Top Tips for Traveling with Musical Instruments

Commercial air travel can be a stressful affair on a normal trip — and that counts double when you’re bringing along your musical instrument. Between airline rules and regulations, necessary equipment, and accessories, it can seem like an overwhelming ordeal. 

The good news is there is a way to travel with your beloved instrument without undue anxiety. So, in order to get from point A to point B with your instrument in one piece, follow these simple tips for a smooth and painless travel experience. 

Booking Your Ticket

If possible, always try to book a nonstop flight. This may not be feasible but if you can, it lessens the number of times your musical instrument has to be handled by baggage handlers. Another option is booking a direct flight with stops but no plane changes for the exact same reason. 

If you are able to, you can also purchase a second seat on the plane for a large, fragile instrument (like a cello). This is usually known as “seat baggage” or “cargo in the cabin”. The instrument must be securely strapped in, typically in a window seat. Although more expensive, this is probably the safest possible way for your valued instrument to get to your destination without issue. 

This is also a good time to read up on each airlines’ baggage allowances and fees. Remember that both checked and carry-on baggage is subject to weight restrictions that may affect your ability to travel with your instrument. 

Check with the Airline

Before entering your credit card information, be sure to check with your preferred airline regarding any specific requirements they have for traveling with a musical instrument, especially if it’s oversized and needs to be stowed as cargo.

Once you’ve made your decision and booked your ticket. Be sure to notify the airline that you’ll be traveling with a musical instrument. Before calling them up, measure your instrument in its travel case so you’ll have the dimensions on hand. This ensures that you’ll be aware of the airline’s specific regulations before travel.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) adopted a new regulation (effective March 6, 2015) that has made traveling with a musical instrument a lot easier. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the steps involved in the TSA screening process of musical instruments so there are no surprises on arrival. 

Packing Tips

Whenever flying, you’re always at the mercy of baggage handlers. They’re pushed by strict deadlines and can sometimes be a little rough and hurried to meet those deadlines. The more you can do to ensure the safety of your valued instrument, the better.

Hard cases are an absolute must when packing your musical instrument for a flight. Never pack any liquids inside your hard case and liberally apply “Fragile” stickers to the outside, just in case. Make sure your instrument is labeled with your contact information too. 

Cables, chords, and accessories need to be packed with special care in a separate container. If you’re used to traveling in larger bulkier crates it may be worth investing in hard-shelled, foam-lined cases to ensure your equipment survives the flight. Although expensive, Pelican cases or similar are well worth the investment if you have to regularly travel with fragile equipment. 

Preparing to Board

If you’re carrying your instrument on board as a carry-on, it may make sense to pay a bit extra for priority boarding. You can either do this when booking your ticket or when checking in at the airport. With priority boarding, you can take as much time as you need to stow your instrument properly and safely, with the maximum amount of space required. 

Give Yourself the Gift of Time

Make sure to arrive at the airport early and with plenty of time to dodge any check-in or baggage screening mishaps. Keep in mind that the size of overhead bins varies substantially from one aircraft to another, so you’ll want to have as much time as possible to safely stow your musical instrument (assuming you’re carrying it on). 

Musical Instrument Insurance

What if your musical instrument is damaged or lost during your flight? Although this is the worst-case scenario, it’s smart to plan for any eventuality. Unfortunately, many airlines have a limit on their liability when it comes to passengers’ property, usually to the tune of $3500 per passenger for domestic travel and $1500 for international travel (including the domestic portion). 

Don’t cut corners when it comes to instrument insurance. Your musical instrument is a valuable asset and any damage to it could result in costly repairs or even replacement. Instead of going down that dark road, be prepared by insuring your instrument before embarking on any journey. 

Typically, renters or homeowners insurance will cover a musical instrument in the event of burglary or damage to personal property. Since we’re talking about travel, however, travel insurance is going to be your best friend when flying with a musical instrument. 

When shopping around for travel insurance, be sure to take a look at the “Confirmation of Coverage” section of any policy to see the maximum amount that can be paid for a covered loss, theft or damage to your baggage and personal items.

For more expensive instruments, it may make sense to invest in musical instrument insurance. This kind of insurance is offered by insurance companies that specialize in this type of coverage. The good news is that it’s frequently less expensive than you might think, due to the specialized nature of this protection.

As always when it comes to insurance, it’s a good idea to compare prices and plans to find what works best for you. 

Travel with Your Instrument Worry-Free

Musical instruments are expensive and extremely important to musicians. That’s why it’s so important to be prepared before travel by following these simple steps to ensure a smooth and safe travel experience. 

As long as you do your research, plan ahead, and protect yourself, the road ahead is clear and the journey is all part of the adventure. Bon Voyage!

Guest post written by: James Peters of Musical Instrument Insurance in Ireland. Check out their website for more information about their protection for your instruments.

Please check out my post about being prepared for when bad things happen for further tips.

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