Taking the guitar on commercial flights: Gig bag carry-on or check in a hard case?

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by Cossack, Jul 7, 2019.

  1. Jamie_Mitchell

    Jamie_Mitchell Member

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    i fly a bit for gigs. not an insane amount, but i’ve probably flown twice w/ona guitar since i was 15. i’m almost always flying w/ two guitars in a double gig bag. sometimes w/ a mandolin or lap steel in a separate bag. sometimes an acoustic or a pedal steel.
    mostly southwest. never had any real issues, sometimes some stress, but basically, don’t ask anyone any questions, act like you’ve done this 10,000 times before, flash a smile if need be, it all seems to work out fine. throw guitar in overhead bin, done. other than it being a huge pita, I’d be more stressed about shipping a guitar for a trip than flying w/ it. i don’t really know anyone who does fly dates w/ a road case. maybe occasionally, but almost always gig bags on the plane. lost baggage, overage charges, etc.

    however, yes, walking a pedal steel onto a series of international flights and wheeling it around the airport for miles while hungover and jetlagged, or even just carrying two guitars on your back on a hot airport day is not the most fun thing of all time.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
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  2. Jamie_Mitchell

    Jamie_Mitchell Member

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    they are now legally required to let you bring your instrument onboard.
     
  3. Dreams Burn Down

    Dreams Burn Down Member

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    I’ve yet to be required to check a guitar either domestically or internationally and have flown with one many times. As everyone else has said, be incredibly polite to the attendants. It’s a tough job and a little kindness goes a very long way towards getting the outcome you want, especially after they’ve been dealing with stressed out commuters all day.
    If you have access to a low profile hard case (think standard Gibson size or the mid 2000’s Fender US Standard size), that’s the best option. Small enough to fit easily in overhead, but can withstand someone else’s carry-on being on top of it. Also, attendants are more prone to fit it in the forward locker if the case isn’t the size of a Buick.
    If you’re flying with instruments often, a proper ATA flight case is worth the investment.
     
  4. stratzrus

    stratzrus Philadelphia Jazz, Funk, and R&B Silver Supporting Member

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    I've read posts here about guitarists who brought printed copies of the regulation and were still not allowed to bring their guitar onboard. You need to check the policy of the airline you are flying on.
     
  5. DiPa

    DiPa Constant GAS Silver Supporting Member

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    I guess the airline has the power to say No, and have read where they can all say No to a person to getting onboard should the pilot not want that person onboard, there is no absolute entitlement.
     
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  6. jens5

    jens5 Silver Supporting Member

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    In anticipation of our band playing in Ireland, my wife surprised me with a Calton flight case for a Collings Dred, assuming we would have to baggage check such a large guitar made even larger with the case. Amazingly, I walked on the plane, case in hand. No questions and with a little forcing, the damn thing fit in the overhead. (Big overhead). Flew all the way with the guitar right above my seat.
     
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  7. fescue

    fescue Member

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    Borrow one when you get to Nashville?
    Hit Gruhn’s, buy one and ship it home?
     
  8. metrokosmiko

    metrokosmiko Member

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    It rides with me, always.
     
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  9. Jamie_Mitchell

    Jamie_Mitchell Member

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    i haven’t run into or recall hearing that firsthand from friends i don’t think, for whatever it’s worth. i’m sure it happens sometimes though.
    again, imo - the trick is to *not* ask any questions. don’t check in w/ the counter people, don’t do anything for anyone to notice you. just walk on like you’ve done it a thousand times. store. smile at the flight attendants. i talked/charmed my way into carrying a *pedal steel* onto the plane for four international flights in a row last year, French stewardess, etc.
    it’s doable.
    my roommate has basically stood in the aisle holding **** up until they got a space for his banjo. i haven’t had to do that yet. if they do give you hell about it, the only time i’ve gotten any pushback was at the gate, not on the plane itself. someone tells you to put a gate-check tag on it, you put it on. tell them you’ll walk it down to the end of the jet bridge, smile, start walking, rip off the tag, walk onto the plane. i’ve had to do that on small planes. i usually fly Southwest out of Nashville and they’re great w/ instruments.

    if you go up and ask, all you’re doing is drawing attention to yourself, and increasing the odds that someone is going to decide to say no.
    again, i’m no expert, this is just ime, ymmv, etc.

    also fwiw, i’ve had awful experiences w/ SKB cases. i had one break on me (335 case) the very first tour a did w/ it. i did a fly date w/ a bassist awhile back who checked an SKB that came back broken.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
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  10. melondaoust

    melondaoust Member

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    For all the fly-dates that I've done, I've checked the guitar in a heavy-duty SKB case.

    Never had a problem so far (knock wood), though every time I approach the oversize baggage drop-off, I'm always asked if I'm travelling with shotguns...
     
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  11. stratzrus

    stratzrus Philadelphia Jazz, Funk, and R&B Silver Supporting Member

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    Agreed, just walk up to the gate like it's no big deal. Do not ask if it's okay to bring your guitar onboard.

    I also dress in business casual whenever flying. If you go there looking like a biker/hippie it increases the odds that they'll be disinclined to grant you any courtesies. If you look like this when you board the plane with your guitar you are much less likely to get hassled.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
  12. Hiighway Chile

    Hiighway Chile Member

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    Anyone know if a flying v or an explorer will fit in the overhead compartment?
     
  13. IGuitUpIGuitDown

    IGuitUpIGuitDown Member

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    I will buy a Calton case if I ever attempt to fly again with my Martin 00018. Some baggagef*** literally must have held the original Martin hardshell plastic case by the headstock area and brought it down onto the floor with all their might. The lower bout had an 8" crack in it AND the aluminum trim around the edge of the case was mysteriously flat in the exact place the crack was...

    I'll never forget gate-checking for a smaller prop plane. Ever.
     
  14. Bossanova

    Bossanova Member

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    Mono gig bag. No worries at all, it’s maple and poly.
     
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  15. philiprst

    philiprst Supporting Member

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    While there are a variety of experiences, if you put it in a gig bag planning carry it on then there is no guarantee that will actually allow you to carry it onto the plane. Then your guitar will go as checked luggage in a gig bag which is not an outcome I would want to risk. I have had very good luck with checking my strats in the SKB iSeries case which, in my opinion, is about as good as it gets short of a proper ATA flight case. Unfortunately, one of those cases will set you back almost $300.

    There is another alternative which I sometime use if I am flying with a less expensive bolt-on. I take the neck off and put the neck and body in my regular luggage. Not something you want to do on a regular basis but for occasional trips it works quite well.
     
  16. Parlorman

    Parlorman Silver Supporting Member

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    I used to fly extensively for both business and pleasure but find it has gotten so unpleasant that I avoid it at all costs. If I do fly now, I always pony up for first class and carry on my guitar.
     
  17. 3940bigdaddy

    3940bigdaddy Supporting Member

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    I just flew back from Orlando for a vacation trip. On the way there I was contemplating to buy a R4 that was posted in the Emporium by a member from Orlando. So as I was waiting to board the plane. I ask the gate attendant for their policy about carrying guitars onboard. She said “that’s not a big deal at all. They have no problem with it”. Unfortunately the guitar was sold already. As I left Orlando while waiting to board I ask again the same question to a different gate attendant just to double check fully knowing someone in TGP will be needing this info one of these days. Same answer they don’t have any problem with it.
     
  18. Cossack

    Cossack Supporting Member

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    I ended up using the gator semi-hard case and carrying it on. No issues from flight attendants, even when boarding full flights or last-minute connections. My dad had no problems with his Kirk Sand classical guitar in a regular thin gig-bag, even though I worried about it!

    Next time I think I'll just take a regular gig bag - it's lighter and handier and can fit into slightly tighter spaces than the rigid foam of the Gator case.

    This is a valid point. That's why I chose the gator case as a compromise - I think it would have been fine for gate-checked luggage. I certainly would go with at least this much protection if I was bringing a precious or expensive guitar. For a mid-range solidbody I wasn't too worried.
     
  19. Jamie_Mitchell

    Jamie_Mitchell Member

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    they are legally required to let you store the guitar(s) in the overhead, if there is room.
    it’s not like i fly every week for gigs, but i’ve never had a guitar not get on the plane.
     
  20. Calebz

    Calebz Member

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    Flight case with TSA locks is the answer there.

    I've flown across the Atlantic with 1-2 guitars 5 times in the past few years. I don't bother to even try carry-on. Air travel is already a cluster**** of entitled passengers, tin-pot dictator style flight crews and just generally terrible people of all types. Adding an extra stressor of trying to get my special snowflake of a guitar past all that crap so it can live in people space for a few hours isn't worth the hassle. Checked baggage all the way.

    The last time I flew with my 12 string, I had to replace the case before the return flight home (it got lost. Long story).

    I couldn't get my hands on an actual decent flight case that would fit. Ended up with one of those gator plastic molded cases from GC (I think they call it a flight case, but please...)

    No TSA locks, so I left it unlocked and put a bright orange strap around it.

    When I finally got it back in France, it came down the conveyor belt with the case wide open, guitar was face down in the case and the strap was stuffed in the sound hole.

    Sitting on top of everything was a nice note telling me my bag had been inspected by TSA

    But every time I've had TSA locks and it's been checked, everything has been fine.

    There are a couple things to note, in my experience. The ~$100-150 molded skb flight cases will crack when abused. That said, I've never had one fail to protect a guitar. The ~$200-250 SKB flight cases generally do not crack when abused (within semi-reasonable limits). That's why they cost more. After that you're in proper ATA price territory.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2019
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