These days it's easy to travel around the world, but not so easy to bring your instrument with you. It can be a hassle to bring your expensive guitar or ukulele as a carry on when you fly. By following these guidelines to travel with a guitar or ukulele, you'll ensure a stress free journey.
New Laws passed in 2012
President Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act. The law provisions for runway safety, but also allows you to count small instruments as carry on baggage. This law also states that a passenger can carry on a violin, guitar, or other musical instruments (such as a ukulele) without being charged an additional fee. The instrument can be stowed in a baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin, or under the passenger’s seat.
Why You Should Board Early
If you can, try to get early boarding to get on the plane at the beginning. This will help ensure that there is plenty of room to safely store your guitar or ukulele and keep an eye on it. If you’re one of the last to board, bin space can be tricky. If you have to stow it somewhere else on the plane, you never know what passenger my try to shove their suitcase against your instrument. For those traveling with guitars, you can ask the flight attendants to store it in the coat closet if there is room.
One problem I’ve run into is that not everyone in the airline industry is well-versed in this law. To cover yourself, I recommend printing off the text of the law and carrying it with you. This prevents any arguments with the staff and you can smugly waltz down the aisle with your precious instrument in tow.
Different airlines have different boarding procedures. If you’re flying United, the boarding process is outside-in. Meaning you’ll want to try to get a window seat, so that you board first. Southwest boards by status and check-in time. Set an alarm 24 hours before to get a good boarding number. US Airways has a somewhat random seating process. You will get preference if you have elite status or check-in online.
Several carriers use the rear to front method, such as American, Delta, British Airways, JetBlue, Spirit, Virgin, and Atlantic. This means that they will first board those with status and first or business class passengers. Group one then boards, which is bought with certain fares. Then the boarding process follows the back of the plane, then the middle, then the front. If you can try to get into the first group to avoid any hassles.
Prepare Your Instrument for a Safe Journey
Always make sure to loosen your strings. Cabin pressure changes and switching to different climates can cause the wood to swell, which tightens the strings and could break the neck of your guitar. By de-tuning them, you ensure this won’t happen. Putting a humidifier in your case will help stabilize the humidity and prevent additional stress on your instrument.
Even though your instrument will be in your hands while traveling, not below the plane with other checked luggage, you want to still pack the case. Putting extra t-shirts or towels in the empty spaces will prevent the instrument from sliding around in the case.
Whether you're traveling for a gig, or going off to vacation, the last thing you need is added stress before a flight. By following these steps, you can guarantee yourself a hassle-free journey. Safe travels!