How To Take A Guitar Onto An Airplane Without Losing Your Mind

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Guitar-at-an-AirportBreath deep. Pray. Sweat. Cross Your Fingers. Try to forget about it. Get to the front of the line when they call for children and pregnant women to board. Keep your head down. Act casual. Act like you own the place. Act like a tourist. Pretend you have no idea what they’re talking about. Fake an incomprehensible accent. Shrug your shoulders…

I had to fly to New York from San Francisco. I was nervous. Not because I was afraid of flying, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to bring my guitar on the plane. I had done it many times before, but since 9/11 it had become a real gamble.

Aerial view of New York City and Empire State Building

Aerial view of New York City and Empire State Building

I was playing in a show. Actually, I was making a guest appearance in a friend of mine’s first gig with his new band. It was all very exciting. We had written a batch of songs together and then he moved to New York. New York City!

I had packed a miniature amplifier (the ZT Lunchbox amp) in my luggage and was carrying my Gibson Les Paul Studio in a hard shell case, which is probably the heaviest guitar ever made. I was paranoid about what I would sound like so I took every precaution. Renting an amp there would be too much of a hassle. These new mini amps had just come out so I figured what the heck.

My experience flying with a guitar pre-9/11 had been very casual. I just showed up and put it in the overhead storage. I remember my only anxiety at the time being that there wouldn’t be any room for it near my seat—not that I might have to check it and watch it be flung around for fun by the baggage handlers on the tarmac. We’ve all seen the video, or videos. And heard the stories.

This time was very easy. I strolled onto the plane and the flight attendant was happy to stow my guitar in the first class closet. Great! Problem solved. I could relax, although I was still anxious that my amp would set off alarms in the baggage area and be sent to Washington DC for inspection. I imagined it showing up in pieces, weeks later, back in San Francisco. Hand delivered by a Homeland Security truck.

World Trsade Center construction imageLucky for me, in all my time travelling with an instrument nothing bad has happened (knock on mahogany – yes, my Gibson is solid mahogany…), and it didn’t happen this time. The only thing bad that happened is that I was locked out of my friends Brooklyn apartment after the show because I got home at 3am and didn’t have a key. So I hopped back on the subway with my heavy guitar and went to the 9/11 site which was just a big hole in the ground at that time. Very eerie. I walked around until the sun came up, went back to Brooklyn, and then caught my plane a few hours later.

The crazy thing is there is no rhyme or reason with the airlines. Their policy seems to be “whatever mood we’re in”. On the flight back they made me check my instrument with the baby strollers which means it’s there waiting when you get off the plane. The problem is someone could easily walk off with it. But who would do that? Everyone’s getting off a plane—they’re probably not thinking about stealing. I didn’t argue with the flight attendant because my pre-performance anxiety was gone. Besides, I had just carried my guitar all over Manhattan and the New York subway and was pretty sure it could take a few hours in the cargo bay. I think I did loosen the strings which I’ve heard is good to do when taking a guitar on an airplane.

This post was inspired by an article I saw on Facebook about new airline regulations taking effect in the EU that will make it easier for musicians to carry small instruments onboard. The United States, however, is dragging its heels! Congress told the FAA that they had to change the rules in 2012, and had two years to do it. But as of yet, nothing has been done. Thank you America.

Here’s a petition you can sign if you’d like to help win this fight.