JT on flying with a guitar

Last week I flew out to the East Coast to do a few shows in NYC and CT. On the return flight, I got into a long talk with another passenger about the logistics of flying with a guitar. Whether or not it could be carried on, how I get it past the gate agents, etc.

Quick tangent: the underbelly of a plane is a terrible environment for an instrument. It’s not pressurized or temperature controlled. When you reach altitude, it’s probably around 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (get your mind right, Canada). Also, baggage handlers, while being, I’m sure, lovely people who probably do not eat out of a trough, are not known for their gentleness. They are probably more used to dealing with people who play games like PartyPoker (http://www.partypoker.com/) and want to bring cards on board. I guess it’s not everyday they have musicians with guitars. They perhaps don’t understand just how fragile a guitar is. This is why it’s worth going to the trouble of getting your instrument into the passenger compartment with you. End tangent.

So after giving him all my tips and tricks, I thought they might be of general interest. The quick overview is this: play dumb, ask nicely, and beg. All of the specific tips come from those three principles.

Here are all of the secrets I know for successfully carrying a guitar onto a commercial airplane*:

1) Show Up
Just show up with your guitar (in a hard shell case, even if you own a soft case), go through security, and go to your gate.

2) Board Early
When they start to board (normally by boarding groups), board before your group is called. This way you get onto the plane before the overhead bins fill up. If the gate agent notices your group hasn’t been called yet, it’s time for a combo platter of playing dumb (wow, long day!) and asking nicely (would it be okay if I board early? I want to make sure my baby [hug guitar at this point] makes it on-board [sad puppy dog eyes]).

3) Avoid the Gate Check
Sometimes (depending on the agent, flight, airline, and other variables), the gate agent will tag your guitar with a gate check. This is fine. Walk down the jetway a bit (out of their eyesight) and tear it off. 

4) Befriend the Flight Attendants
Walk onto the plane. Big smile for the flight attendant, who will always notice your guitar. If they comment on it not having a gate check, time to play dumb. If they say they’re not sure it will fit in the overhead bin, time to ask nicely (I promise it will fit overhead—it always does!) and then beg (Please, this guitar is my life. I’m a musician, and I have a show to play when I land. If anything were to happen to it I would be royally screwed.[this is also an opportune time to hug your guitar and make sad puppy dog eyes]). If none of that works, then…

5) Suggest Alternatives
Ask if they could possibly store it in the flight attendant’s coat closet (I’ve done this several times). Ask if there’s an empty seat you can belt it into (I know artists who buy second seats for their instruments [tip: you’ll need the seat belt extender]). Ask if you it can be stored in the cockpit (honest to god, I know an artist who’s guitar made the flight in the cockpit).

6) Know Your Airlines
Some are known to be lax on baggage, and some are super-strict about carrying on instruments. I flew USAIR last week, and I probably will not fly them again if I can avoid it, because they wanted me to gate check my guitar at every single leg of both flights. Although who am I kidding, if it was ten bucks cheaper I’d have flown to NYC on a flying carpet. Budgeting is a bitch.

Between all those options, I’ve rarely been forced to check my guitar. There have, however, been times where I just wasn’t up to all of the wheedling and just allowed it to be gate checked. Those times I was stupid.

*these are a combination of things I came up with myself and things I borrowed from other artists I know.

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