Musicians and flying: an affair that not always ends well. Videos like Dave Carroll's 'United Breaks Guitars' are proof of that, and you can find more than one testimonial citing bad handling of a musician's wooden sweetheart. With things on the airline front not looking like they'll change much, it is up to the musicians to find ways to avoid opening a case to find a shattered instrument and a shattered heart, too.
With luggage regulations getting ever more strict, the fewer airlines allow musicians to bring guitars as carry-on luggage. The reasons, they cite, are mostly related to the overhead lockers being too small to fit a guitar in it (a very disputable claim since personal experience proves otherwise even in smaller planes). Whether it's true or not though, it's time to put the creativity that comes with musicianship elsewhere.
Here are the most popular and ingenious ways to take your guitar with you in this day and age.
The hard (case)
The most traditional and widely accepted way, endorsed by airlines, is to pack your lovely in a hard case and ship her away with the rest of your luggage.
The cons to this are that you yourself have no control over the handling of the guitar. If whomever is handling your luggage is having a bad day and gracefully tosses the case up in the air, you can't do anything about it.
The specifics on luggage allowance will vary from airline to airline of course. Sometimes instruments count as a piece of luggage – i.e. sacrifice a suitcase. At other times, you will have to pay an extra fee – i.e. sacrifice your wallet.
When going down this route, make sure to loosen the strings in your guitar to make it easier on its neck, and add a little bit of extra padding to the case if you will. Make sure to not stuff it too much though, as added pressure can give you some trouble later.
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The soft (case)
Another guitarist's favorite – and unfortunately a dying trend these days – is taking your guitar with you as hang luggage.
There are nearly no cons. You have full control of where the guitar is, you can position it however you want... the only thing to watch out for are the other passengers throwing their backpacks on top of it.
When this practice is allowed, there are usually three types of policies. Type one is the easiest: just bring the guitar along and put it in the overhead locker, quick and easy. Type two works similarly – bring the guitar along, put it in the overhead locker. Oh, I nearly forgot to mention the $70 fee (numbers are merely examples, but you can expect that) you must pay either at the check-in desk or before your flight. Type three is a bit riskier, and involves counting on the goodwill of the staff plus details of the flight, like size of the aircraft and mostly how full it will be. The downside of type three is that your guitar might have to go with the rest of the junk in the 'basement'. Type four is the worst: buy an extra seat for the guitar – avoid unless it's the only option.
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The extreme (bolt-on neck only)
Considering these restrictions, creativity had to be summoned. This method is not something you'd hear about every day (hopefully, anyway – if it is, your sources are very good) but it works like a charm when done properly. It has to be noted that it will only work for bolt-on necks since they play a crucial part here.
It is better to check up with your local technician just in case to assure nothing happens to the neck mid-flight.
Step-by-step: after checking up the truss rod's status, unscrew the guitar's neck. Wrap a couple of clothes around the neck for padding, and put it in your suitcase – airport security won't let you through with it in your hand luggage. You can place the body either in your suitcase, if you packed lightly, or inside a backpack. Sever the strings with a wire-cutter if they're going in separate places. Make sure your suitcase doesn't squeeze the neck anywhere.
Unconventional? Probably, but airline instrument policy is anything but conventional these days.
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