As a former employee of one of the top 2 major airlines in the US and a professional St. Paul guitar player and teacher, trust me: you do not want to leave your prized instrument in the hands of anybody but yourself when traveling by airplane. Plus, it's the law that airlines allow you to carry it on the plane with you.
According to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, section 41724:
There it is, signed by Barack Obama and endorsed by the FAA. Click here to view the official government document for carrying your guitar on the plane.
WHy Should I take My Instrument on the Plane?
Let me reinforce why taking your instrument onboard is the best choice for the safety of your instrument:
- I wouldn't leave my instrument anywhere I wasn't comfortable. For those of you that don't know, wood is very susceptible to environmental changes such as humidity, pressure, and temperature-- things that fluctuate wildly depending on your point of reference in an aircraft. Cargo cabins can reach subzero temperatures and even if they get heat, it's manufactured air that is horrendously dry. Teaching guitar in St. Paul Minnesota is very similar: humid in the summer and bone dry in the winter, which is why I always have a humidifier with my guitar.
- Don't chance it with airline personnel. Don't get me wrong: most airline employees are good, well-intentioned, and operate with the utmost care when they know the contents of what they're handling. However, there are just so many other things going through their mind on the job. They are being timed. They are out in the elements. They are understaffed. They are underpaid. They are thinking about where they're going to fly next with their flight benefits. Or they took the redeye from Vegas last night because that was the only one that was open. They are working long shifts. They are under tremendous mental and/or physical stress. Safety is their first priority, guitars come later. Even if they handle your equipment perfectly, things can shift inside the cargo bin, sometimes the bins are absolutely packed to the max, the pressure will change, and who knows what else is in the bin besides your instrument. I've seen pets that do not travel well (and all the biological substances that go with it), cadavers or body parts, dry ice, sweaty sports team equipment. Hell, a few employees are just total d-bags. What if they were assigned to your flight?
TIps For Happy Instruments
- Buy the best hardshell case you can afford. Check reviews of the cases, do your homework. This is a guitar case that I would use with my instrument, and that I have seen used successfully.
- Just to reinforce the above tip, don't settle for a gig bag when you're traveling. Just. Don't. Even if you're carrying it into the cabin. When I see an instrument in a gig bag at the airport, I know that person is not serious. It's almost a good way to encourage damage to your instrument.
- Use a humidifier. I recommend the Oasis guitar case humidifiers.
- Board first or as soon as you can. The FAA regulations depend strongly on available space. It's just easier for crew to accommodate you (and to get a safe space) if you tell them ahead of time what you're doing. So arrive early to the gate, politely introduce yourself to the gate agent and let them know what you need.
- Be nice, polite, and firm. You practically have an ace up your sleeve with this FAA Obama signed government document, so don't get cocky. The FAA has tremendous clout at the airport, so if you need to, mention their affiliation.
- Carry a copy or two of the relevant language in the Modernization and Reform Act. Most carriers are aware of this rule now, but some people still slip through the cracks, training-wise. The airline industry has tremendous personnel turnover.
- If you check it, don't lock it. TSA is required to open it, and they will cut it. Even if you carry it, anything is subject to inspection.
So there you have it. Everything you need to play guitar on the beach.