Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Traveling with a Guitar - Part One

Few things strike fear and panic into the hearts of guitarists everywhere than the thought of checking your guitar as baggage at an airport.  Whether you're making a 6 connection flight to Istanbul or a non-stop to the coast, little can relieve that sinking feeling that you will never see your fretted friend again.  A little cunning and a little sugar can get you far towards carrying on your precious cargo (or guitargo, sorry).  Fortunately I've had great luck and I'd like to share my tips with you here.

In the mid-nineties I received a call to do some work that required me to travel quite a bit (about 12 roundtrips a year) and I really needed to have both an acoustic and an electric guitar with me.  This is not something I would attempt anymore, but the axioms apply to carrying on one guitar today.  

My dilemma at the time was how could I get two guitars with me on the plane at the same time?  A Taylor acoustic in a hard case (though not a flight case) and a G&L electric in a soft gig bag.  Calls to the airlines only heightened my anxiety as I was repeatedly told that I would have to check them. 

Tip One - Minimize your exposure to airline personnel.  

Most every time I was able to get both guitars in the overhead bin over my seat.  The soft case on top of the hard case.  Rarely did I fly on a DC-10, MD-11, 727, 737, 747, 757, 767 or Airbus that didn't have room.  Though you can't always count one type of airplane to have same overhead bin configuration every time.  I would occasionally run into a bin with a divider, but it wasn't a solid divider, and the hard cases neck could fit through it easily first then the body of the case could be placed in afterwards.  Also there were time when I thought the case was too big as the door wouldn't close, but a helpful flight attendant showed me how placing a pillow under the body of the case would lift it just enough so the curvature of the bin's lid would accommodate the case and close.

Tip Two - Be early. This may seem obvious, but it really does help to keep your options open.

Tip Three - Check you and your suitcase in at the curb not inside at checking.  Typically the curbside guys are not airline employees and could care less what you walk into the airport with.  The person behind the counter is an airline employee and will make every effort to convince you to check your bag here.

If you have any flying with guitars stories or tips feel free to post them in the comments.


  1. I have flown with my nylon yamaha one time. Funny thing is that I instinctively followed all of your tips (and this was years ago!) I checked my regular bags at the curb and already had my boarding pass printed up so I could just do the scanner thing. Then when in the terminal I avoided all airline personnel until boarding time, at which point I headed right to the front of the line (lucky I chose a rear-of-the-plane seat) Walked right onto the plane and put up my guitar, sat down, and breathed the biggest sigh of relief in my entire life!
    Super special guitar for me. My grandpa gave it to my dad, my dad MADE me learn how to play before giving it to me. I recently looked it up online and laughed when I saw it was worth about $50! Doesn't matter, though, it's priceless for me!! Keep up the blogging, I am loving this. FREE LESSONS!! You rock Tom!

  2. Great story Wade, thanks for sharing. I'm going to talk about cheap guitars soon.