I'm going to be flying half-way across the US soon, and would like to have a guitar with me. I'm looking at the Washburn travel guitar. Its shipping dimensions are 37 x 11 x 6, and weighs 8 pounds. Is the airline likely to let me carry this on? I'd prefer not to check it. Has anyone flown with one of these?
I've been heavily researching the category of travel guitars which has included looking into the policies of all the major airlines (which has involved interviews of gate personnel and flight attendants) as well as the dimensions of some of the more popular choices. I travel 2 out of every 5 weeks.
First of all, in its semi hard-shell case, the Washburn Rover Ro10 (if that's the one you're looking at) measures out to be 32" x 10" x 4.5" or 49.5" total linear inches.
In terms of the airlines, each airline has (a) it's officially stated policy and (b) what the gate personnel and flight attendants generally allow. The two are usually not the same. With the exception of Virgin America, Delta, and American, most major airlines officially say that any carry-on luggage (instrument or not) cannot exceed 45 linear inches. American basically states that they'll allow any instrument so long as its in a hardshell case. Virgin goes up to 50 inches. Delta has no official limitation on instruments and doesn't require a hardshell. At the gate, they're generally more accommodating. When I asked the folks at Virgin, they said "Instruments? We LOVE instruments" (as though music is in their DNA... oh, wait, it is!).
But the gate personnel and flight attendants also say if they can't find space for it, it doesn't matter. It has to be checked. In other words, you should always be prepared for the worst case scenario where policy doesn't matter. It's just a question of remaining space. Which is why (1) you should focus your search on travel guitars that are available in a hard shell or equivalent (the Washburn Rover qualifies) and (2) you should think about traveling with a guitar that you won't lose sleep over if it happens to get damaged. Again, at about $75 to $125 for a good used one, the Rover qualifies.. I just bought one for $75. The Martin Backpacker is a neat guitar, but are more money and it doesn't come in a hard shell. It doesn't sit in your lap very easily...there are "lap adapters" on the market just for the Martin Backpacker. There are a bunch of knock-offs of the Martin Backpacker too. Personally, I think the Rover's 49.5 linear inches is so little over the common 45" policy that it'll be fine on all airlines, so long as they're not completely out of space by the time you get on AND it's not a tiny commuter jet (the bins are too small to begin with).
I've gone relatively crazy on the subject of travel guitars. It's not like you can walk into a Guitar Center and compare all the options. So, I have been buying and selling "qualified" guitars to figure it out. I have leaned in the direction of electric guitars because if I'm playing in my hotel room late a night, I won't be disturbing my neighbors. I purchased two Epiphone "Wee's" (as in Pee Wees); the Wee V (a kids Flying V) and the Pee Wee Les Paul. They come in gig bags and usually come with a battery operated amp. I decided I didn't like adjusting to guitars that are tuned "up" (like there's a capo on the 5th fret) which is what you have to do with these short-necked guitars. So, I sold the V for what I paid for it and am currently selling the Pee Wee Les Paul (which sounds good.. even on the tiny amp... it has the same humbuckers that the regular Les Paul has).
As far as I know, there's only one electric that's available in a hardshell that falls below ALL airlines official policies and that's the Chiquita designed by Mark Erlewine and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons. In it's hardshell, the Chiquita comes in at 44 linear inches. It's a more expensive option though and if you're forced to check it, who knows? YOU might be uploading the next Breaks Guitars video to YouTube. I just found a good used Chiquita on CraigsList and its on its way to me now. If you go for a Chiquita, look for one that's hand-built by Mark Erlewine himself and not one of the older IMC/Hondo models that were made by the 1000's in Korea. Or, go ahead and get an older one... if it gets damaged.. then it's not as much of a biggie.
On the acoustic guitars, I've heard amazing things about the Voyage Air. They're expensive though. That said, this video shows how the backpack it goes into fits perfectly into an overhead bin:.
Depending on the airline you are flying, you can always look up the baggage allowances online.
For instance Continental Airlines in the United States lists that they allow passengers to carry on a guitar.
I highly recommend never checking a musical instrument. You never know how it could be handled when not in your care. I'm glad to see you're not considering that option.
For a few dollars more, you could consider the Martin Backpacker. Here is a video comparison of the Washburn Travel guitar and the Martin Backpacker.
I agree with @Reina that you shouldn't check a musical instrument. In fact, for entertainment purposes please read the story behind Dave Caroll's United Breaks Guitars.
I disagree with the notion that guitars generally should not be sent as checked baggage. Instead I agree that a guitar should not be sent as checked baggage unless it is appropriately packed, which means you need a flight case for it (the already mentioned Dave Caroll video shows the potential result if you don't). That might be costly and might also infer extra charges for overweight luggage, which for most people is not an option.
It appears that both Delta and American Airlines have similar rules on bringing guitars (/musical instruments) as carry-on luggage (here's AA's baggage allowance for musical instruments), which often means it's up to whomever you interact with to approve/deny your request to bring it on the plane. I did fairly easily find tips on travelling with instruments from a musicians union, see Tips for Traveling Safely with Musical Instruments, and there's also a bit of information from the TSA on transporting musical instruments for their take on a bit of this.
Updated Feb 12, 2012: Got notice of a HuffPost item about the FAA bill, which amongst other things says "Airlines can no longer impose extra charge for carry-on musical instruments that can be safely stowed, and must carry larger instruments as checked baggage." See FAA Bill Codifies Airline Passenger Bill Of Rights for description of all the other things the bill included.