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I have to travel by plane to another country in a few months, and I want to bring my guitar with me. I have doubts with what should I do to ensure that my guitar arrives safe and in perfect condition.

Reading this question "When shipping a guitar, what is the best way to package it?", I learned a few important tips, but I still have doubts like:

Do you put your guitar with the rest of the luggage or bring it on board with you?

Also, if you bring it aboard with you, you use a gig bag or a hard case? I don't think a SKB hard case will fit in the hand bag compartments.

Do you know any policy for carrying instruments in airlines?


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"What to have in mind when traveling by plane with my guitar?" I'd keep these videos in mind: United Breaks Guitars, United Breaks Guitars Song 2 and United Breaks Guitars Song 3. It's worth watching some of the interviews Dave Carroll gave discussing the whole incident and strongly consider never checking an instrument you prize. Someone who is negligent or determined could ruin an instrument in any case you put it in if it's checked. Keep it by your side. – Anonymous Feb 15 '11 at 0:32
I was following that incident since the first video came out, and at that time I began to worry about travel with a guitar. Thanks for the links. – El Cheicon Feb 15 '11 at 15:46
up vote 14 down vote accepted
  1. Call the airline beforehand and explain your situation. Policies vary.
  2. See if the aircraft(s) has a suit closet up front which can stow your guitar. It will not fit in the overhead unless you are very lucky, especially with a hardcase (forget it), and it unfairly denies other people their luggage space. (Others have said they got theirs in, hardcase and all, so there's room for debate on this).
  3. Bring a written copy of the policy if possible.
  4. Be prepared for the gate people to not honor the policy. This happened to a friend. He was courteous and didn't lose his temper. He explained that he had a boarding pass and would let the flight crew determine whether he could take the guitar. He went to the plane door and allowed the flight crew to have the final word. If they won't take it, you're out of luck. This flight crew politely helped him bring the guitar on board even though the ground crew refused to let it on.
  5. Don't check the guitar unless you are prepared to lose it. Period.
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+1 for "be prepared for the gate people to honor the policy." This happened to me when I actually bought a second ticket for my guitar, a purchase I made over the phone with a ticket agent who assured me it would be okay. In fact, the flight crew gave me a hard time about it, too, and eventually I had to change seats to sit in the very first row (of coach) before they were okay with it. – Alex Basson Feb 15 '11 at 1:20
I guess its a matter of knowing the transport policies, be prepared, arrive early to the check in and be always polite. Thanks for your advice. – El Cheicon Feb 15 '11 at 15:56
+1 Some VERY good points.I once had a very heated argument with the lady at the checkin counter about bringing my guitar on board.And then when I asked the flight attendant, she shrugged and said that it was alright if it fits in the overhead compartment.And in my experience, it does so quite nicely, hardcase and all ( we are talking drednought acoustic here ) – Anonymous Feb 16 '11 at 22:09
I've re-edited the answer so that the part about the flight crew is a recount of what happened in my friend's case, not necessarily instructions for what you should do. Since it involves potentially disobeying the gate crew, you do so at your own risk and your results may not be the same as my friend's. Everything at airports is rather tense these days and I take no responsibility should there be adverse consequences...we're adults and make our own decisions. – Anonymous Feb 17 '11 at 17:59

After 9-11 I took an acoustic thru TSA and onboard. They made me unzip the case so they could search.

Of course, it is much more intrusive now under the present administration, so I would check with the airline or look on TSA website for more info.

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I've flown with my guitars a handful of times...

The first time around 2003[?], for an important audition, I purchased a seat for it, no problems there... If you have an expensive instrument, crummy case, or are otherwise afraid something might happen, this is the safest way to go. All it takes is a short drop onto the concrete by a baggage handler and your instrument is gone.

Now, if possible, you could always airmail [fedex, etc] your instrument overnight to the location you need to get it to. That round-trip will most likely cost you less than a seat, and the airmail's insurance policies are better than the airlines [last I read airline instrument policy would only pay up to $2500]

If you fly a lot, another option is to buy the strongest, lightest, most form-fitting case you can and still hope you don't have to check it. Something like an Accord case. I like to carry my guitar upside-down with backpack straps, so that the neck points to the ground rather than the sky. This will eliminate lots of issues with checking in, boarding and/or gate-checking your instrument. Then when boarding, ask the crew to put it in the crew's closet [it's usually near the door as you walk onto the plane]. If they're nice, they'll let you put it in... if not, you'd have to try for an overhead compartment and a few nice people that will put their belongings at you feet.

The key is to be nice to everyone--staff, security people, airplane crew, other passengers-- it goes a long way.

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I took my acoustic guitar with me on a flight once and leaving the UK, the checking counter insisted I check the guitar in with the rest of my heavy luggage.

Conversely on the way out, leaving Turkey, the checking counter insisted I take it on as hand luggage, even though I didn't purchase an extra seat for it. There was no room in the overhead compartment and no suit closet on the plane. I had to sit for 4 hours with the guitar on my lap.

I haven't flown with my guitar since.

My advice would be call the airline you're flying with and get the details from them. As you can tell from the answers to this question already, every airline seems to have different policies on flying with instruments.

Either that or take up the triangle or finger cymbals...? ;)

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as noted, check the airline. Policies vary wildly, even sometimes within departments of a single carrier.

And sometimes those policies contradict themselves. For example KLM has a policy that musical instruments MUST be checked. But then they go on and place restrictions on the size of cases for musical instruments which make it impossible to check a guitarcase (it's too long), so you have to send it as air freight instead (at increased cost, longer delivery time, etc.). BA has similar policies with slightly different size restrictions, Delta has others again, etc. etc..

Within the US, you're probably safe on carriers with a lot of connections to places like Nashville, where they're used to dealing with musicians.

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I usually take mine in a hard case on board. Not sure since 9/11 and all the p/c crap now though. They might try to get you to buy another seat or strip search you for fun.

If it is an expensive guitar you should try to bring it with you but have a backup plan(have someone be able to take it for you if they say you can't bring it.

Since 9/11 there's no telling what they might do... They might try and strip search your guitar or throw you in jail cause your strings might be used in a bomb.

If it were me I would simply try to take it on board and not ask. If the flight isn't full and they are nice people then chances are you'll get to bring it possibly after a little begging.

This all assumes you are not muslim or flying from such a country... Oh, and you probably don't wanna look muslim or an old white lady either.

You can call up the airlines and find out but I wouldn't give them any specifics just in case.

Best thing though is just to be prepared if you can't get it on board cause they most likely will make you leave it behind in which case you either you have to miss your flight or give your guitar away.

Have a friend willing to pick it up and ship it for you in that case and you should be good to go...

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In addition to the points already noted, the Musician's Union in the UK recommend:

  • Don't carry anything else in the case other than the instrument - this makes it much easier to screen and saves difficulties
  • Carry your Musician's Union membership card - again, in the hope of reducing difficulties with authorities
  • Check with airports at either end of your journey, as you don't want to find that the airport on the return trip has different rules!
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