10 tips for flying with your musical instrument
March 28, 2018, 12:01 | Updated: August 17, 2021, 1:33 PM
Flying with your musical instrument should go smoothly. To prepare for your flight, read these handy tips from the Incorporated Society of Musicians.
1. Check the airline’s carry-on baggage policy
Before flying, check the airline’s policy on carry-on baggage and, if possible, try to get written confirmation that you can take your instrument on board.
“We strongly recommend that, where possible, you contact the airline before traveling and receive written confirmation of acceptance of the instruments. Document everything and make copies,” explains the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM).
“ISM Members can obtain a letter from the ISM to confirm that they are members and therefore work professionally as a musician and must travel by air for work.
2. Consider buying an extra seat
If you are transporting an instrument larger than a guitar, such as a cello, you should purchase an additional seat and request written confirmation that this is OK.
3. Pack your instrument in a hard case
Even if you take it as carry-on, flimsy instrument bags are a no-no. Get a sturdy case to reduce the risk of damage.
4. Remove all other items from the case
“Make sure that nothing other than the instrument and its accessories is in the case,” advises the ISM.
5. Loosen the strings
If your instrument has strings, loosen them a tone or two to account for temperature changes – this will ease any tension on the instrument’s neck.
6. Prepare for your instrument to go through security
In an ideal world, your instrument would only be touched by you and your musically skilled hands. But in reality, security guards will probably want to take a look inside the case.
7. Do not put cash in your suitcase
Even if you come across tempting liquids in the Duty Free section, don’t leave them near your instrument case.
8. Put “Fragile” stickers on the hull
“Make sure there are plenty of ‘Fragile’ stickers on the case and that it is clearly labeled with your contact details,” ISM says.
Your instrument is much less likely to get jostled if it’s covered in a bunch of bright red Fragile stickers.
9. Bring documentation
“If you travel with instruments made from rare materials, especially in the United States, be sure to read up on CITESand prepare the documentation and permits you need.
“Additionally, ISM members should always carry their ISM membership card with them at all times to validate your rights as a professional musician,” says ISM.
So if your bow is horsehair or your strings are gut, you might want to check that you don’t need a permit to take these materials overseas.
10. Photograph everything
In the unfortunate event that your instrument is damaged, make sure you have plenty of photos of it in its pre-flight condition.
ISM is now urging airlines to allow small and medium-sized instruments on board planes, following a number of cases of damage to valuable instruments including a 17th-century viola da gamba and a 300-year-old viola year.
“We are calling on airlines to follow easyJet’s lead by adopting the ISM minimum standard and allowing small musical instruments of 117cm or less at their largest dimension on board aircraft and ensuring that that musicians who have purchased an additional seat for a larger instrument can take their instrument into the cabin.
“Musicians should be able to carry small musical instruments (defined as ‘guitar-sized or smaller’) in the cabin as second carry-on baggage.”