Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Traveling with a Guitar - Part Three

Next stop, the gate. This is definitely not the place you want to saunter up to with a guitar (or two) acting like a prima donna.

Tip Seven - Keep a low profile.

You have two options here if you need to go up to get your boarding pass at the gate. One, have a friend (or quickly make one) watch your guitars as you wait in line to get your pass. Or two, leave your guitars somewhere you can keep an eye on them but out of the line of sight of the gate-checker-in-person. This way you can answer "no" honestly when they ask you if your bags have ever been out of your sight.

Tip Eight - Choose your seat wisely.

Now this is most important. When you call in advance to book your seating (I always forget) find out what kind of boarding they have. There are three kinds that I've experienced...

1Rear to front - this is most common. Get a seat in the back so you are the first to board when there is plenty of overhead space.

2. Cattle Call Boarding - Southwest is known for this type of boarding, this reiterates the importance of Tip Two, be early.

3. "WILMA" Boarding - This stand for Window, Middle, Aisle. As in the order in which the seats are boarded. I've only seen this on United Shuttle. It's supposed to speed up boarding and took me completely by surprise, as my normal last row aisle seat meant I was one of the last to board forcing me to check my acoustic, but that's another story.

Tip Nine - The "Switcheroo".

This next tip I'm not proud of but we are told to be "shrewd as serpents", this could maybe on a good day fall into that category. Your second to last hurdle is the person (airline employee) who takes your ticket just before you head down the skyway onto the plane. If this person was going to be on my right I would strap the electric to my back, hold the acoustic in my left hand and my ticket in my right hand.If this person was going to be on my left I would strap the electric to my back, hold the acoustic in my right hand and my ticket in my left hand.In either situation I would say something nice, witty or charming. I call the the "switcheroo".

Tip Ten - Be courteous. 

If you've gotten this far and you're on the plane, you are ripe for a bitter harvest of disappointment.  You may have forgotten the last hurdle... the flight attendants (don't call them stewardesses).  This lesson I learned the hard way, when an attendant told me my guitar would have to be check as there wouldn't be enough room on the plane for it (maybe Tip Eleven should be don't travel around the holidays).  Well I wasn't prepared for this outcome and I made a little stink saying something to the effect, "you'll never work in this town again" (which means very little at 30,000 feet).  

So when the same thing happened on a flight the very next week, I was polite and even acted happy that some businessman would be able to carry on his suitcase full of CLOTHES(!) so he could save some time by avoiding baggage claim and down one extra martini before bedtime!  Well the flight attendant came back to the 178th row to see me half way through the flight to inform me that my guitar was in the overhead bin above row 10 as they had more room then the expected.  A service that would not have been provided by someone freshly chewed out.

Also along the lines of courtesy.  When an airline gets it right and your traveling with guitars is made relatively easy or even greeted with courtesy of their own, let them know.  E-mail the airline praising them for their acts of heroism.  Okay, maybe not heroism.  Let them know you will fly their airline whenever you can and to book you on the first flight the book to the moon (lots of frequent flyer miles).

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


  1. I used to travel regularly to Denver (from Burbank) with a guitar to present jingles/commercial ideas to a large advertising client there. My first trip back from DIA, I had been assured that my checked guitar (my prized Guild Jumbo F-50 blonde, no less - what was I thinking?)would be handled with loving care by the baggage gorillas. Sitting in the lounge prior to boarding, I watching in horror as the chuckleheads literally threw my Guild in its case from baggage cart to cconveyor belt -- a distance of about 10 feet. It bounced twice, topside down. I just about went through the window to rip their heads off. I spent the two hour flight back to Burbank composing a letter to United demanding compensation for a ruined top or broken neck. Thankfully, I had loosened the strings and packed the neck with towels, etc. so there was no damage. Nevertheless, the client in Denver bought me a "travel guitar" (a beautiful walnut & Koa wood Takamine) to use from then on whenever I traveled to see them.

  2. Actually Jim you brought up several great points...

    1. Loosen strings
    2. Wrap the neck - neither of which I ever do, though sometime I will throw t-shirts and underwear in with my guitar.
    3. Have a travel guitar you don't care much about - or have a guitar waiting for you at your destination.

  3. I don't travel with my guitar much, but I do take it every year when I go to Honduras. We fly from Dallas through Houston to get there and every time, without fail for the last four years...until the trip home last summer...they make me check it at the gate with the strollers and baby car seats (they actually let me carry it on coming home last year). While not the ideal scenario, I'd say this is miles ahead of having to check it with baggage. At least you can personally hand it off and watch it get stowed.

  4. Hey Patrick, "gate check" as it is referred to in the industry is the best last resort. And by far preferred over checking at the counter with all the other baggage. On some small (read bus-like) planes, I've been able to stow it myself under the plane. Thanks!