Find out about how to transport different musical instruments, where to transport them, top tips for packing and different airline policies.
Because the rules regarding flying with musical instruments is totally dependent on the rules of the specific airline you are flying with, we recommend contacting the airline directly to see their recommendations how to best fly with your instrument. However we have gathered regulations surrounding transportation of musical instruments from some common airlines:
Items can be transported in the carry-on luggage if they will fit in the overhead bin or in the seat in front of you. Additionally, you can purchase an additional seat to place larger instruments in, as long as they meet seat size and weight restrictions. Musical instruments can also be placed in the checked luggage with American Airlines. This must fit within the checked baggage size restrictions, of a maximum 150 inches, and maximum weight restriction of 165lbs. American Airlines also recommend when travelling with instruments in the carry-on luggage, purchase priority boarding to ensure you can fit your instrument in the overhead bin before other people place their bags in there.
United Airlines state that small instruments can be carried in the carry-on luggage, if it fits in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of them, and depending if there is enough space in the bins at the time of boarding. This applies to small instruments such as violins and guitars. United also request that all musical instruments are packed in a hard case. For items transported as checked baggage, they must fit within the checked baggage size and weight restrictions, or they may be subject to oversized bag charges. In addition, passengers checking more than two items will be subject to excess baggage charges. Passengers can also purchase a seat for their musical instruments if they are too bulky or fragile to be transported in other means. For musical instruments larger than 115 linear inches, passengers should contact United Customer Contact Center before travelling.
Delta will transport musical instruments as checked baggage if the total linear dimensions do not exceed 150 inches (length + width + height) and if the weight does not exceed 165lbs. Small musical instruments such as violins will be accepted as your free carry-on allowance, allowing they fit easily in the overhead bin at the time of boarding. Items which are too fragile to be handled as checked baggage can be transported as cabin-seat baggage, where passengers purchase an additional full-sized seat on the plane.
Most people will prefer their guitar to be transported in the carry-on luggage, as typically hold luggage items get are subject to more risk of damage. However, it depends on the rules of the airline you are travelling with. Some airlines will have policies in place for transporting musical instruments, or some will recommend you purchase an additional seat in the cabin. Guitars transported in the hold luggage must be packed in a hard-sided case.
If you’ve seen a water bottle mid flight that crushes during the pressure changes of your flight, then you’ll be aware that pressure can cause havoc with other objects. To minimise any damage to your guitar when flying, it’s best to loosen the strings so that strain to them is minimised.
Guitars are fragile musical instruments because they are hollow. To minimise damage to them, pack some of your clothes such as t-shirts, socks and towels in it to pad it out, especially in the neck.
Whether your guitar is being transported in carry-on or checked luggage, you should invest in a well-padded case. Bags can often get checked around and are subject to damage, so minimise this by getting a protective case for it.
There is often nothing wrong with asking flight attendants politely if they can store your guitar up front, away from the possibility of it being crushed in the overhead locker. However, this will be completely dependent on how much room they have, and the policies of the airline, so be prepared to be declined your request.
If you book at the back of the plane, there’s often more room in the overhead lockers. In addition, you can often board first meaning that you have time to put your guitar at the back of the locker so other passengers’ bags can go in after.
Guitars vary between models, and this also applies to how well they deal with changes in pressure and temperatures. Check with the manufacture to see what they recommend about flying with your specific model and make of guitar.
As a violin is a string musical instrument like a guitar, many of the same tips apply. This includes loosening the strings, padding it out with clothing, packing it in a protective case and choosing to transport it as carry-on luggage rather than checked luggage. You’ll also want to loosen your bow hairs too. Find out more in our guide to flying with a violin.
Flying with violins is often easier than flying with a guitar, because of the generally smaller size. Therefore, violins can often be packed within your carry on luggage, as long as the bag fits within the size and weight restrictions of the airline.
Due to their much larger size, cellos are often transported as cabin-seat luggage, where passengers must purchase an additional seat on the plane where the cello can stay during the flight. Find out more in our guide to flying with a cello.
Brass instruments such as Trumpet, Trombones and Saxophones are best transported in hard cases which are tightly packed with soft padding. Most people prefer to carry brass instruments as checked luggage, providing it is in a big sturdy case where movement within it is minimised. To do this, pack it in a hard case with lots of soft padding around it to ensure it is tightly packed. Ensure that the most fragile parts of the instrument have extra support, and place something inside the bell such as a styrofoam cone. Additionally, make sure you label the case with ‘fragile’ stickers, to ensure it is not chucked around.
Larger items such as Tubas are so large that you will only be allowed it in the cabin when transported as cabin-seat baggage, i.e. purchasing an additional seat for it. Often, the best way to transport large items such as Tubas is to transport it ahead of time as cargo.
Another tip when travelling with Brass Instruments is to ensure the health and well-being of you, the player. Planes can often be dehydrating places, which when paired with different humidities and temperatures of your destination can leave you feeling under the weather. Ensure you drink plenty of water and use a lip balm to stop your lips becoming sore and chapped which can be painful when playing a brass instrument.
Drums should have their drum heads loosened, as the pressure changes during the flight can damage the instrument. Drums are best transported in hard cases which are well padded to avoid damage. Pack each drum in its own case to prevent collision between drums, and wrap them tightly in bubble wrap or other protective materials.
If you are travelling with a full drum kit this will most likely have to be checked. Unfortunately, most airlines will charge per every item of luggage, so flying with drum kits may become expensive. It may be worth investigating hiring drum kits in your destination as this may be cheaper and less risk to damage.