In 2003, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the American Federation of Musicians reached an agreement allowing airlines to treat guitars not only as checked baggage but also as carry-on items. Even so, flying with a guitar still poses a number of complications and risks for traveling musicians. Utilize some simple strategies to avoid problematic scenarios.
Policies and Measurements
The TSA recommends checking with airlines before booking flights to find out carriers' exact policies regarding instruments. Figure out your guitar's size, including the case, in linear inches. You can do this by taking the sum of your case's length, width and height dimensions, according to Taylor Guitars. So, for instance, a guitar case 20 inches long, 15 inches wide and 10 inches high would have a total size of 45 linear inches. Print out a copy of the airline's policy to take with you to the airport on the day of travel. This way you have proof of the facts if there is any hassle over your guitar's dimensions.
Guitars as Carry-Ons
TSA guidelines stipulate passengers may bring only one musical instrument as a carry-on. Be prepared to have your guitar and its case inspected by airport security. When booking, speak to an airlines representative when booking to make sure your particular aircraft has enough room in its overhead bins for the dimensions of your guitar case. Flight attendants may force you to check the guitar in the hold if you don't get confirmation to bring it on board when arranging your flight.
Guitars as Checked Baggage
You can always check your guitar as a baggage item, but this also puts your instrument at extra risk of damage and theft. Acoustic Guitar Magazine writer Kristina Rose suggests musicians check their guitars in baggage only if they are prepared to lose them. That does not mean you will necessarily lose your guitar, but you do have to be careful when it comes to rough treatment by luggage handlers and opportunistic thievery at the baggage claim carousel. Always pack your guitar in a sturdy case and head directly to baggage claim after your flight lands to make sure you can grab your guitar off the conveyor belt before anybody else does.
Gig Bags and Flight Cases
Ted Drozdowski of Gibson Guitars recommends purchasing a high-density foam reinforced gig bag with rigid panels if you plan on bringing your guitar as a carry-on. Features such as a backpack strap on the gig bag will also make carrying the guitar easier. Drozdowski also warns travelers not to use a gig bag when checking a guitar as baggage. Rather, passengers should invest in a heavy-duty flight case such as the steel-framed and reinforced cases sold by the Air Transportation Association. Budget bags and cases tend to offer far less protection than expensive gear, and it can be worth the extra cash to have your guitar arrive in one piece.
Acoustic Guitar Magazine recommends loosening the strings on the guitar, as shifts in air pressure at altitude can cause the headstocks and strings of tightly wound guitars to snap. You should also put some additional padding around the peghead. The peghead ranks as the most commonly damaged part of checked guitars, so stuffing extra padding around it is imperative.