Flying with an instrument is something that many musicians have to do in order to play shows and earn a living, but when you fly with an instrument, it's always possible that your instrument could be damaged.
That happened to a musician flying from Brazil to Israel in early January when their 17th century Viola Da Gamba, worth more than $200,000, was reportedly damaged in an Alitalia flight.
In the United States, there are rules that were put in place in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 to try to protect musical instruments. Those rules are posted at the bottom of this article.
Dave Pomeroy, president of the Nashville Musicians Association, was one of the many who helped put the rules together.
"If their instrument fits in the overhead bin and they get on the plane early enough to where there is space in the overhead bin to put that instrument, they cannot be denied that right," Pomeroy explained of the rule.
Pomeroy has heard of numerous horror stories of instruments being damaged in flights, both in the cargo and when the instrument is placed in the overhead bins, and he said when he and others explained the issue to lawmakers, they were very understanding.
"Musicians are business travelers, they just have funny looking briefcases, and that kind of resonated with them a little bit," Pomeroy said.
Regardless of the rules that are in place to help protect instruments, Pomeroy said it's on the musicians to do their homework, like finding out which plane they're flying on to see what accommodations are available.
"If you search the model number of the plane, it will tell you what the size of the bins are," Pomeroy explained.
Even if you take all of the steps outlined and get your instrument stowed, accidents can happen.
At Carter Vintage Guitars, they receive numerous guitars each year that are damaged during flights.
Most recently, they received a guitar from country music star Chase Bryant. The guitar was placed safely in an overhead bin, but it was later damaged when a flight attendant forced a bag on top of the guitar, causing a crack and lifting the top of the guitar from the binding.
Walter Carter said there's no fool-proof way to protect an instrument while traveling, but having the right case can help.
Carter Vintage sells numerous cases, and they said two of the best for travel are Calton cases and Hoffee cases.
"Usually you're more likely to be able to find a spot for it in the cabin if it's in a gig bag, but then the risk is higher," Carter said.
The highlights of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 are below, or you can read the full text of the act by following this link.
(a) In General.—
1. Small instruments as carry-on baggage.—An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage, if—
- (A) the instrument can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin or under a passenger seat, in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator; and
- (B) there is space for such stowage at the time the passenger boards the aircraft.
2. Larger instruments as carry-on baggage.—An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a musical instrument that is too large to meet the requirements of paragraph (1) in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to the cost of the additional ticket described in subparagraph (E), if—
- (A) the instrument is contained in a case or covered so as to avoid injury to other passengers;
- (B) the weight of the instrument, including the case or covering, does not exceed 165 pounds or the applicable weight restrictions for the aircraft;
- (C) the instrument can be stowed in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator;
- (D) neither the instrument nor the case contains any object not otherwise permitted to be carried in an aircraft cabin because of a law or regulation of the United States; and
(E) the passenger wishing to carry the instrument in the aircraft cabin has purchased an additional seat to accommodate the instrument.
3. Large instruments as checked baggage.—An air carrier shall transport as baggage a musical instrument that is the property of a passenger traveling in air transportation that may not be carried in the aircraft cabin if—
- (A) the sum of the length, width, and height measured in inches of the outside linear dimensions of the instrument (including the case) does not exceed 150 inches or the applicable size restrictions for the aircraft;
- (B) the weight of the instrument does not exceed 165 pounds or the applicable weight restrictions for the aircraft; and
- (C) the instrument can be stowed in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator.