1) Do your research
Before you commit to an airline, have a look around. All airlines have different policies regarding musical instruments so it's definitely worth finding an airline that is flexible and understanding.
The Musicians' Union have created this incredibly useful guide with most airlines’ policies about travelling with instruments.
2) Communicate with your airline
Will your instrument fit into the overhead locker? Contact your chosen airline before you book and ask them about their policies surrounding this and any questions you may have. Have the dimensions of your instrument and any other details ready to give to them.
If your instrument is larger than the maximum size you may have to put your instrument in the hold or buy an extra seat for it. Speak with your airline to check their policies and see what they can do.
3) Prepare your instrument
Pack your instrument securely in a robust and lockable case, as some flights are very busy meaning there might not be enough room in the overhead lockers. Prepare for the worst and think about investing in a flight case - a heavy duty hard-shell case. Label your case clearly with external and internal labels with your contact details in case your instrument is misplaced.
Take out all accessories from your case and pack them into your other bags – this minimises damage caused by items moving around in your case and ensures that your case is as slimline as possible so has more chance of fitting into the overheads. This is also a good time to make sure you have no liquids or sharp items in your case. Then pack any gaps in your case with bubble wrap, soft clothing or material, make sure that there is no space for the instrument to move around as this can cause damage.
Take the necessary precautions to prepare your instrument for travel. For example, if you play a string instrument, tune the strings down a tone or two to allow for temperature fluctuations, or if you play a brass instrument fill the bell of the instrument with a Styrofoam cone (these can be bought from hobby stores or online) to protect it in case of impact.
For any wooden instrument you may want to consider purchasing a dampit: a device designed to keep your instrument humidified. Definitely something to consider when on airplane where the air is extremely dry.
4) Get to the airport early
Arrive at the airport early so that you can speak to airline staff. Remember to stay calm and polite – it’s good to allow extra time here to iron out any potential issues.
Next stop is security. Allow extra time here as well as it is likely your instrument will need to be searched and then re-packed securely.
And most importantly keep a close eye on your musical instrument at all times while in the airport terminal. We have received several claims for instruments stolen from baggage trolleys.
5) Check your instrument
Always check your musical instrument carefully when leaving the plane or collecting it from the airport baggage carousel.
If you suspect any damage has occurred report it to airport personnel immediately and complete a baggage irregularity report - make sure you obtain a reference number.
- Make sure no liquids are kept in your case. If you need to bring your slide spray, bore oil or valve oil make sure you take it out of your case and put it into your separate liquids bag.
- Put your sharp items (like your reed knife - we’re looking at you oboe and bassoon players!) into your hold luggage, as these won’t be allowed in your hand luggage.
- Print the airline’s rules for musical instruments, and any correspondence you have had with them, and bring with you as evidence in case of any issues.