Violin airline exempton as Carry-on Bag - no more

February 22, 2012 at 09:08 PM · Airline travel rules.... have been changing.

I have taken my violin with me on countless flights and various airlines accumulating nearly three-quarters of a million miles in the past 25 years. That includes flights out of the country (Sweden, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Russia, Canada, Mexico, and etc.) as well as throughout the U.S.. This has been as a third (exempt) item when the carry-on limit was two items. In all those years and flights I have never encountered a problem... ever... until this week. On an American Airlines flight from San Antonio to Chicago two days ago they insisted on counting my violin as one of the two carry-on items. Fortunately I was able to crunch my valise items into my other carry-on bag and pockets enough to reduce the total to two, including the instrument. So when I arrived home I checked the carry-on rules of American and some others to see what they said, and the rules have changed. No problem bringing a violin on board (yet), but in general it appears to no longer be an exemption for the two-item carry-on limit. Also, since I had valuables in each of the other bags I suggested I would check the violin and was told they would not check a musical instrument. Was this boarding agent on a power trip?

Replies (11)

February 24, 2012 at 09:21 PM · Idiocy regarding musical instruments is common in Europe nowadays, even though an oblong violin case is almost perfectly shaped for most overhead lockers, and certainly takes less time to stow than a typical carry-on suitcase.

Back with the Canadian airline Zoom (now defunct) I had to stuff everything for a nine-hour transatlantic flight into my case's top pocket and keep it under 5kg. Without doing research beforehand about an individual airline's policy, it's hard to know whether an individual agent is screwing with you or just following orders.

February 24, 2012 at 10:05 PM · Regarding the exemption - it has been like this since they started charging fees for checked baggage. Prior to last September, my flights with violin had always been international with free checked bags, so I was not aware of it, but since then I have had two domestic trips (one with American and the other with United) that I had to shell out $25 each way to have my carry-on size luggage checked, because my violin was considered the carry-on baggage.

Airline companies nowadays are more strict about enforcing the carry-on baggage policy as most passengers try to avoid fees and the overhead bin space becomes precious real estate. The most common practice among airlines are: one carry-on baggage that fits the dimensions (with exceptions) and one small personal item that can be stowed under the seat. You are lucky that they did not insist on checking your carry on bag and charge you, as it does not sound like it's small enough to be a personal item.

As to whether musical instruments are allowed to be checked - I would think the answer is yes. In fact, I have had to insist on not allowing the gate agents to take my violin away to the belly a couple times.

February 29, 2012 at 11:18 AM · Airlines are always like that. At least you're not Zimmerman, who insists on bringing his concert grand to his concerts. For that particular reason and a particularly stubborn airline he will no longer grace United States with his performances.

I always carry one carry-on roller or a shoulder bag and my violin. No more. One very irritating attendant insisted that I check in my violin because she was dubious about the case fitting in the overhead. I threatened that the instrument cost over 50 grand (nope, not even close... my mother bought it when she was in her teens for a grand total of $500) and threw a tantrum so loudly people looked. She stopped harping after that.

At least we're better off than cellos. My cellist friend always has to buy two seats...

February 29, 2012 at 02:55 PM · compared to all the other atrocities we can suffer at the hands of the airline companies, I don't really have a problem with counting my violin as one of my 2 carry-ons & donèt think itès unreasonable. If I have a purse I out it in the other bag. Like Joyce, space in the cabin is at a premium now more than ever.

February 29, 2012 at 04:58 PM · Oh, so that's why Zimmermann doesn't perform in the US. /sadface

February 29, 2012 at 06:02 PM · Yep. Evidently the concert grand didn't get proper treatment, and came out smashed up. Zimmerman, predictably, was infuriated.

There was also a horror story I read in Strings where a violist had to check in the instrument (he desperately tried to stop it), and it came out with the neck snapped in two. In the same article, Wiener or Berlin decided not to come to the States that year because the airlines threw a fit when everyone said "we're carrying in the instruments". They cancelled all concerts.

February 29, 2012 at 07:48 PM · I don't see the problem. Nobody has any business bringing 3 bags on as carry ons.

February 29, 2012 at 07:54 PM · I think I was on the flight where some moron was trying to shove a grand piano into the overhead bin. Was it shiny and black?

March 3, 2012 at 11:27 PM · "nobody has any business carrying on three carry-ons" apparently doesn't fly much. My "three" carry ons were a small bag with clothes and personal items that was half the size of what you see most people haul on board these days, a small valise not much larger or thicker than a notebook which held my music and work papers, and my violin in a minimized case. In terms of cubic feet of space I doubt that the three together totaled as much as the one large carry-on I see most people bring on board these days. Since the two items contained irreplaceable valuables I was prepared to check the violin, knowing it might be damaged, because my traveling violin is not an expensive one (in this particular case). On other trips I have taken a much more valuable instrument which I would never check.

March 4, 2012 at 03:12 PM · While I don't travel a lot...I usually only have one carry-on, a small packback that goes under the seat. I don't recall ever using the overhead bin for more than a jacket...

So if I were to travel with a violin, I'd still only have two pieces...

I could be wrong, but I'd suspect many people cart along a lot more than they actually do need...

March 6, 2012 at 07:00 AM · I fly reasonably frequently--though admittedly not at all like many businesspeople do and certainly not as much as you describe.

I was under the impression most airlines will check musical instruments if you offer to sign a liability waiver....

Is buying the fragile equipment a seat of its own not an option? Many airlines will allow you to buy a seat for luggage as long as it can be secured with a seatbelt and I imagine if you buy it a seat you could also put it in the overhead bin.

Recently, I was seated in a row of violinists and combined we gave somebody a monstrous glare for putting her coats in the bin before all of our violins were up...but my violin case (any violin case) violates the size restrictions for US airliners and I understand that I'm being selfish for insisting on taking it on board, making half a bin too short for roller bags, and rearranging other people's bags to make room for my violin. Now that the law will allow us to carry on our violins as exceptions to the size rule this doesn't bother me as much, but I would still never try to put anything more than one bag (my violin) in the overhead bin--not even my coat unless we've already taken off.

I agree with you that nobody has any business bringing a huge roller bag mostly filled with cloths on as a carry on bag either. Unfortunately, most people think of the bins as a way to avoid waiting for their bags rather than as a place to put things too delicate to check.

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