Not everybody is comfortable with throwing a precious painting into the luggage compartment of an airplane. If an art piece is tossed in with other checked luggage, it could possibly get damaged. Don’t take a chance. Carry the painting on the plane and store it yourself. Since it is not on the TSA’s list of prohibited travel items, you can carry a painting onto a plane as long as it meets a few requirements. There are size restrictions for carry-on items in air travel, so you can only take small paintings on the plane.
Measure the dimensions of the painting with a measuring tape and record the measurements.
Verify with Airline
Go to the website for the airline on which you are flying and review the carry-on luggage size limitations. Airlines restrict passengers from carrying large items on a plane. Each airline has different size restrictions, but the rule of thumb is that carry-on items can’t be more than 22 inches tall, 14 inches wide and 9 inches deep. If the painting is larger than the restricted dimensions, you won’t be allowed to carry it on the plane.
Package for size requirements
Package the painting in a box that meets the carry-on size requirements for the airline. Put foam, bubblewrap, or cloth inserts on the face of the painting to keep it from getting scratched during the flight. If you are able, weigh the full package at home to ensure you won’t be paying any surprise carry-on baggage fees for weight.
Arrive at the airport at least two hours before your flight is scheduled to leave. Get in line and check bags that you won’t be carrying on the plane. Once your bags are checked, take your painting to the security checkpoint.
X-Ray will not damage
X-ray the painting and walk through the metal detector. An X-ray machine won’t damage the painting. When you’re done with the security check, head to the gate from which your flight is leaving. Hand your ticket to the employee at the counter by the gate, wait for the plane to arrive, and then board the plane when you are told by an airport employee.
Ask attendant where you should store
Ask a flight attendant where you should store your painting. Each airline has different rules for storing carry-on items. Oftentimes, you store your painting in the overhead bin above the seats, but if the painting is small enough, you may be able to fit it underneath the seat for easy access.
Art Handling Services
For large, valuable or breakable artwork, consider shipping it to your destination via an art handling service. These services have trained personnel and the equipment to properly package and transport the art safely, whether to a home, museum or gallery. Regular shipping companies may also provide artwork shipping services, although they may not be as adept at the proper handling of the artwork. Art handling services are typically more expensive than general shipping companies or traveling with the artwork yourself, but for valuable pieces the expense may be well worth it.
Packaging needs vary depending on the medium of the artwork you are traveling with. In general, a plywood crate works well for large canvases and three-dimensional works, such as statues. A shipping crate custom-sized to the artwork ensures it doesn't move or shift during transit. Use only archival, acid-free packing paper and materials, because materials containing acid may cause degradation of the artwork. Bubble wrap, foam packing inserts and packing tissue should fill all open spaces within the packing crate. These materials provide cushioning and protection so the artwork doesn't shift during travel. Include instructions for unpacking the artwork.
Whether you ship your artwork or travel with it via plane, car or train, it's advisable to properly insure the art. The methods for insuring depend on the traveling method. Purchasing travel insurance yourself is necessary if you are traveling with the artwork. For shipped artwork, the shipping company likely provides insurance or supplies an insurance option. Take pictures of the artwork so you can document any damage that might occur.
If you are an artist traveling with other art supplies, be sure to check the airport security rules before flying. Acrylic and watercolor paints will be subject to liquid rules in your carry-on bag, and oil paints will be banned as a flammable item, even in checked baggage. Other art materials such as solvents, thinners, palette knives and certain aerosols might also qualify as prohibited items, so make sure to do your own research on the official Transportation Security administration website (tsa.gov).