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Need some help here. My 16 yr. old son will be traveling soon and wants to take his new Ovation with him. I've done a little looking around and am not encouraged by what I'm finding. It seems that checking the guitar is a very risky choice and trying to carry it on you are at the mercy of the flight attendents, with a great possibility of it still ending up in the cargo hold. Does anyone have any advise or recent experience to share?

Tags: flying with a guitar

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the airlines have chilled a bit about carrying on guitars but it's still a crap shoot; rule number one - it needs to be in a good hard shell case in case he HAS to check it.

That being said there are a few things you can do. some airlines are more cooperative than others. i've never been stopped on AirTrans and Delta worked out a carry on agreement with the musicians union.

if your son has luggage to check, he should use curbside check-in. the ticket counter people are generally rule freaks and if they see the guitar he will be told he can't carry it on even if he really can. so rule two is avoid the ticket counter people.

your son should not attempt to carry the guitar AND a carry-on bag. i go through with the guitar and a fanny pack. if a backpack must be used as a carry on do not stuff it full. he needs to reduce his footprint to as little as possible - that rule three.

It helps to be familiar with planes - what the airlines call 'equipment.' the guitar fits in the overhead of all Boeing 700 series jets and some MD-80s. your son needs to choose a set in the REAR of the plane so he can board early before the overheads fill up. flight attendants want the plane to load smoothly and he will not gain any favors if he is clogging up the aisles trying to rearrange the overhead. that's rule four.

and rule five is to be extremely polite and gently insistent that it really fits and would they please let you try.

all those rules may add up to zip. there are some planes, commuter flights typically, where there really is no room. some planes let you take the guitar right to the loading stairway where they give you a gate check tag and you place it on a cart; it is loaded into the plane along with a lot of other carry-ons that simply will not fit. you claim those at other gate. other variations of gate checking is to surrender at the gate and pick up when deplanning and surrender at the gate and pick up in baggage claim. sometimes baggage claim means the guitar goes on a conveyer belt (ugh!) and sometimes it will be hand carried to the special handling reclaim area.

i hope your son and his guitar travel safely!
hmmm. a number of typos in my reply that i can't seem to edit even though the page says i can. oh well...
Thanks! It sounds like things haven't changed much since the 2001-2004 posted discussions that I read recently. I appreciate your input.
Diedre's Response is right on. I purchased a travel case 3 years ago for my Martin, a Case Extreme, when I flew to a musci camp in Maine, and it can't be beat, but, it does take a bit more space. However, my instrument IS worth it!
(see Good luck.

Rick in Monana
Since I am not a professional gigging musician, I travel with a Seagull S6 that I bought used. It had been broken before and was repaired, and I got it for about 25% of what it costs new. It is not much of a looker, but it sounds and feels great. I always try to carry on, but if I am forced to gate check, at least if it gets broken I am not out a bunch of money. I use one of Seagull's TRIC cases, which is sturdy but still lightweight and of a size that it can be squeezed into most overhead bins. So a decent used guitar without a lot of investment and with no sentimental attachment is my choice for air travel.
This link may be of interest from Taylor Guitars Bob Taylor
Deidre covered all the bases. I always travel with at least a travel guitar and frequently a full sized guitar. I've only had to gate check 2 or 3 times and that was because it wouldn't fit in the overheads of smaller planes. I have no problem gate checking my guitar. It's mostly the rough treatment baggage gets in the bowels of the airports that are the danger points. No witnesses. Just use a hard shell case and gate check if necessary. My $0.02.
(Sidebar) This doesn't answer the original question, but it's certainly relevant and entertaining - for anybody who hasn't heard of and/or seen this video:

United Breaks Guitars (Sons of Maxwell)

It's received a ton of media attention, and ironically turned into great publicity for the band.
did you see the response from taylor 2 comments up?
And in the same spirit: "Hitler finds out that United breaks guitars:"
I have 2 fears about checking a guitar; one is the rough handling, as mentioned here. The other is that at 30,000 feet the temperature and humidity in the cargo hold would be extremely adverse to a guitar being there.

My former instructor has to fly to Spain not infrequently for performances, and his guitars (e.g., a $20,000 Fleta) are so expensive, that he literally buys them a seat on the plane. Of course, this is not rational for a less expensive guitar, but I just thought I would throw that out here.
If a guitar is housed in a good case, temperature and humidity are not so much the issue, as rapid changes in temperature and humidity. That's really what accounts for the crazing and checking of the finish of guitar. On the structural damage front, the typical "airline break" is the headstock having snapped off. The headstock of a steel-string guitar is very often a solid block of wood with six or more large metal machines attached to it. That is some serious potential energy! And unless the headstock is immobilized in the case -- either with a T-shirt or a towel or foam or whatever -- the inertia inherent in that mass can actually whiplash inside the case and break the headstock right off. This sort of break used to be particularly mysterious in the days when one could actually lock their guitar cases before checking them through luggage. But nowadays, getting a guitar case on board with you in the passenger compartment is actually not so difficult at all. My humble suggestion is that whatever you do, do not check your guitar as luggage. At least transport it yourself through security and down to the gate. Even if you have to surrender your guitar at the jetway, you will have kept it off heaven knows how many conveyor belts and trolleys and out of the hands of that many more over-caffeinated luggage handlers.

On the very first tour The Waybacks ever did, I got a much clearer view of what goes on behind the ticket counter than I have ever wanted. As we checked in, one of our guitars was put on the conveyor belt, and for whatever reason the usual rubber slatted curtains were not in place as the guitar moved out of the public area into the luggage area. We watched in horror as an enormous metal rod, thick around as your forearm, with a metal ball at the end of it as big as your fist whacked that case onto the appropriate conveyor belt for our flight. The impact was enormous. A truly frightful wake-up call that none of us ever forgot.

And Mark, is your former instructors still allowed to purchase a seat for his guitar? I've never done that, myself, but have heard that most airlines consider this a great safety risk to other passengers ... just curious.


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