Airline flight guitar horror stories are legion, so I thought I'd tell one with a happy ending.
I recently flew from San Francisco to Washington, DC on Virgin America -- yes, the airline with cocktail lounge lighting on its planes, which can be a bit disconcerting at 8:00 am. After a warm greeting from the gate attendant, who blithely waved me on board with two carry-ons, I was asked by a flight attendant to gate check my gig bag, in which reposed my Taylor 612 Kathy Mattea signature guitar (maple, black, cutaway). I readily consented (don't tell Chris Smither, please) and enjoyed a pretty easy flight. At Dulles, however, things became complicated. The gate agent refused to hand over the guitar; the flimsy bag tag had somehow been dislodged, and he maintained that Patriot Act provisions prevent the airline from releasing any item without a bag tag.
I panicked. But not for too long. First, the plane's captain, Marc Hawkins, who had witnessed the initial gate check, offered to accompany me to baggage claim and bear witness as to the facts of the case. After an anxious 10 minutes between the gate and baggage claim, we met Tucker White, Virgin's Station Supervisor at Dulles, who turned out to be a guitar player himself. Lo and behold, his staff have standing orders to walk anything fragile from the gate.
I was reunited with the guitar, in good order and still in tune.
Thank you, Marc, and thank you, Tucker. I only wish you'd worked for UPS the last time I had to ship that instrument ... but that's a whole other horror story.