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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.

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Comment by William Shannonhouse on September 13, 2010 at 11:44am
OK, man, tell us first of all why you are transporting a precious Taylor in a gig bag & not a hard shell case, when you know you are not going to be able to carry that sucker on. Are you getting paid to creat horror stories PLUS having your instrument replaced? (Obviously I have not read the article & cannot imagine why a gig bag would be better than hardshell when getting tossed around by glorified chimpanzees)
Comment by ROB ENGLISH on September 10, 2010 at 8:34am
Well I have always had good experiences while flying with guitars however I have had one experience with customs I will always wonder about, I checked a D35 Martin twelve string at narita airport in tokyo this was in 2003 when I got it upon arrival at Dulles it had obviously been inspected this particular model had a sloted head and martin had run out of tuners so they hired a nice German man who machined some up for martin and the plates were engraved much like you see on Rifles or presentation type Pistols ornate however the gears were quite small probably to save space on the headstock when I got the guitar back one of the gears was missing on the third string they had all been loosened I think maybe they were checking to see if anything was in the ferules or tuning posts who knows however I have not been able to replace that gear and will have to replace the whole set to get it right probably with waverlys I called Martin they told me a limited number of these tuners were made out of factory by hand they looked around parts bins to see if they had extras No joy as this was I think late sixties early seventies vintage I looked in every nook and cranny of the case thinking it may have dislodged and fallen into a corner or recess in the case and I suppose I will eventualy dismantle the case and keep looking as I can not think of any reason why one single gear would go missing
Comment by Joe Davis on September 9, 2010 at 7:37am
I recently flew from Costa Rica to San Antonio and back with my Martin D35 in a gig bag. I had read the article in Acoustic Guitar Magazine about flying with your ax and I followed the guys advice to the letter and I walked right on and off with my honey in my arms at every connection.
Comment by maxships on September 7, 2010 at 10:33pm
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Comment by juan juan on August 7, 2010 at 2:16pm
Comment by Will Katz on July 25, 2010 at 8:31am
I just traveled to a small town near Sevilla, Spain with guitar. There is a HUGE difference between the way the guitar is viewed and valued in the Spanish culture as compared with here in the U.S. Even if I had wanted to check my instrument, there is no way they would have let me! Every person I met or dealt with in Spain had amazing reverence for "La Dama".
Comment by Carlos Montoya on July 19, 2010 at 11:02am
i never fly with my guitar. i use my sisters broomstick
Comment by Norman LeDonne on July 11, 2010 at 5:06pm
That's really encouraging. I'm traveling this week wtih my harp guitar. On my last trip, I think the baggage handlers wanted to see if my case would bounce from the plane. It didn't at least not very well. My guitar was fine, though I almost threw up when I saw the case. A new case later, I'm hoping things go better.
Comment by Anton Emery on July 2, 2010 at 10:00am
Great article, i did not know about the gig bag strategy. Reading it now. I have had good luck with my Case Extreme. I just check it and my guitar has been ok so far. It is super bulky though, probably to big for some car trunks even.

Comment by Lance Binkley on June 23, 2010 at 12:35pm
Joe -- I had not heard about removing strings either. As you know, there are conflicting theories about not having tension on the neck. I understand the affect of physical wear and sweat and oil on strings; it is hard to fathom how the length of the trip, change in altitude/environment cd wear them out? I just loosen/'down-tune' the strings. Richard -- impressive to see you play Classical Gas on the cement block guitar. Sweet. Added to my Youtube favorites list. Yep, Carlton cases are the way to go if you have to let guitar go with baggage.

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