From 2005, until this past May,I logged in alot of air travel toruing with my band. We've always carried our instruments onboard, and put them in the overhead. I NEVER had a problem carrying my guitar onboard and putting it in the overhead on either a national, or international flight. If checking a guitar, I wouldn't put it in anything other than a heavy duty ATA flight case.
Yes, but don't count on it 100%. A friend of mine who flys to gigs says about 90% of the time he can carry on, but they do occasionally (especially on international flights) make him gate check it over much protest.
1) Check to see what kind of plane you're flying on. Most Boeings will take a guitar in the overhead. Some Airbuses won't. (try a google search)
2) Request a seat in the back of the plane. The people at the back of the plane load first, so you get an empty bin, and you're happily in your seat with your guitar stowed when almost everyone is still in line. Once you're in your seat, you're golden.
3)When you check in, make a note of someone's name and make some casual conversation about the guitar. Get to the gate early, be toward the front of the line at boarding time. When it's time to board, sling the guitar on the opposite shoulder from the gate agent (whack them with the case and it's as good as checked) and walk on as if you've done it 1000 times.
If they question you, show them the TSA letter (google it) and say very nicely that "Amber" or "Jason" at the counter said it would be fine to carry it on board. Be nice. Beg if need be. If you give them attitude you could find yourself in handcuffs. Really.
I've carried a drednought in a bright orange Calton case on board and never had a problem (It fits in the overhead, too)
All that said, be prepared for the possibility that you might have to gate check the guitar. In short, I'd bring my Squier 51 in a gig bag, but not my good tele.
One other trick. If you've got a Fender, you could unbolt the neck and then it would fit under the seat in a gig bag. Remember, of course, that you probably can't get a screwdriver through security, so make sure you've got a dime or a key to do the deed.
It's always a bit of a crapshoot.
Best is to get on as early as possible so you can get a spot overhead.
I always try and get them to put it in the closet in first class as I board. This doesn't always work though.
I'm not sure if they still do this, but back in the 80's they used to have what they call Escort serivce this is an extra charge. They would hand place the instrument in the hold after all other baggage was loaded. Then they would unload it and bring it to you in baggage. That was the idea but mine came down the baggage carousel, smashed into the side and go clobbered by a couple big suitcases.
With any airline today, assume that you are on your own and will not receive any help or special teatement. The "don't get mad" warnings above are very real as I've seen people arrested at the gate and also taken off planes for having a minor disagreement with flight personel.
Bottom line, I wouldnt' carry on a guitar that I would miss if it had to be checked and a steamer trunk dropped on top of it.
It varies by airline and airport. I live in Atlanta and fly Delta almost exclusively. The last time I tried bringing a guitar, I followed someone's advice to put in a gig bag and sling it over your shoulder to be less conspicuous. Got through security fine, but as I was walking down the boarding ramp, the gate agent came running after me and insisted I had to check the guitar. The flight attendants would have been fine stowing in the upright coat bin, but I never got that far with it. Coming back, at LAX, they wouldn't let me into the security line with it. FWIW, I would not recommend checking a guitar in a gig bag...
Get an ATA flight case, don't take your best axe, and buy insurance for it anyway. Your trip will be more pleasant.
I took a guitar once to LA and I HAD to check it in. I was a nervous wreck the whole way. No matter how much I begged and pleaded - they wouldn't let me do it. This was one month after 9-11 though - I don't know if anythings changed since then.
I always fly with my strat in a gig bag, and slack the strings and partially unscrew the neck screws so I can take it apart. The problem with taking the neck all the way off is that they can deny you boarding because the neck can be used as a club (for the same reason you can't take a cricket or baseball bat on board either).
This way, it goes through the xray machine looking like a guitar BUT i can have it apart in seconds if it needs to break down and go in the overhead.
Oh, always put it back together before you get off plane. The neck still looks like a bat.
No tools, no problems, and I've never been separated from my guitar, although I have had to take it apart a couple of times and prove to the waitress that it fit in the overhead or under the seat.
Delta would not let us carry our 3 guitars and one bass on a couple of years ago on a direct morning flight from Orlando to Memphis. I had brought my Suhr tele in a gig bag so that if would fit in the overhead. Had to check it. They broke the pick-up selector tip off. I considered myself lucky.
I flew several flights from Atlanta to Chicago to Tokyo to Glasgow and back last April with my Heritage 535 in a gig bag. Delta in the USA and JAL to Japan. I carried it on and put it in the overhead on every flight except one where I had to gate check it. I think I would take a smaller guitar next time. The first time I flew to Japan, I took a strat, and it would not fit in the overhead of the upper deck of the 747. I started to panic, but I was able to get a window seat, and those seats have a compartment next to the cabin wall that I was just able to stuff the strat into, and lean on the lid while the flight attendant walked by to see if all was well. I was actually on one flight in Japan where they put me in a different seat so my guitar could have it's own seat as well!!
It seems this topic pops up everytime NAMM approackes.
As others said, it's a crap shoot.
Delta is notoriously anti-guitar.
Jet BLue is inconsistent. It depends on how full the flight is.
Once a gate agent grabs you and insists you must check it, it's going to be a losing battle.
If you think you can get gate check privlidges, forget it. They will promise to hand carry it, but when you arrive at your destination, it will come down the ramp with all the other stuff at the carousel.
I do have a cheap ATA case, and then I fold up a light gig bag in my suitcase. Its the best of both worlds if you are checking luggage and have a really good guitar. Alternately I have a very heavily padded gig bag that will hopefully protect a guitar from most luggage trips.
Don't count on the fact that others have flown a zillion times without a problem. Its all about the plane, amount of passengers, and the gate personnel.
Hints: Early boarding is always a good idea. Keep the guitar on your back and be unobtrusive with it. The ATA letter will not work if the gate agent is adament. Note- 335s or big jazz boxes will not fit overhead on an Airbus, even in a gig bag. Dont worry about active guitars, but do check fx pedals whenever possible. They get the TSA people worried.
No gig bag will protect a guitar if it goes through the sort of automated baggage-conveyor system or semi-deliberate abuse by baggage handlers at a large international airport... period. Even some hard cases won't.
I say this from personal experience working as a shop repairer and writing insurance repair assessments - or in many cases, write-off valuations - for guitars that went through (mostly) London Heathrow. Some were in apparently adequate cases.
If it comes down a chute before some heavy cases or gets jammed under something which can push into the front or back, count on damage in anything less than a full ATA flightcase.
And always slacken the strings nearly right off - if you don't, the tension will compound any damage and probably make it much harder to repair.
If you've done otherwise and got away with it... you're lucky.