Musical instruments on planes: If it fits, it flies

By Ezra Kaplan

Traveling artists will have an easier time flying with their musical instruments following a Department of Transportation rule change requiring all airlines to allow musicians to carry instruments just like any other piece of baggage.

“At DOT, we know how important instruments are to musicians and are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that they are not damaged while being transported on airlines,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Starting March 6, all airlines will be required to allow passengers to stow their musical instruments in the cabin, as long as it is an approved stowage area such as an overhead bin or under the seat. The rule also states that this highly coveted space is officially available to those who are first to arrive. Bags cannot be removed to store musical instruments and conversely, if there is no space for the musical instrument, it will have to be gate checked, just like any other parcel.

In other words, if it fits, it flies.

Up to this point there was no industry standard about whether an instrument could be carried onboard. That decision was in the hands of individual airline employees.

“We encourage passengers traveling with musical instruments to take steps to board before as many other passengers as possible to ensure that space will be available for them to safely stow their instrument,” the DOT final rule states.

The key word here is safety. Musical instruments can only be carried on and stored if the passenger can do so safely. And that means covering it up.

“It probably goes without saying, but be sure you invest in the right case for your instrument, whether you plan to carry it on or check it as cargo,” states the website for Airlines for America, a trade association for the U.S. airline industry.

The implementation of this rule change comes nearly three years after Congress passed the Federal Aviation Association Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The congressional action came in response to difficulties musicians have encountered in the past.

“I have had a lot of equipment broken by airlines,” said Eliot Lipp, an electronic musician, who travels nearly every weekend to perform all over the country. Lipp travels with an assortment of keyboards and electronic music controllers.

Eliot Lipp is a touring electronic musician who has had several negative experiences with airlines mishandling his equipment. (EmmyG Productions)
Eliot Lipp is a touring electronic musician who has had several negative experiences with airlines mishandling his equipment. (EmmyG Productions)

Lipp said he has had some rough experiences over the past decade of professional travel.

“I had a super heavy duty flight case for my mixer, but when [TSA] opened it to inspect it they didn’t close it properly,” said Lipp, who had made the mistake of checking his precious cargo. “It bounced around and took some hard hits. By the time it got to me it was destroyed.”

Lipp said he tried to work with the airline for compensation but received none. In fact, the incidents of damage have occured so frequently that Lipp said he now budgets the cost of repairs to his instruments into his tour fees.

But for all the negative experiences Lipp has had, he recounts fondly the few times that other flyers have offered to gate check their bags, allowing him put his equipment in the storage bin. According to Lipp, “It’s nice when people understand that its tough traveling as a musician.”

Photo at top: (Adam Mullin/The Noun Project, modified by Ezra Kaplan/Medill)