Flying with your instrument can be one of the most stressful parts of being a traveling musician. Often musicians will entrust the safety of their equipment to their airline, only to arrive at their destination with lost, broken, or stolen gear. However, with sufficient preparation and a good knowledge of your airline’s rules and regulations, you can help diminish the chances of your having your equipment lost or damaged by your airlines. In today’s article, we’ll list a few tips you can use to protect your instrument while flying.
Preparing For Your Flight
Before you get close to any airports, getting your instrument checked for any faults or breakages may be a good idea. Sometimes instruments can be on the verge of malfunctioning, and minor bumps on your flight may cause the final break. However, this type of accident could also happen in other transit forms and is not necessarily fair on the airline, especially if they take extra precautions to care for your instrument.
If you can afford to, it’s highly recommended to get insurance for your instrument. Some airlines offer travel insurance for your baggage at an additional fee. If you land up in a situation where your instrument cannot be recovered or repaired, insurance will at least provide you with the appropriate financial compensation for your troubles. Lastly, make sure to have a back-up plan on hand in case your luggage goes missing. If you’re traveling to a familiar location, try to request that your event organizers know where to rent or acquire any replacement gear for your performance should anything go wrong during your flight.
Booking Your Flight
Airlines have differing policies for luggage control, making it tricky to anticipate how your gear will be treated during transit. When booking your flight, be sure to look through your airline rules and regulations for anything covering instruments or equipment storage. There may be separate storage available for fragile equipment at a small extra cost. You’ll also want to notify your airline’s service that you’ll be bringing and traveling with an instrument. Your notice will help to serve as official documentation if you run into any disputes with your airlines that arise from damaged gear.
Most airlines allow passengers one piece of hand luggage and one personalized item as carry-on baggage for their flights. Naturally, these items come with size and weight limitations, and you can generally only board with gear that will fit into the overhead compartment. Some airlines understand and accommodate musicians traveling with expensive gear, while others might give you a hard time. The F.A.A has a clause on its website that clears musicians to travel equipment that meets the onboard luggage regulations. You can print or screenshot this clause to show to any American airlines that refuse to let you take your instrument into the passenger cabin for travel.
You’re going to want to make sure that your instrument or gear travels in the best possible casing or baggage to minimize damage. Suppose you have the means to purchase some bubble wrap and dress your gear with it before placing it inside your bag or case. If your equipment goes into the aircraft’s main luggage compartment, you’re going to want to make sure it travels in a hard or flight case for maximum protection. If you’re able to take your gear on board, you should be okay with a softer casing, and your instrument may take up less space in the onboard storage compartments.
Luggage compartments have little to no temperature or air pressure control, which leaves your instrument exposed to the elements while traveling. If you have a string instrument like a guitar or ukulele, it’s often wise to loosen the tension on your strings about a half step or so. Loosening your strings will take the pressure off your guitar bridge while the plane changes temperature and altitude. You’ll also want to make sure your baggage does not leak or generate condensation, particularly if you’re traveling with electronics. If you can afford to, purchase a small tracking device to place alongside your gear if it does not arrive at the airport when you land.
Storing your instrument on the airplane is one of the smaller tasks during your travel, but doing so mindlessly can sometimes lead to equipment damage. The overhead compartment can generally fit instruments up to an acoustic guitar’s size, but instruments of awkward shape might land up clashing with other passengers’ baggage. You can request to board your flight early – often at extra cost – to secure yourself decent overhead storage in the overhead compartment.
If your equipment doesn’t find a space in the overhead compartments, you can sometimes use the airline’s cloak storage compartment near the front of the plane. Most general passengers either don’t know or don’t have a use for this area of the aircraft, and it usually has more than enough space to safely store any gear up to the size of a guitar or keyboard. When you land at your destination, do a check of your instrument at the airport for any breakages or defects that may have been caused during the flight.
Touring and traveling with your music is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. Using the above-listed tips, you can get closer to the peace of mind that allows you to be fully present for these moments. Remember that airlines are usually doing their best to provide the best possible experience for their customers, so their staff should be happy and willing to help you with any gear-related queries you have during transit. All you have to do is ask. We hope that you found this guide to flying with your instrument valuable and informative. Safe travels.