Flying with a Guitar
March 16, 2004 11:18 AM   Subscribe

In about a week, my boyfriend and I are flying from Chicago to Boston. He plans to play with his band while he's there, and so would require his bass (electric). This is not something we would want to check, for risk of damage or theft. But I don't think that sort of thing is allowed as carry-on. What can we do? I know that a lot of locked items are forced open nowadays for security checks. Does anyone have any experience with transporting instruments via air? We're taking ATA by the way.
posted by agregoli to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total)
In the olden days before carry-on mania set in, some musicians preferred to purchase a seat especially for their instrument. I do not know how feasible this is, but you might want to check with the airline you're flying.
posted by majick at 11:23 AM on March 16, 2004

I've never had any problems taking full size electric guitars as carry-on luggage on commercial flights in the US and elsewhere. YMMV.
posted by signal at 11:25 AM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: Unfortunately that is WAY out of our price range. We are only flying instead of driving because I managed to use my miles for a free companion ticket.
posted by agregoli at 11:26 AM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: That's encouraging, signal, thanks.
posted by agregoli at 11:27 AM on March 16, 2004

Either way, third ticket or not, check with the airline and both airports. They are in the best position to tell you their policies, and while there's a moderate chance you'll be given misinformation over the phone, at the very worst you'll have gone to the most authoritative source.
posted by majick at 11:32 AM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: True enough. I'm just scared to get there with the bass! I guess I just wanted reassurance, as probably no one here can definitively give me an answer.
posted by agregoli at 11:35 AM on March 16, 2004

My boyfriend, also a musician, had no problem taking his guitar, in a hard shell case, as a carry-on. That was less than a year ago and on Northwest. I think it's definitely feasible on an uncrowded airplane, but again, as others have suggested, calling the airline would be your best bet.
posted by Zosia Blue at 11:52 AM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, guys. We'll check with ATA. I feel better about our chances now though.
posted by agregoli at 11:53 AM on March 16, 2004

AFAIK (and IANAAE), guitars can be taken as carry on. Often they can be tucked discretely into the business class closet -- especially on a bigger plane. I imagine that the worst that will happen is that, if the flight were full, the guitar would be gate checked. This is not ideal from a security standpoint, but probably not that bad, espeically if you befriend the business class flight attendant and have him or her look out for it as you deplane.
posted by zpousman at 12:05 PM on March 16, 2004

the last flight i took--last month, UAL, not the business flight, but midweek--the boarding gate personnel (as well as the security gate people) at O'Hare were sending everyone with more than one carry-on plus one personal item, as well as anyone with a larger-than-carry-on-sized item back to the ticket counter to check the offending item. folks with babycarriages that they intended to gate-check had to fold them down and tag them before proceeding down the jetway.

if i were you, i would definitely check this out well in advance of arriving at the airport.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:16 PM on March 16, 2004

I wouldn't worry about checking it, if it is in a hard case.

What about shipping it ahead by fed-ex or something?
posted by free pie at 12:26 PM on March 16, 2004

I once sat behind Patty Larkin in coach on a USAir flight. She had a guitar in a soft case and stashed it in the overhead. This was before 9/11, though.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:07 PM on March 16, 2004

My wife (a very wise woman) has a policy of never checking anything she will be heartbroken/can't afford to loose.

I have a friend who was once told his guitar must be checked. It did not arrive. An electric base case is maybe less conspicious than an acoustic guitar case.

Your chances of not needing to check the bass will increase if neither of you have any other carry-on item.
posted by Dick Paris at 1:37 PM on March 16, 2004


i tend to agree with you. i was actually pleased to see the crack down on the two carryon rule last time i was at O'Hare. not so much that people crowd during boarding and leaving, but because it's gotten impossible to stash anything in the overhead bin unless you're one of the first people on the flight because everyone carries on so many things and such large bags (my largest flight bag, which i rarely carry on is just under the 9x14x22 carry-on limit and the flight bag i usually carry on is half the size of the carry-on limit and i always put my purse under the seat in front of me). ah, the tragedy of the commons.

i resent the hell out of having to stash both bags under the seat. i can actually fit my feet and my purse under the seat, but all three don't make it.

like D.P., pointed out, having no other carry-ons will motivate the flight crew to accommodate you. as will being apologetic, unassuming and undemanding. you get more flies with honey than vinegar.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:47 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: trharlan, what a strange comment.

I will definitely call Midway Airport and ATA now. We'll also plan to get there way in advance to anticipate and deal with any problems.
posted by agregoli at 2:02 PM on March 16, 2004

Advice #1: Put it in a hard case, and pack it well. If you put it in a soft case, and it has to go in the hold, it will almost certainly be destroyed.

#2: There is a Federal directive which allows professional musicians to bring their instrument aboard as a third carry-on. Here is a copy. (.pdf file) I doubt they will ask for professional credentials such as union membership. Download and print this letter, and carry it on you...not so much for the airline personnel (who are usually aware of this), but for the TSA goons at security, if they go on a power trip. This letter does not give you an absolute right to get a large instrument onto a plane, but it can help.

#3: Behave at all times as if you have done this thousands of times and never had a problem. Looking like you know what you're doing is an enormous advantage.

#4: You may, in the end, be made to gate-check the instrument, but don't offer. Walk down the jetway and onto the plane, and calmly set about stowing your bass. You will quickly ascertain if there are going to be problems, and so will the flight attendants. If they make you check it, insist that it be hand-placed in the hold. Also ask for "Fragile" stickers/tape if you don't already have them on the case. This won't necessarily make them treat it better, but it gives you a better leg to stand on in case you have to make an insurance claim later (or, god forbid, sue them). The airline will probably make you sign a release absolving them from any responsibility if it should be lost, stolen, damaged or destroyed in transit. There's not much you can do, you have to sign it or your bass doesn't go.

#5: If you get a hard time from anyone, be extra nice. Insist on your rights, but don't appear to be getting out of control. Everyone at American airports is really jumpy, and people have gotten arrested on the thinnest of pretexts.

#6: If you do have to check the bass, open the case at your destination while you are still in baggage claim and make sure it is not obviously damaged.
posted by Tholian at 2:27 PM on March 16, 2004

I've taken my guitar carry-on in a hard case and it's no problem. It's not a bass, but it is a big dreadnought. I even bumped trharlan in the head with it but he wasn't all that tough ;)

As long as you get there early and get it into an empty overhead, you're set.
posted by scarabic at 2:29 PM on March 16, 2004

Luggage Free
posted by oh posey at 4:38 PM on March 16, 2004

Also, if the overheads are full, tell the head steward-person, they ahve some oversize, vertical bins for that kind of thing.
Smile a lot, be patient and polite.
Get there early.
posted by signal at 6:11 PM on March 16, 2004

Is it out of the question to borrow an instument from someone in Boston?
posted by sad_otter at 7:10 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: He's hoping to borrow an instrument while he's there so we can avoid this mess. Hopefully, we won't have to bring it. But if we do, I appreciate your advice. All good suggestions, thanks!
posted by agregoli at 7:29 AM on March 17, 2004

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