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Some Musicians Forced To Check Instruments When Flying

Posted at 6:59 PM, Nov 13, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There's a reason they call this Music City. Nashville, of course, is home to some of the world's best musicians.

But NewsChannel 5 Investigates has discovered these musicians are running into all sorts of trouble at airports with their instruments, and it's all a question of whether they can carry them on the plane or not.

Musicians said they are often forced to check their instruments when they fly, even though as we discovered President Obama signed a law giving them the right to carry them on.

It's not hard to find music in Music City or musicians with horror stories of flying with their instruments.

The Gin Blossoms' guitarist Scott Johnson said one of his guitars was severely damaged when he had to check it.

"I have learned you can't bring the expensive ones," Johnson shared.

And the same thing has happened to Tim McGraw's guitar tech, John Prestia.

"I've had guitars lost on the airlines. I've had necks broken on the airlines," he explained.

And when NewsChannel 5 Investigates met the rock group Framing Hanley at the airport, singer Kenneth Nixon told us, "Yeah, I've had a guitar broken from an airline before. And they just give you a [shrugs], one of those."

The band had just gotten back from a tour, but discovered many of their guitars had not.

"Yeah, we're missing like five.”

And then there's Dave Carroll's parody, "United Breaks Guitars," about his frustrating experience with United Airlines which has been viewed more than 14-million times on YouTube.

Professional musicians, like Dan Tracey with the Alan Parsons Project, would much rather carry on their instruments, but not all airlines or flight attendants will allow it. Just last month, he took a photo showing several empty overhead bins on his flight, yet the crew insisted he check his guitar.

And, after landing, he found his guitar was damaged.

"It's about a four inch crack that's across there," Tracey showed NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Tracey thought there was a supposed to be a law to keep this from happening. And there is -- sort of.

Nearly three years ago, President Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and section 403 of the law said airlines must allow passengers to carry on violins, guitars and other musical instruments if they fit under a seat or in a bin and there's space when the passenger boards.

But there was a catch. The law gave the FAA two years to come up with guidelines for the airlines. But those two years came and went and nothing.

Now here we are nearly three years later, and the law still hasn't taken effect.

"I think a lot of musicians are going to be really surprised to hear about this and really angry to hear about this," Tracey said after just learning himself that the law had still not officially been enacted.

Dave Pomeroy, President of the Nashville Musicians Association, lobbied hard for years to get the law on the books.

“We saw the passage of the law as a great step forward," Pomeroy explained.

He added that he was shocked to learn earlier this year that the federal agency hadn't even started work on the regulations.

"We immediately went to the FAA and all of the responsible parties and said what is going on? What are you going to do about this," Pomeroy described.

He's since made two trips to Washington, while Senator Lamar Alexander and Congressman Jim Cooper sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx demanding action. Yet professional musicians are still waiting.

"Your livelihood is put in danger and it's unacceptable," Pomeroy told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Just like what happened to Del McCoury's classic 1956 Martin.

"This guitar was bought by my mother as a gift to my father in 1966 and he's played this guitar for the majority of his career," son Rob McCoury shared.

The younger McCoury, who plays banjo with the Del McCoury Band, said his father's instrument was apparently run over by a baggage cart after he'd dad checked it and the neck snapped in two.

Rob McCoury's had his own banjo and guitars damaged on flights and is as frustrated as anyone.

"We need to do our job and to do our job, we need our instruments," he said.

That's why Nashville musicians said the FAA needs to do its job.

"If you could carry them on, we wouldn't have this problem," McCoury stated.

Late Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Transportation Secretary's Office told NewsChannel 5 Investigates they plan to issue a final rule by the end of this year, making it official that passengers will be able to carry their instruments on with them on all U.S. air carriers.

Congressman Jim Cooper said in response, "The rule can't come soon enough. Every day wasted puts another instrument at risk."