Can you take a guitar on a plane these days ?
October 9, 2005 9:54 PM   Subscribe

I am flying to another city soon and would like take my guitar with me. On the plane--not as baggage. I would like to read about the experiences of anyone here who has tried to do the same. My research thus far yields no fixed answer.
posted by y2karl to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I took mine with me as carry on, and had no problems. If the plane is small and/or full you might have trouble finding a place to stow it. I think the airline will help you, everyone I've ever spoken to/read strongly recommends NOT checking any guitar.
posted by HSWilson at 10:00 PM on October 9, 2005

I flew frequently with my guitar a few years ago when I was flying back and forth between Seattle and San Francisco on a weekly basis. I never had any trouble at all, and frequently the flight attendants were kind enough to allow me to stow it up front in the closet where they hang jackets and such. It is worth pointing out, though, that this was a backpack guitar so the case was similar in size to a rifle rather than being as wide as a full-sized guiter. (And yes, I did get more than a few nervous looks on the days I arrived at work with what appeared to be a rifle on my back...)
posted by Lokheed at 10:06 PM on October 9, 2005

I've been flying with mine pretty regularly. It also gets searched pretty regularly but they let me watch to make sure they don't hurt her. I once accidentally left my wire clippers in the case and that didn't go over too well. Other than that, I've never had a problem.
posted by honeydew at 10:09 PM on October 9, 2005

I spent years as a jazz guitarist, but I didn't fly much. The best advice I can give you comes from bassists and guys who carry Benedettos: Buy a separate ticket for your instrument; but don't fly during peak hours, because the airlines overbook and some clerk will try forcing you into giving up your second seat to another traveler.

If your instrument isn't worth that much, consider shipping it separately. Your hotel will receive your package in advance of your arrival.
posted by cribcage at 10:09 PM on October 9, 2005

Flown with Telecaster a number of times, in post-911 hyper-paranoid US, no problems, all airline employees extra nice about it, stowed in overhead.
posted by signal at 10:18 PM on October 9, 2005

In response to the "you can probably carry it on with you comment" -- never assume that. Always, of course, try to carry it on, but be prepared to check it and incur the wrath of the underpaid baggage handlers who will drop it and abuse the crap out of it.

I say this as a trombone player who has had to check his horn on a number of occasions, thinking that he'd be able to bring it on.
posted by rossination at 10:21 PM on October 9, 2005

Don't believe flight attendants who tell you that there is no room for your guitar on the plane, except in the case of puddle-jumpers (and even then, there probably is, but it's a closer call.) I try to board as early as possible, to beat the people with the unwieldly luggage that's as big as a guitar anyway, although perhaps less fragile.

This is from the Musician's Union (Local 802, in NYC) about travel tips for musicians. This (PDF file) is a an official letter from the Transportation Security Administration stating that musicians are allowed to bring instruments on a plane as a carry-on. I haven't needed to use it yet, but I keep it with me just in case.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:54 PM on October 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Flown with Telecaster a number of times, in post-911 hyper-paranoid US, no problems, all airline employees extra nice about it, stowed in overhead.

What worries me is that it is a resonator guitar. I worry that some one suffering from Barney Fife syndrome will take issue because of that fact. I will call the airline about this, that is for sure.
posted by y2karl at 11:01 PM on October 9, 2005

Response by poster: Ooh, missed that last comment--thanks, for that letter, fingers_of_fire! You're in the lead for best answer as of now.

posted by y2karl at 11:06 PM on October 9, 2005

Don't fly Delta. This doesn't seem to be accurate (It's not company policy as stated on their site), but I had at least 3 Delta representatives tell me they have a hard line policy of "No instruments" last Christmas. They said I couldn't bring it on, I asked if there was maybe room please? She said it didn't matter, and that I would have to check it. I was very polite, and said that I was sorry, but my instrument is like a child to me, and that I simply could not check it. I missed that flight because they wouldn't let me on, and in the "Christmas spirit", she sold me an extra ticket for $100 or something. A quick google turned up at least one other negative experience with Delta, they were carrying violins.

I've never had problems with JetBlue, resonators, electric basses, accoustics.

Re hardcases: A friend of mine had a strat damaged inside of the stanard issue plastic hardcase. Something hit it so hard it bent the plastic inward till it pressed on the guitar, and chipped it. So I consider a anvil case or similar the only sure protection against damage, but at a massive cost in convenience. It'd be nice if they'd draw up some relevant rules.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 12:37 AM on October 10, 2005

y2karl, you might want to read this thread from the Acoustic Guitar website. It says that American Airlines has banned the carrying on of instruments from October 1st.

Also, if you do decide to check the guitar, here are some good packing tips from
posted by gfrobe at 3:28 AM on October 10, 2005

The TSA controls the airport security checkpoints but the crew of the aircraft has the final say over the location of baggage. So the letter that fingers_of_fire linked to may help get the instrument past the airport metal detectors, but will be of little help once on the plane. If you are confronted with a flight attendant who insists on checking your guitar because there's no carry-on space remaining, you still might be faced with an unpleasant of checking it or taking another flight.
posted by blue mustard at 4:25 AM on October 10, 2005

Sorry missed a word in that last sentence: ... with an unpleasant choice of checking it or ...
posted by blue mustard at 4:50 AM on October 10, 2005

Unless a specific airline has a policy of disallowing it, there's really no way to find out for certain; you could well get assurance from an airline that they'd find it acceptable, only to run up against a TSA screener's whims. They're not bound to any fixed standard, and can and will allow/disallow pretty much anything with no pattern or consistency whatsoever.
posted by ubernostrum at 6:33 AM on October 10, 2005

If you are confronted with a flight attendant who insists on checking your guitar because there's no carry-on space remaining, you still might be faced with an unpleasant of checking it or taking another flight.

I've always been under the impression that "flight attendent checking" was much better than "real" luggage checking, because the bag won't go in the hold or be thrown around the tarmac during loading/unloading. Correct?
posted by smackfu at 7:20 AM on October 10, 2005

I know guys who travel with their Strats or Teles. It's very simple to unbolt the neck from the body and pack the two in a carry-on bag. At the destination bolt the neck back on, restring it, rock away.
posted by wsg at 8:01 AM on October 10, 2005

I've carried my Taylor acoustic with me on planes about 8-10 times now. Most times I have had no trouble at all being allowed to put the guitar in the overhead compartment or in the flight attendant's closet. The few times that I was not allowed to bring it on board, I was able to do what they call a "gate check".

With a gate check I left the guitar at the end of the walkway between the terminal and plane where people leave baby strollers, wheelchairs, etc. Someone takes these items by hand down into the cargo area, and brings them back up when your flight arrives. This is much safer than checking the guitar, as it is spared a ride on the conveyers, down chutes and getting thrown around.
posted by adamk at 12:45 PM on October 10, 2005

I've gate-checked things, and had them come out on the conveyor belt. It sounds great in theory, but I don't trust that it will always be carried out according to plan.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 4:07 AM on October 12, 2005

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