Learn something new every day More Info... by email
Traveling with musical instruments has always been challenging, but especially so after increased security restrictions on most airlines after 2001. Fortunately, many airlines have worked with professional associations of musicians to set up guidelines for traveling with musical instruments to make the process easier. The most important thing you can do when traveling with a musical instrument is to contact the airline you intend to use and discuss the situation with them, so that you clearly understand the airline's policy. If one airline cannot meet your needs, choose another one, and let both airlines know why you made that choice.
If an instrument fits within carry-on restrictions, it can be carried into the cabin. Like other carry-on items, it will be subject to screening, and you should also take care to package it well in order to prevent damage while you are traveling. If the instrument is too large for carry-on allowances, most airlines will allow you to purchase a second seat for your instrument. This is especially recommended for instruments which are fragile, valuable, or stringed. When you contact the airline to book a seat, inform the agent that you will be bringing an instrument on board, and make sure that the instrument will fit on the type of aircraft that you will be traveling on. Use sturdy packaging such as a hard case to protect it, and bring straps to secure it to the seat during the flight.
You can also check a musical instrument, although you should pack it extremely well, and include repackaging and handling instructions in the instrument case so that if it is opened for inspection, security staff can secure it again properly. Ideally, you should be present while the instrument is examined, so that you can ensure safe repacking. You should always check maintenance tools like fluids, reeds, brushes, bows, and other errata for traveling, so that you will not be delayed while going through security. Be aware that especially large or heavy instruments may be subject to an excess baggage charge.
When you are traveling with a musical instrument, plan on arriving at the airport early, and bring airline documentation about traveling with musical instruments with you. Make sure to stay calm and reasonable with airline personnel, who are only trying to ensure the safety of their aircraft. Expect x-rays or a physical examination of your instrument, and work with security personnel to make sure that your instrument is cleared quickly and smoothly. Try to think ahead and request a seat in the back of the plane, allowing you to board early with your instrument so that you have time to secure it properly, and cooperate with requests made by airline personnel. In a worst case scenario, you may be asked to either check the instrument or take another flight, but if you plan ahead and remain calm, this will be unlikely.