments that can *sometimes* be carry-on, if you're lucky and friendly/convincing, because they exceed carry-on size in length but not in perceived 'bulk' -- examples would be electric guitars, saxophones, or small dulcimers).
My instrument is a santur
, which is like a delicate hammered dulcimer, but mine has the added funtime bonus of "looking middle eastern" based on the shapes used in its decorations (although I look white-young-female and am a U.S. citizen, so I don't imagine that will be an issue as long as I'm next to it). It's very tightly strung so changes in temperature and pressure are not good for it (I'm also getting conflicting info re. baggage). In other words, I REALLY want to carry it on if at all possible. It's 36 inches long, 4" tall including its strings, 14" wide, and about 10 lbs.
Mailing it is not an option because I'll be taking it on many flights of many kinds/scales -- sometimes performing with it in different places in rapid succession. Buying it a seat is almost never an option since these are mostly self-funded & mostly very-low-budget travels.
The basic catch-22: because you can't count on being allowed to carry on, you have to be prepared to check -- but being prepared with a rectangular ATA/flight case makes it basically impossible that you'll be able to carry on (since the case is too big and heavy), and being prepared with anything less makes it very possible that you'll have instrument damage (since non-ATA cases are routinely damaged when checked as baggage... although MUCH less often if you gate check).
The most-recommended solution I've found so far would be ordering a fitted internal-fiberglass case from Colorado Cases
. I would try to touch one of these before ordering one, since they're a BIG investment on my scale.
Opinions (especially about Colorado Cases??) or experiences? Thanks very much for any input!