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How can I travel to another country (by plane) and take my instruments with me?

I live in Greece and I want to go to the USA with my double and electric bass.

I found this question, but it is limited to traveling in the states.

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Can you specify better? is the problem the volume size or the fact that is fragile? –  nsn Dec 21 '13 at 21:06
    
both of them are the problem –  Shevliaskovic Dec 21 '13 at 22:04
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1 Answer

up vote 13 down vote accepted

There are no international standards for airline transport of musical instruments. Each airline has its own policy as to what it will or won't accept as checked or cabin luggage, what its dimensions are or how large or heavy it can be, how much insurance might be required, what the baggage fee would be, and so on. So unfortunately, you will need to check with every airline in your itinerary as to their policies and fees.

Bringing instruments on as hand luggage adds day-of-travel concerns as well; if the scheduled plane is swapped for a smaller one at the last minute, you may no longer be able to take it aboard, or if you arrive late at a connection and all the overhead bin and other storage space is occupied, you'd be asked to check the instrument or have to be rescheduled for a later flight. If you search around the web you will find innumerable horror stories (one incident went viral not long ago, although in fairness it could have happened on any airline). But you'll also find personal accounts like Rick McLaughlin's 2007 blog post; newspaper articles like USA Today's travel column or this 2012 Los Angeles Times article; tips from musicians' organizations such as the lists by the Associated Musicians of Greater New York; suggestions from manufacturers and retailers like Hammond Ashley violins; and independent resources like PartTimeMusician.com.

To summarize some of the common tips, consider the following:

  1. Contact each airline and explain you will be traveling with an instrument. For example, an airline might allow you to purchase an extra seat for a tuba or a bass, but may allow only one instrument per flight, which won't be obvious when you book online. For many airlines it is not possible to reserve an extra seat for a single person, meaning you will need to call and get a seat assignment anyway.

  2. Invest in a good travel case. Even though some instruments may be able to fit into standard luggage, they will generate less suspicion from security and more sympathy from gate agents and flight attendants if stored in a proper instrument case, not to mention enjoy better protection. The smallest case that will fit the instrument is advisable; while that means it has less space for tools or cleaning fluids, those are probably best packed separately anyway as they can cause security screening delays.

  3. Purchase sufficient insurance.

  4. Be prepared to purchase an extra seat for it, if it is larger than a cello and you don't want to check it. Some airlines forbid this, others require it.

  5. Be prepared and be patient. Bring printouts of each airline's musical instrument policy. Arrive early and board as early as possible to maximize your storage options. But above all be friendly and patient with all airport, security, and airline personnel; they can make any traveler's experience difficult, but passengers with special requirements are an easier target.

Within the United States, airlines are subject to federal laws on musical instrument transport requiring them to accept musical instruments as checked or carry-on luggage.

One more thing: your instrument may be able to collect frequent flyer miles, but not always, and it's become a tricky issue for airlines.


Given all of that, it may be worth considering traveling with a backup instrument instead of your favorite, to borrow or rent an instrument at your destination, or use an alternative instrument (e.g. a travel electric bass instead of your regular double bass). Of course, none of these options is a slam dunk, either.

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