June 1, 2012 at 6:25 PMI recently faced the decision of whether or not to travel with my violin, and after hearing a lot of horror stories, I decided against it.
As it turned out, I probably could have brought my fiddle on my U.S. Airways flight with no problems; both a violin and a big guitar traveled as carry-ons, on the same flight as me. But others had scary stories about the same airlines. I did see that I would have likely needed to pay extra for early boarding, as all the overhead space filled fast.
It seems we musicians take a few steps forward and then a few backwards again with this issue.
On the positive side: this February, the U.S. Congress passed an FAA Bill of Rights for passengers, part of the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2012. The relevant part for us is Section 713, which "requires an air carrier to permit an air passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument on a passenger aircraft without charge if it can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft or under a passenger seat." If you are concerned about traveling with your violin in the U.S., you might want to copy the bill and put it in the pocket of your fiddle case. Here it is for you to copy. You also might want to highlight Section 713.
While this seems like good progress, news from the U.K. has us going the other direction: a recent change in British Airways policy will effectively make it impossible to travel on that airline with a fiddle -- unless you'd like to put it in the hold (and you wouldn't).
What has been your experience, flying with your instrument? Have you ever had trouble with it? If you've had more than one of the bad experiences listed below, just check the one that was most memorable and then describe the others in the comments.
These days, it's just best to check and be cool about things. That's when you have the least amount of problems.
The only problem I had was with the batteries in my tuner! I couldn't check the bag until I took out the batteries.
Another tip: dress well. I wear a sport coat and tie, not super fancy; not a financial district power suit, but with that and a smile, things go smoothly.
1. A flight attendant rearranged the overhead bin to make more room, and had my case sitting precariously on other luggage. I protested but she reassured me that my violin case would stay where it was (I knew it wouldn't, but did not want to make a scene). During takeoff, I heard a big bang and knew it was my violin. When I opened the bin, my case fell out (I anticipated it so my arms were there). Luckily my violin was unharmed. This was my first experience flying with a violin so it was quite a shocking orientation about the danger of traveling with violin.
2. A security personnel in Tokyo stopped me and wanted to inspect my violin case specifically, although she never handled my violin. Because of it, I was late for boarding, and had a hard time finding available overhead space for my violin...
3. At the gate, a flight attendant was checking everyone's carry-on luggage because the overhead bins were all full. I insisted politely but firmly that my violin could not be taken to the belly, and she let me stow it in the coat closet.
4. At the check-in counter in Taipei, the ticket agent informed me that my violin didn't fit in the dimensions for carry-on luggage, so it must be checked. I told her I had always been able to take it on board. She confirmed with her supervisor and apologized.
So far, I have always been able to take my violin on board, even though I have had to pay extra a few times during domestic trips to check my carry-on size luggage because the violin is considered the carry-on. I always try to book my seats at the back of the plane when flying coach, so I would be in the first group to board, and get in line as early as possible to ensure a space in the overhead bin near my seat.
Ian, I fly with Delta quite often, and they have never made a fuss over taking a violin on board.
Then there was this time boarding in Hong Kong after 9/11 where they screened everyone again while boarding. The security people had me open my case to inspect it by hand, but would not let me take off the blanket and instead nearly smashed the bridge with his hand. I was close to slapping the guy, but instead removed the blanket, took out my viola and inspected it for damage while he protested that I could not touch anything while they were inspecting it. That got the attention of the supervisor who eventually allowed me to hold my viola while the rest of the case was hand inspected, apologized(and gave the inspector a tongue lashing).
Ever since that time, I only took my old student viola with me overseas and left Hilda at home.
In those days, security was quick and simple -- and it took about 10 seconds as I remember. Passengers walked through an archway. Carry-ons went on a conveyor belt. Passengers picked them up on the other side of the arch and boarded.
Even if I didn't have such aversion to being airborne, today's horror stories about airport security would be more than enough to keep me grounded.
JetBlue was great...had no problems bringing my violin in my BAM Hightech Slimline last June for the DeLay symposium.
Nowadays, if bringing my own instrument is that critical, I just FedEx it (or have a trusted party do that for me).
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