10 Most Useful Tips to Flying with your Guitar

10 pro Tips for Flying with Your Guitar

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.

Top 5 Best Travel Guitars reviewed and rated     5 Parlor Guitars that don't suck

#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:

  1. Book your seat towards the back of the plane, which gets seated first.
  2. 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:

An airplane-ready, TSA-approved guitar case that's sturdy

#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.

The Overhead travel guitar gig bag backpack

#8 Consider Shipping Your Guitar

It’s not the cheapest option, but have you considered shipping the guitar? You won’t have to carry it around everywhere.  In addition, you get the added security of insurance.

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!

Complete Guide to Cleaning an Electric Guitar     Best Collapsible Travel Guitar? A Review

 

15 Responses to 10 Most Useful Tips to Flying with your Guitar

  1. John says:

    If you travel (fly) with your instrument you may find this interesting:
    PUBLIC LAW 112–95—FEB. 14, 2012. SHORT TITLE.—This Act may be cited as the ‘‘FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012’’. (President Obama signed this bill into law on February 14th, 2012). You may want to print this section out and the cover page then carry it whenever you travel.
    What is the law? Well it’s 145 pages of various airline passenger rights,on page 74 and page 75 is the Musical Instruments clause. It states:

    SEC. 403. MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS.
    (a) IN GENERAL.—Subchapter I of chapter 417 is amended by adding at the end the following:
    ‘‘§ 41724. Musical instruments
    ‘‘(a) IN GENERAL.—
    ‘‘(1) SMALL INSTRUMENTS AS CARRY-ON BAGGAGE.—An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage, if—
    ‘‘(A) the instrument can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin or under a passenger seat, in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator; and ‘‘(B) there is space for such stowage at the time the passenger boards the aircraft.
    ‘‘(2) LARGER INSTRUMENTS AS CARRY-ON BAGGAGE.—An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a musical instrument that is too large to meet the requirements of paragraph (1) in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to the cost of the additional ticket described in subparagraph (E), if—
    ‘‘(A) the instrument is contained in a case or covered so as to avoid injury to other passengers;
    ‘‘(B) the weight of the instrument, including the case or covering, does not exceed 165 pounds or the applicable weight restrictions for the aircraft;
    ‘‘(C) the instrument can be stowed in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator;
    ‘‘(D) neither the instrument nor the case contains any object not otherwise permitted to be carried in an aircraft cabin because of a law or regulation of the United States; and
    ‘‘(E) the passenger wishing to carry the instrument in the aircraft cabin has purchased an additional seat to accommodate the instrument.
    ‘‘(3) LARGE INSTRUMENTS AS CHECKED BAGGAGE.—An air carrier shall transport as baggage a musical instrument that is the property of a passenger traveling in air transportation
    that may not be carried in the aircraft cabin if—
    ‘‘(A) the sum of the length, width, and height measured in inches of the outside linear dimensions of the instrument (including the case) does not exceed 150 inches or the
    applicable size restrictions for the aircraft;
    ‘‘(B) the weight of the instrument does not exceed 165 pounds or the applicable weight restrictions for the aircraft; and
    ‘‘(C) the instrument can be stowed in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator.
    ‘‘(b) REGULATIONS.—Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this section, the Secretary shall issue final regulations to carry out subsection (a).
    ‘‘(c) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The requirements of this section shall become effective on the date of issuance of the final regulations under subsection (b).’’.
    (b) CONFORMING AMENDMENT.—The analysis for such subchapter is amended by adding at the end the following: ‘‘41724. Musical instruments.’’.

    The entire publication can be found here:
    http://WWW.FAA.GOV/REGULATIONS_POLICIES/REAUTHORIZATION/MEDIA/PLAW-112PUBL95%5B1%5D.PDF

    • Josh Summers says:

      Very interesting, John. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kirk Clendinning says:

      I tried to bring my guitar from Sweden to the USA in the cabin of a Norwegian Air Shuttle flight on a 787, which has plenty of space in the overhead bins. In general I’ve been satisfied with their service otherwise, however I was shocked to find out, from an attorney with the Department of Transportation, that foreign airlines, airlines not certificated in the USA, are not covered by this law. I ended up having to buy a 300 Euro road case for a one time trip with that particular guitar so assure its safety.

      The bottom line is that this law apparently only refers to US airlines. Any foreign airline, landing at a US airport or on a US route is not required to follow the law. In other words, given the number of foreign airlines operating in or around the USA at any given time, the law is rather toothless.

      Here is the correspondence. First my reply to the DOT attorney thanking them for their clarification and an apology to Norwegian Air Shuttle for thinking that they were covered by the law.

      Customer(20/10/2015 04.14 PM)
      Clereece,

      Thank you for your explanation, I would not have interpreted what I read to mean that any airline operating from outside the USA, but certified to fly in US airspace, was not covered by this particular law. I find this passage in the DOT ruling DOT-OST-2014-0231, especially misleading:

      “Thus, this final rule implementing Section 403 covers all U.S. certificated and commuter carriers, as well as air taxis operating under exemption authority, that provide air transportation to the public directly, regardless of the size of the aircraft they operate, and all indirect carriers such as public charter operators. It covers the scheduled and charter flights operated by these carriers in domestic or international air transportation.”

      Are foreign air carriers not required to be certified by the USA? I must admit, it seemed obvious to me that even foreign airlines would be considered under the phrase “all US certificated…” I appreciate you correcting my understanding.

      Norwegian Air Shuttle, sorry for the misunderstanding.

      Kind Regards,

      xxxxx

      Now the reply by the Department of Transportation attorney:

      > On Oct 20, 2015, at 14:16, [link removed] wrote:
      >
      > Dear Mr. xxxxxxx
      >
      > Thank you for contacting the Department of Transportation regarding your travel on Norwegian Air Shuttle with your musical instrument. As you correctly cited from the statutes and the regulation, section 403 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 applies to “air carriers.” That term is defined in 49 U.S.C. §40102(a)(2) to mean a citizen of the United States undertaking to provide air transportation. Sections 251.1 and 251.2 of the Department’s implementing rule for section 403 also make it clear that the rule is limited to U.S. carriers. As Norwegian Air Shuttle is not a citizen of the United States, it is not an “air carrier” by statutory definition and is not covered by section 403 or the rule regarding the carriage of musical instruments. Norwegian Air Shuttle is a “foreign air carrier,” which is defined in 49 U.S.C. §40102 as a person, not a citizen of the United States, undertaking to provide foreign air transportation.
      >
      > I hope this is helpful.
      >
      > Regards,
      >
      > Clereece Kroha
      > Senior Trial Attorney
      > U.S. Department of Transportation
      > Office of the Assistant General Counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings
      > 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
      > Washington, DC 20590
      > 202.366.9041
      >

      My original email to Norwegian Air Shuttle, copied to the Department of Transportation:

      >
      > —–Original Message—–
      > From: xxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:[link removed]]
      > Sent: Monday, October 19, 2015 9:21 AM
      > To: [link removed]
      > Cc: Kroha, Clereece (OST); Workie, Blane (OST)
      > Subject: Unawareness of section 403 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012
      >
      > Dear Sir or Madam,
      >
      > I am flying on a Norwegian Air Shuttle flight from Gothenburg Sweden to Ft. Lauderdale Florida on the 30th of October. I called to find out how much it would be to book a seat for my guitar on the short leg, the non-USA leg, and was told that in order to carry my guitar in the cabin from the UK to the USA I would also have to book a seat. However, my understanding is that this violates section 403 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The United States Department of Transportation issued a ruling, DOT-OST-2014-0231, for implementation in January of 2015. Apparently, Norwegian Air Shuttle has not passed this information on to its customer service agents because in both an online chat and telephone conversation the service agents were unaware that guitars could be carried on board as stated in the Act:
      >
      > (1) Small instruments as carry-on baggage.— An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage, if—
      > (A) the instrument can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin or under a passenger seat, in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator; and
      > (B) there is space for such stowage at the time the passenger boards the aircraft.
      >
      > When I sent a copy of the DOT ruling to the on line representative, I was told that since Norwegian Air Shuttle is not a US carrier, so the Act did not apply. That seems to contradict the Department of Transportation ruling which states:
      >
      > Covered Entities and Flights
      > Section 403 of the Act covers “[a]n air carrier providing air transportation.” According to the definition in 49 U.S.C. §40102(a)(2), “air carrier” means a citizen of the United States undertaking by any means, directly or indirectly, to provide air transportation. 49 U.S.C. §40102(a)(5) provides that “air transportation” includes foreign air transportation or interstate air transportation. Those terms in turn are defined in 49 U.S.C. §40102(a) to mean the transportation of passengers or property by aircraft as a common carrier for compensation. Thus, this final rule implementing Section 403 covers all U.S. certificated and commuter carriers, as well as air taxis operating under exemption authority, that provide air transportation to the public directly, regardless of the size of the aircraft they operate, and all indirect carriers such as public charter operators. It covers the scheduled and charter flights operated by these carriers in domestic or international air transportation.
      >
      > This email has been copied to the United States Department of Transportation so that Norwegian Air Shuttle can correspond directly and possibly amend its procedures and policies with regard to flights into US air space and jurisdiction accordingly.
      >
      > If I don’t hear from Norwegian Air Shuttle soon, I will incur an expense of 300 Euros to purchase an airtight, TSA approved, road case for the guitar, in hopes that the instrument will be well protected in the baggage hold. I will lose all of my check-in bag allotment as well, since the empty standard guitar case will have to be sent in the hold along with the new (to be used once) flight case. Given that the UK to US flight is on a 787, which has adequate space in the overhead bins for the standard guitar case, the purchase of a special road case for a one-time trip, with this particular guitar, seems unjustified.
      >
      > I hope that Norwegian Air Shuttle will coordinate with the Department of Transportation in this matter so that other travelers do not have to go to this extent to protect a valuable instrument. It would be nice to hear back from Norwegian Air Shuttle within 24 hours so that I might avoid paying for an unnecessary instrument case.
      >

      Kind Regards,

      xxxxxxxxx

      • Josh Summers says:

        Thanks for sharing, Kirk. I’m sorry about your experience!

        Fortunately, just because it’s a foreign airline doesn’t mean they won’t let you carry on your instrument. I just got off two flights this week – one in China and one in Thailand – where I walked my full-sized acoustic guitar into the cabin with me.

  2. Stephen Bridge says:

    I am flying a Martin D28 with me (one way) from Austin to India, where I will leave it. Do you know of any good options for insuring it?

  3. Sinoj B.S says:

    Hello Josh,
    The tips were essentially useful. Thanks for being descriptive.
    I am travelling Cochin (India) to Toronto in July and I wanted to carry my Yamaha APX500|| with me. Flight is operated by Saudi Arabian Airlines. The allowed luggage is 23Kg + 23Kg (Check-in) and 7Kg (Cabin) with volume restriction (90x75x43 cm^3) for check-in bag and (56x45x25 cm^3) for cabin bag. The dimension of APX500|| is 103x39x11 cm^3 without case. When I checked with the airline they were saying NO to carry it in the cabin. There is a flight change at Jeddah operated by the same airline. I am afraid that I may not be able to carry it in the cabin due to dimension restriction. With a gig-bag or a hard-case the volume will again increase.
    Any advise will greatly help.
    Thanks | Sinoj

  4. Tip #5 is excellent as flight attendants have great power as to what goes on. You can also speak with the gate attendants well before boarding. Even with the new FAA regulations, even though guitars are allowed on board as carry on luggage, if there’s insufficient space, the airline can decline to let it on. As such, arriving early at both the gate, combined with Tip #4 is good advice.

  5. Terence says:

    My solution for flying with an electric guitar, is to unscrew the neck off one of my strats placing the body in a gig bag, then fold the gig bag in half tucking the top of the bag into a strap near the base of the bag.

    I then have a carry on bag that is within baggage allowance.

    Neck, whammy bar and strings go in my check in luggage together with a Line 6 pocket pod.

    I’ve flown to Australia, India and parts of Europe this way with no problems. Purchased a used strat specifically for traveling, I don’t mind it getting ‘road worn.’ My main guitars stay safely at home.

  6. James says:

    hows it going i’m flying from Dublin to London with Air lingus next friday and then from London to Chicago with Athlantic Airways and i’m wondering about bringing my guitar on the cabin as hand luggage?

  7. Zipora says:

    Hi, thank you! This is such a helpful article! I will fly home from Canada to Indonesia (with the connecting flight in Hongkong), I will use Cathay Pacific. My guitar is the electric one, i’m starting to be stressed now. As you said “Never Check the Guitar at the Luggage Counter”. I read many times about their Musical Instruments rules while thinking- i don’t really want to bring it as a checked it luggage but apparently i have to, unless i buy one seat for my baby guitar :(( I’m trying to find a hardshell right now. Please help me with some suggestion, should i just trust to make it as a checked in stuff with the hardcase or is there any possibility to bring it on board yet still use the hardcase, because seems like they won’t allow me to fly with softcased guitar. Please enlighten me up, this will be my first time to fly with an electric guitar. I’m all ears!!!

  8. Booze Baron says:

    Hey all –

    I’m a yank living in London 6 mo. out of the year and then 6 mo. back now in the states for some back surgery –

    I was really excited at first to see that ‘musical instrument’ statute someone was good enough to post above – as I usually fly United to/from Vail, CO to London via Chicago or Denver – so obviously switching so many flights creates problems –

    All that said – I’m flying BA (British Air) this Christmas and bringing my latest acoustic purchase back with me and leaving in London (for at least 8 mo.) and now reading that BA is ‘excluded’ from this law is a real bummer and concern – This was my biggest and largest guitar purchase in 22 years – and have no desire to ‘leave it home’ (well, London is now home) – so not sure what BA will have to say – They’ve always treated me well – but have my clout with United as I’ve been flying them for over 35 years and am their highest tier – I’ve just started with BA 4 years ago – and they’re also not “Star Alliance” and so my stress level just went up 10 notches reading all these posts … Sigh –

    Am gonna measure the overall dimensions of my hardshell case that came with it (is tour grade case with 9 latches) so not worried about it – but truly don’t want it going underneath – I’ve seen those apes tossing luggage around too many years – and fear the neck will shattered by the time I arrive 🙁

    Not really even sure why I’m writing – except to commiserate with the rest of us that have flown internationally and had issues … I’m trying to do my homework here – and depending on the aircraft (747 for this flight) which is massive – I think I should be able to get her on if I sweet talk my way – but also have 2 suitcases loaded and all my computer gear in a carry-on case (so am I reading that statute right, a GUITAR does NOT count as another “EXTRA” carry on item?? So can I get away with bringing the guitar and a computer bag onboard with me? You’re allow 2 carry-on bags anyway I think with most carries –

    Something to note from another poster – The LBS/KG in the USA are FAR HEAVIER than in the EU (Europe) or NZ – so be careful about that too (even with just your checked bags) – for you may pass the weight limit in LAX/NY/DEN but once you’re in Europe their fees skyrocket!! I got caught out in Prague on Aeroflot to Odesa/Kiev for over $280 I had to pull from an ATM to let me even board – The sick part is – the dude put it in his little apron wrap-around waist thingy he was wearing – so know I got F*****D on that deal – Hope his kids had a good Christmas courtousy of my stupidity – I had too much gear in the checked luggage to toss it or leave it (cameras, computers, Sat phone, clothes etc) all far exceeded the fees I had to pay – but just was annoying esp now that I know it didn’t even go to the airlines but straight into his pocket – Welcome to Eastern Europe –

    Sorry for the ramble but am truly stressing now about travelling with this abroad – So ONE LAST QUESTION – Does anyone ever actually check their gear in underneath after prepping it properly and doing all the things suggested above? Hell, it WAS shipped to me originally via UPS – so guess an airlines would treat me better than UPS chucking it over a fence LOL …

    Will look into insurance too… if anyone has an suggestions there too – that’d be greatly appreciated as my home owners won’t cover this kinda thing –

    Cheers,

    BB

    • Jeremy Russell says:

      BA is guitar friendly, I fly Dallas to London on BA all the time and every time i have a guitar, never been a problem.

  9. […] Related article: 10 Most Useful Tips to Flying with your Guitar […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *