Flying bass line - how do I pack my guitar for flight?
August 5, 2011 12:11 PM   Subscribe

First time flying with my bass guitar. How can we survive the journey?

I'm flying from SFO to JFK next week with my bass on Delta, which means I'm pretty sure I'll have to check it. I have a pretty sturdy case for it. (See pics: 1, 2, 3, 4.) I'll be returning via BWI through ATL.

Aside from loosening the strings, what else should I do? I was planning on either packing my clothes in the case to act as padding or wrap a towel around it. I'd prefer not to buy a new case since I'm marginally unemployed and know that flight cases are expensive and heavy. (I'll be walking around a bit with it, taking the train, etc.) The latches are good and work, but should I put straps on to make sure the case stays closed?

Any advice would be great. I've never flown with a guitar before. I know it's pretty normal, but I want to prevent any stupid disasters.
posted by kendrak to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would ask to gate-check it. Check other stuff and have one other carry-on. I flew with a very old Martin acoustic, and gate checked it and got it as I left the plane. It stayed in the cabin the whole time.
posted by Danf at 12:17 PM on August 5, 2011

Depending on the airline you might be charged oversize baggage for checking it, etc. Most bassists I know either buy a second seat or ship it via FedEX.
You can also take it on the plane as hand luggage and then check it in the coat closet but that's usually not a guarantee.

Your case is not good enough to check. An ATA bass flight case is essential. You could rent one probably. I guess you could try wrapping the bass in bubble wrap if you think it would still fit in the case.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:22 PM on August 5, 2011

Danf has it - gate-check it. it does far less traveling out of your hands and isn't buried in the back under a bunch of stuff. have a luggage tag already on it.

pad the inside of the case so it's as tight as you can make it without bending anything. i would go ahead and use stays/ties/bungies on the case even if you don't need them. it's better to have 'em and not need them than to need them and not have 'em.

to ease your worry - my brother had a case very similar to that (but for guitar, not bass) and he took off in his station wagon once going about 40 and the back of the car popped open and his guitar went flying out - zero damage, the case didn't even open.

if this were a $20,000 instrument, i'd buy the flight case/buy it its own seat, but a standard bass (which is beautiful, by the way) would do fine padded, secured, and gate checked.
posted by nadawi at 12:23 PM on August 5, 2011

Do we even know if Delta gate-checks? Not all airlines do. I'm not seeing this as a possibility on their webpage about traveling with musical instruments.
posted by John Cohen at 12:33 PM on August 5, 2011

there seem to be lots of references online to gate-checking at delta - some of these references say they'll charge you for gate check like it's regular checked, so be prepared, but i still think it's a better option because it is only out of your hands for as long as the flight is.

the page that John Cohen posted also says "Guitars and other smaller musical instruments, such as violins, will be accepted as your free carry-on baggage item" but i've seen lots of references about delta specifically not being the most instrument friendly - declaring the item too big at the gate - but again, that just results in a gate check.
posted by nadawi at 12:41 PM on August 5, 2011

I'd throw a towel over the bass to make sure it's snug in the case. Add some straps if you're not confident in your case latches. Gate-check it if you wanna. I've flown with my bass as checked luggage and it was a non-issue.
posted by gnutron at 12:43 PM on August 5, 2011

I flew with my bass 4 times a year for, oh, 8 years. In a case much like that. I didn't even bother to loosen the strings after the first time. I checked it through normally every time, usually taking it around to oversize-baggage. Apart from repairing the jack, it has no problems it didn't have when I got it (that is, a few frets buzz but they always did). I usually padded it out with T-shirts.
posted by K.P. at 12:45 PM on August 5, 2011

People do fly with that sort of case without a problem (I would definitely strap it shut, the latches won't be sturdy enough), but you may be able to borrow or rent a travel case. Ask on a local musicians' forum or Craigslist or something similar if you want to try to find one to borrow.

My high school orchestra used to borrow upright bass shipping cases from the Chicago Symphony. The hardcore shipping cases are necessary but don't get used that much, and there was a robust borrowing/renting economy among musicians in the region, since everyone understood the need and nobody really wanted to have to store one.

Personally I don't pack stuff in the case with the bass; the case is meant to protect the instrument as it is, not with extra padding. I worry about things shifting around funny, even "just" clothes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:03 PM on August 5, 2011

I flew with an acoustic guitar a few times (United I think). I used it as my carry-on, and they stuck it in a little closet near first class that usually has coats in it. It was in a soft case which didn't take up as much room.
posted by radioamy at 1:11 PM on August 5, 2011

That's a short scale, bolt-on Fender. If you are moderately handy and not travelling frequently with it, just take the neck off and both halves can go as carry on. Yes, I did this with an old Mustang bass a few times. The neck is about 26 or 27" butt to head and should just fit diagonally in a standard carry-on bag.
posted by quarterframer at 1:30 PM on August 5, 2011

Thanks everybody for the help! I plan on just one carry-on and my bass. I looked on the Delta website and it seemed unclear about whether or not it could be a carry-on, but I also know they tend to be not overly guitar friendly.

I'll get some straps for sure then. Though now I'm intrigued about taking it apart, though I don't know if it's the wisest idea to experiment like that right before a show...
posted by kendrak at 1:48 PM on August 5, 2011

Invest in a Monocase. Almost every musician I know that does fly dates regularly swears by them, and two of the biggest proponents play instruments more expensive than my car.

My roommate (one of these fly date players) says that he's never had a problem getting it in the coat closet, but the key is to look like you do this ALL the time. He's got probably 20-30 tag remnants still attached to the handle of his Monocase.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 2:39 PM on August 5, 2011

I have flown with mine heaps, and was initially worried. De tune it a bit and put it in it's case, tape up the case and it will be fine.

It isn't a carry on.
posted by the noob at 2:23 AM on August 6, 2011

Update: I put a towel over it and at the end of the case to prevent it from sliding around too much. Put straps on the outside as well, and ended up checking it. Made it there and back in one piece. Thanks for the advice and putting my fears to rest.
posted by kendrak at 9:15 AM on August 15, 2011

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