I was recently on a family vacation for about a week. I did not want to leave my instrument for too long, and since a flute is small, I decided to bring it with me. I did not take my good flute, that would not have been a good idea unless I was set to play a nice show where I absolutely needed it. But, bringing the instrument on a flight was not as difficult or annoying as you might think. Yes it is a flute, but I had no problems with it at the airport. I do have some tips and quips if you will be flying soon and you plan on bringing your instrument.
Here are my top tips for travelling with a musical instrument.
1. Pack smaller instruments in a bigger bag.
If you play the flute, piccolo, clarinet, or oboe, leave space in your carry on for it. This makes it easier, because you don’t have to sacrifice a personal item to take your instrument on the plane. Just be sure you leave space and pack it last in case security asks you to remove it for scanning purposes.
2. Pack other items in your instrument case.
If you have an instrument that fits the carry on size limit, but you would rather not pack it in a carry on, pack other items like clothes in the case. If you roll them up, shirts and underwear could fit in the bell of an a lot saxophone or socks could fit in a trumpet bell. If you play violin, pack clothes around the instrument to help protect it while smartly using space.
3. Be prepared to check larger instruments.
If you play a brass instrument (with the exception of trumpet) or a large instrument in general, you might be required to check it, either when arriving at the airport or at the gate. While the TSA is required
to allow an instrument in addition to the carry on and personal item, not all airlines will allow the extra baggage. If you are unable to consolidate your items, you might have to check one of the items.
4. Leave a note in the case of a checked instrument.
In case you need to check your instrument, it is a good idea to leave a detailed note with how to properly handle the instrument to avoid damage, both attached to the handle and in the case laying on the instrument. Be sure that the directions can be easily understood by someone who has never seen a (tuba, bassoon, bass, etc.)
5. Consider buying another seat for a large instrument.
If your instrument does not fit the carry on size limit and you are uncomfortable checking it, it might be worth the extra money to purchase a seat specifically for your instrument. That way, you can keep it with you and you won’t have to worry as much about damage. This is good for string instruments, which could be smashed if other luggage is tossed on top of it, or woodwinds, which have a ton of moving parts that could be thrown out of alignment during a security check by someone who doesn’t understand the fragility of a musical instrument.
6. Get to the airport earlier than necessary and buy up to board early.
This will give you extra time to speak with airport staff about taking your instrument on your trip and how to avoid technical issues. The earlier you can board the plane, the more space there will be in the overhead bins. If they are full before you get on, you risk having to gate check one of your items.
Other things to know.
TSA PreCheck is your friend.
This is less a tip and more of a random way you can have an easier time traveling. If you are lucky enough to get the PreCheck, which allows you to leave your shoes, belt, and jacket on and your liquids and laptop in your bag, it will make going through security a breeze. When I had PreCheck, I did not feel the need to remove my flute from my carry on suitcase.
Only check your instrument as a last resort.
Sometimes, we can’t avoid a checked bag, but use the tips given to lessen the chance of having to check your instrument. Especially if you will be changing planes, you don’t want to end up at your destination only to find that your instrument is in another time zone. Mistakes and mishandling are rare, but they do happen, and you don’t want to be the one they happen to.
I hope you find these tips helpful, and remember to be safe when traveling.
Thanks for reading!
Have you ever traveled with a musical instrument and what was your experience like? Let me know in the comments!