When it comes to traveling with your guitar on an airplane, it’s certainly become a hassle these past few years. Restrictions for carry-on luggage and cost-cutting measures by the airlines have limited what is allowed to be brought on board.
Most people tend to cross their fingers and just hope for the best when it comes safely storing their guitar on the airplane, but more often than not it never works out like you hoped. Whether you run across an attendant who’s just having a bad day or you fly with an airline that is unusually strict with their carry-on policy, your odds aren’t good.
With a bit of planning and research, however, it is possible to make sure that you can get your guitar safely through the air.
For this reason I’m happy to share with you 10 tips to flying with your guitar – whether the guitar comes with you in the cabin or below in the frigid never-land with the rest of the luggage. The first 5 have to do with getting a guitar on the airplane…the second 5 are miscellaneous tips and ideas.
10 Tips for Flying with Your Guitar
#1 Prepare the Guitar
Wherever the guitar is stored on the plane, you need to take a few minutes before you enter the airport to prepare your guitar for the journey. For most people this will mean:
- Loosening the Strings: De-tune your strings. Temperature and pressure changes in either the cabin or luggage compartment of the plane can cause serious stress to the neck of your guitar, potentially damaging it.
- Humidify the Guitar: It’s a good idea to place a humidifier in your case when you prepare to fly, especially if you’re using a gig bag or other case that doesn’t seal tight. The more you can keep your guitar comfortable amid all the temperature and pressure changes, the better.
- Pack the Case: The last thing you want is for your guitar to be sliding or bumping around in the case. If there’s any empty area (and there usually is around the headstock or neck), pack some towels, shirts or something else in that space.
- Remove your Sharp Tools: More than likely it won’t hurt the guitar, but if you have a multi-purpose tool in your case (I do and it has a nice, long knife as part of it), then you can kiss goodbye your chances of carrying your guitar on the plane with you.
#2 Never Check the Guitar at the Luggage Counter
No matter what you do – even if you know the airline’s policy on guitars – never allow them to take your guitar at the luggage counter.
Why? There’s a couple reasons. First of all, you have a better chance of getting your guitar on the plane with you if you get it to the gate. Second, the guitar has a much higher probability of actually making it on the plane if it is gate checked as opposed to luggage checked.
If they give you a hard time, just politely tell the person at the luggage counter – “You know, I don’t mind checking my guitar onto the plane, but could I please gate check it? It’s an expensive piece of equipment that I don’t want going down the conveyer belt.” If done nicely, this should work wonders.
#3 Play Ignorant at the Gate
Getting my guitar past security is only half the battle. Now I have to find a way to get my axe with me on the airplane and it’s not always that easy, especially if it’s a full flight.
Often times the gate attendant will make a judgement on whether or not the guitar can come with me on the plane. If they decide to tag it for gate check, don’t sweat…it’s not over yet.
When this happens I usually continue onto the plane anyway with my guitar, hiding the tag with my hand and playing ignorant with the flight attendants. Believe it or not, this works as long as there’s room for the guitar on the plane.
#4 Try to Board the Plane First
Of course the nicest flight attendants in the world can’t help me if there truly isn’t any room on the plane for my guitar. There’s one fool-proof way to fix this: board first.
That’s easy to do if I have the money to fly first class, but I don’t. That leaves me with two other options, both of which I’ve used successfully. You could:
- Book your seat towards the back of the plane, which gets seated first.
- Sign up for the airline’s credit card, which often comes with a “priority boarding” perk. It helps!
#5 Butter Up the Flight Attendants
At the front and rear of most every commercial jet there are closets that are normally more than large enough to hold a guitar.
The key is all about how well you can butter up the flight attendants.
Remember that they deal with disgruntled passengers all the time, so approaching them with a calm, very polite manner goes a long way. Don’t fight it, just make your case that the guitar is an expensive, very valuable item and you would be ever-so grateful if they could store it away in the closet for you.
#6 Consider Your Guitar Case
Obviously you’re going to want a good guitar case to travel with, but what exactly does that mean? There are a couple questions you should consider as you travel with your guitar, including:
- Should I use a Gig Bag or a Hard Case? As scary as it may be to travel with your guitar in a gig bag, it’s so much easier to convince airline staff to allow it with you on the plane since it’s more compact and vulnerable than in a hard case.
- What Material? If you travel often with your guitar you may be fully aware of how heavy that darn thing can be. There’s something called “poly-foam” that protects your guitar just as good as a hard case but at half the weight.
I used to use the hard case that came with my guitar (Taylors come with their own case), but I found that it got far too banged up and was a bit too bulky. So I bought one specifically for travel.
There are quite a few options out there, but here are a few that I think are worth checking out:
- Acoustic Guitar: Polyfoam Dreadnaught Guitar Case that is lighter but strong.
- Acoustic Guitar: Polyethylene dreadnaught hardcase with TSA-approved latches that’s heavier but incredibly secure.
- Electric Guitar: Polyfoam electric guitar case that is again, lighter but still strong.
- Electric Guitar: Polyethylene electric hardcase that also has TSA-approved latches for security.
- Any Guitar: This guitar flight case works over most any acoustic guitar case for added protection. Downside: can’t be carried on.
#7 Consider a Travel-Size Guitar
Unless you’re going to be on the road for a gig, have you considered a travel-sized guitar? It may sound like a terrible idea, but newer manufacturing techniques have vastly improved the sound quality and projection of travel guitars.
Guitars like the Taylor Big Baby (see my review of the Taylor Big Baby guitar here) or the Martin LX1 Little Martin (see my review of the Little Martin series here) are excellent options that won’t break the bank. Your chances of getting these guitars on a plane with you are exponentially greater than a full-sized guitar.
You can also check some of the unique travel guitars that either fold or come apart for smaller storage. One of the most interesting that I’ve come across was the Journey Instruments Overhead guitar. This guitar is specifically for storage in an overhead bin. Take a moment to listen to it and see how the guitar folds up – you might be surprised.
#8 Consider Shipping Your Guitar
Places like UPS and FedEx are quite accustomed to shipping musical instruments so they know just what to do. In this case you should always use a hard case.
#9 Consider the Airline
Some airlines are more sympathetic to musicians than others. If you know which airline you’re going to fly with, check out their policy on oversized baggage. Just search for “[your airline] instrument policy” and you’ll likely find what you need.
#10 Consider NOT Flying with your Guitar
I know, I know…this is a last resort. But have you considered whether a friend or anybody else nearby who could lend you their guitar? Or is it worth the hassle of bringing the guitar if you’re just going on vacation?
Unless you’re playing a show or something that requires you have your guitar, not bringing the guitar might be best.
So that about covers it. Are there any tips you might add to this list? Leave a comment below!