Got a smaller one in your pocket?

Professional musicians (and itinerant buskers) who hit the road are finding it increasingly difficult to get their sometimes priceless instruments onto airplanes.  After September 11 and the lockdown on airport “security”, where going to the airport means waiting in interminable lines only to discover that you have to remove your shoes, get rid of your toothpaste, and hand over your dignity, TSA officials are now deeming musical instruments a potential hazard to airport security.

It has been common practice for musicians who can afford it to buy an extra seat for their ungainly instrument (cello, upright bass, even some guitars), to avoid having it go in the hazardous cargo hold, where temperature fluctuations can leave it catastrophically out of tune if it hasn’t been completely crushed by someone’s uncle’s gun case.  Lately, musicians have reported having problems with airlines refusing to check in their instrument, not allowing it except on particular planes, and plane-checking it anyway.  In this case, there isn’t much to do except borrow an instrument wherever they’re going or buy a cheap instrument and pack it well.

Those who can’t afford an extra seat (read: most vagabonders) and yet still want to bring some music on the road have several options: buy a lightweight traveling guitar like a Vagabond or Traveler, carry on their old favorite and hope for the best, or ship it in the hold and (you guessed it) hope for the best.  It’s hard to figure out how to pack your guitar for maximal protection; if you’re carrying it on, a soft travel case improves its chances of fitting in an overhead compartment but reduces its survival rate if it gets checked at the last minute.  A hard-shell travel case with interior padding is more protective but almost certainly guarantees that your guitar will be checked, after which it may not be durable enough and will definitely not protect against temperature changes.

Furthermore, the little extras that musicians have to carry — extra strings, cleaners, reeds, whatever — may garner some suspicion at the sceurity line.  Packing them in your case, if you are checking it, may get them lost by personnel who don’t understand that the bow needs to go *in* the case instead of in the cargo hold.  Be aware and ready to answer questions about what you are bringing, why you are bringing it (remember: if you are planning on busking, some customs officials do not look kindly on your stating that you plan to earn money in whatever country you are going to, without a work permit), and leave yourself a lot of extra time to allow them to shuffle your paperwork.

Good luck!

Posted by | Comments (1)  | October 27, 2008
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

Comments are closed.