International Flights with Instruments

October 7, 2009 1:24 AM

International Flights with Acoustic Instruments: I"m flying from UK to Australia on Cathay Pacific (Economy) and need to take an Acoustic Guitar. Whats the deal?

The guitar has a hard black plastic case. I guess I want to know:
a) do I just put the guitar in the hold
b) will it cost me extra to take the guitar
c) do I need to do anything to the guitar before hand.

Any advice?
posted by mary8nne (16 comments total)

I'd be really wary of checking the guitar with regular luggage. They throw that luggage. You can call ahead and ask if you can bring it on the plane with you, if it fits in the overhead. But I've heard of people getting to the flight check-in and then not being allowed to bring it on, so I guess it's up to the discretion of the airline person. If the flight isn't so crowded it shouldn't be a problem, they can even put it up front where they put all the strollers that people bring on.
If you absolutely have to check it, pack it in towels so it can't move around inside the (hopefully sturdy) case. And wrap the case in duct tape. This may all be for naught if they decide to open it up at security *shudder*.

Speaking of security, in 1996 I was returning from India, flying from Madras airport to London and had my old acoustic with me, in a beat-up cardboard case that I had secured tightly closed with several layers of duct tape. The security checkpoint at this airport was insane, like somebody's old trashed basement. The power kept going off so the ancient x-ray machine didn't work and all the lights were off. The guy wanted to open up my guitar to look inside but I moaned about it being taped up and how I'd never get it closed again and he didn't really understand me so he just waved me through. I spent that flight imagining all the different ways I could be blown up, after experiencing such stringent security procedures.
I guess things would be a bit different now. I'd hope so, anyway.
posted by chococat at 8:10 AM on October 7, 2009

I ran across a couple of good articles about flying with instruments a few months back. Not sure how they apply in other countries (especially the TSA article), but it should give you some good ideas about what will and won't be kosher.

TSA - Transporting Musical Instruments

Musician Wages - Airline Travel with Musical Instruments
posted by man vs sun at 10:04 AM on October 7, 2009

I have this acoustic guitar that has carved figures on the sides. I did the carvings and I love that guitar, so I have always been very reluctant to check it. What I've found is that if I just show the guitar to the person at the counter and say: "look at it, there's no way the airline can pay it back if they break it", they'll tell me to take it as carry on luggage and to ask someone from the crew to stash it where they keep their own things.

Even without a guitar like that, I think if you just say "I've done it a lot of times before, please just let me take it with me and I'll give it to someone in the crew", they'll let you.
posted by micayetoca at 10:33 AM on October 7, 2009

man vs sun's second article rings pretty true with my experiences. As micayetoca says above, be cool like it's business as usual.

The only time I thought I would have trouble was once on a tiny commuter flight. There were very few passengers though so they let me stow my guitar right in the aisle.

Good luck and check back in to share your experience.
posted by snsranch at 4:27 PM on October 7, 2009

Just any old hard-shell case won't cut it. You need an ATA case that's insured. Unless you're willing to take the chance that the airline will hear your pleas to bring it into the cabin and say "Nope, ain't gonna happen" and hope your guitar case gets treated gently by the throwers.

I know SKB insures their ATA flight cases, and I believe Anvil does as well -- google for limits, though.
posted by chimaera at 4:57 PM on October 7, 2009

the times are changing, the airlines are charging for luggage beyond a certain weight/size, please check in with yours, they may force you to check it just so they can hit you up for $50.
posted by kimyo at 9:01 PM on October 7, 2009

I have flown with three different guitars, on three different flights.

Flight 1 - Melbourne to Hong Kong, QANTAS.
I checked the guitar in, in the OHSC, and QANTAS staff put it in a special luggage cage called "Fragile". In Hong Kong I picked up the guitar from the special luggage desk - it was in perfect condition.

Flight 2 - Melbourne to Hong Kong, Cathay
I carried the guitar, in its OHSC, on to the plane with me and stowed in an overhead compartment (after checking with counter staff that I could do that). No problems.

Flight 3 - Tokyo to Hong Kong, Cathay
I carried the guitar, in its OHSC, on to the plane with me and stowed in an overhead compartment (after checking with counter staff that I could do that). No problems.
posted by awfurby at 5:12 AM on October 8, 2009

Oh yeah, slacken the strings on the guitar before you board the plane.
posted by awfurby at 5:15 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recently flew Bankok - Rome - Boston with a guitar in a cheap cardboard case, and was able to stow it in overhead on both flights, no charge. I was flying El Italia and American I think. Like everyone else has said, the airline personnel (ticketing agents, gate attendants, etc.) are your friends in this case, and if you ask nicely you should be able to get your guitar on board.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 8:06 AM on October 8, 2009

I've travelled with guitar and banjo across the Atlantic, and with both instruments I brought them onto the plane, and asked if it could be stowed somewhere safe. British Airways was really accomodating, and had it in the cockpit.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:05 PM on October 9, 2009

Oh yeah, slacken the strings on the guitar before you board the plane.
posted by awfurby \

Dunno if this is urban myth or not, but easier to retune a guitar than to glue the neck back on.
posted by robotot at 1:59 AM on October 10, 2009

Thanks for the tips. The case is one of those SKB style plastic shell cases. I'll call teh airline I guess before my flight and ask abotu their policy on musical instruments.

Its not exactly a 'budget airline' flight so I expect slightly better treatment than I can imagine yo'd get on Ryanair / Easyjet etc..
posted by mary8nne at 7:10 AM on October 11, 2009

I can't believe no-one made a joke about flying on instruments....
posted by awfurby at 2:55 AM on October 12, 2009

I've flown many times with a guitar in a hard-shell case (standard Ovation case), and although the case itself is shattered in many places, the guitar seems to be fine. On the other hand, a guitar that was in one of those light-weight cases (moulded polystyrene in a cloth bag), got slightly cracked. That was between London and Argentina (London => Madrid => Santiago => Mendoza), so it's difficult to say exactly where the problem occured.

Most of the other journeys were between London and Europe (Kiel, Barcelona, Madrid), with several trips to Argentina as well. Almost always I wasn't offered the opportunity to take the guitar onto the plane and had to deposit it at fragile-and-oversize.

I'm assuming eventually my luck will run out, but, touch wood...

On the other hand I've known of several guitars being stolen from their cases in transit, and I would recommend sealing the case with gaffer tape - place it over the latches, wrap it around several times where the lock is. It won't keep out the determined thief, of course (even gaffer tape isn't magical!) but it would add enough time to opening the case to deter the casual thief.
posted by Grangousier at 3:17 AM on October 12, 2009

> Grangousier:
do you mean you 'checked' the guitar in the case? in the hold or was it Carry on?
posted by mary8nne at 4:27 AM on October 14, 2009

Oh, in the hold every time (except a couple of London-Barcelona flights). Until relatively recently I wasn't given the option, and gave up arguing after a while. There's a strange hole in airlines' policy regarding musical instruments: they seem to be treated as sporting equipment, and carried with the oversize and fragile stuff, but it's not mentioned anywhere in the literature. Just wanted to add the data point that I've done it more times than I can count and have a slightly wrecked case but healthy guitar. So it is possible. I'm sure if you can carry it in the cabin, it will be safer, but if that's not possible (and as long as it's in a nice strong case), don't feel that putting it in the hold is akin to setting fire to it.

I know that BA, at least, will be changing their policy in the New Year sometime, but that regards charging (at the moment it's inclusive) rather than what they do with the luggage when they have it.

The slightly cracked guitar was with Iberia trans-atlantic; most of the others British Airways or Lufthansa. Quite a few RyanAir flights, but that was about five years ago.
posted by Grangousier at 5:32 AM on October 14, 2009

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