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The Traveller's Magazine
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In a new US ruling, musicians flying with their instruments cannot be stopped from carrying them aboard. But while this may seem like music to some traveller’s ears, it’s not all that simple. Here’s how to take a musical instrument on a plane.

The new US Department of Transport ruling came into effect in March but it’s not as simple as it seems to travel with a musical instrument. The ruling says that airlines can’t refuse to carry small instruments in overhead lockers. BUT if the lockers are already full by the time the musician boards, airlines are not required to find room for these instruments in the cabin.

Some airlines charge passengers for an extra piece of carry-on. If this is the case, some musicians may see airlines try to charge them for bringing their instruments onboard if they have another piece of luggage with them.

This new ruling only applies for U.S. airlines, and include instruments the size of a violin or guitar. So while this will help if you’ve booked flights to New York, or elsewhere in the U.S., they don’t apply if you’re travelling elsewhere.

How to fly with a musical instrument:

  • The first rule for flying with a musical instrument is to check your airline’s policy, even before you book your flights. British Airways, for example, lets you carry musical instruments onboard as part of your hand baggage allowance, but not in addition to it, as long as it fits within the maximum bag dimensions.
  • Opt for priority boarding. Airlines aren’t obliged to make room for your instrument if the overhead lockers are already full. The only way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to get onboard first.
  • Travelling with a larger instrument, like a cello or drums? These’ll have to travel as checked luggage. Save money by paying for your checked luggage in advance, not at the airport.
  • Ship your luggage ahead and travel with carry-on only, ie. your instrument. It can sometimes be cheaper to mail your clothes and toiletries home or to your hotel in advance, taking only your instrument onboard. If that’s all you’re carrying on with you, airline staff are more likely to help you find room for it.
  • Try gate checking it. This is what a lot of parents do with their pushchairs and also what airlines do with larger pieces of luggage that just won’t fit in the overhead lockers. Your instrument will still be placed in the hold, but at least it won’t have travelled through all the airport conveyor belts  and carousels. Make sure you get a receipt for your gate-checked item to collect it later.
  • If your instrument is flying as checked luggage it is probably best to have it insured, as this guy found out the hard way.

Img: humblenick / Flickr cc.

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