Flying with a Musical Instrument: And Another Thing…

Our recent article about flying with a musical instrument drew a lot of responses and some great added advice from our ever-resourceful readers. While the initial list was limited to seven tips in order to focus solely upon the key points, here are a few more things that are good to know when preparing for a flight.

Airliner Landing

Thing 1: Oils, greases, and sprays belong in a bag

If your instrument requires liquids or semi-liquids to operate, those items must be in a clear plastic bag…just like your shampoo and toothpaste. Having your valve oil, slide or cork grease, and slide lubricants in a clear plastic bag makes life easier for those screening baggage and helps make the process go more smoothly for everyone.

Thing 2: Be ready to perform

Airport security personnel are trained to be suspicious, and that is a good thing. They may ask you to demonstrate that your instrument really is an instrument and that you really are a musician. To avoid uncomfortable moments, have something in mind that you can play “on command” to demonstrate that all really is as it seems.

Whatever you play doesn’t have to be fancy, and you shouldn’t get nervous about it. Look at it as a chance to show off that fun little piece you secretly delight in playing at the end of your practice sessions. No one expects you to be a Perlman, Marsalis, or Van Halen; just have fun with it! And once the applause dies down, put it quietly back into the case. No encores.Β  πŸ™‚

Thing 3: Sending it ahead might be a good idea

Another option for flying with your instrument is to avoid it entirely. In some cases, it makes sense to send your gear ahead via private carrier. If you absolutely must have your valuable cello or guitar with you at your destination, this provides a way to skip all worries of your baby being “bumped” to the cargo hold. Compared to the cost of buying a ticket for your larger instrument, it can also be a cost-effective alternative. (NOTE: Pack properly and purchase insurance if you choose this option…just in case.)

Thing 4: Ask the attendant to stow your instrument behind the cockpit

Most planes have a small storage closet, specifically for bulkier items, located just behind the cockpit. A kind attendant often will offer to stow your instrument there if room is still available, but don’t be afraid to ask if no one thinks to volunteer it. This is the best of both worlds: your instrument is in the cabin, but it’s safely stored out of your way for the duration of the flight.

Thing 5: In case of emergency, appeal to the Captain

The word is that the pilot has final say on what stays in the cabin and what goes. If a flight attendant insists that the instrument for which you bought a seat must now be moved to the cargo hold – and just won’t have it any other way – politely ask to speak with the Captain. No one wants to delay a flight, and pilots often are more accommodating than well-meaning, but often passenger-stressed, attendants. Give the attendant a break and plead your case with the final (flight) authority prior to taking any further steps.

Thing 6: The case must go

If the pilot says your instrument must move to cargo, there may yet be hope. More than one reader reported that they were allowed to remove their instrument from its bulky case and send the case to the cargo hold sans instrument. Wrapping their instrument in a T-shirt, jacket, or cloth bag and placing it under their seat resolved the situation to everyone’s satisfaction. (NOTE: This only works for smaller instruments, and only then if pilot/attendants agree that the carry-on/instrument doesn’t have to fit completely under the seat.)

Thing 7: Plan for the worst…but it probably won’t happen

All of the initial Top 7 Tips and these “other things” assume the worst because it pays to be prepared. In all likelihood, however, you will have a smooth and pleasant, incident-free flight…especially if you are prepared. Do your homework, and be ready with polite responses and maybe even a short selection – but don’t stress over it. The earlier advice still holds: plan well, pack well, and play well.Β  πŸ™‚

Have a comment? Please leave one below, or email us! We’d love to hear from you.

Keep playing (and flying!),


A tip of the hat goes to the following PTM readers who provided many of the above points: Jeff Helgesen, Ellis Workman, Dr. James Klages, Denny Schreffler, Ann Frederking, and Virginia “Ginger” Lawrence. Thanks to all!


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