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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Have you ever had trouble, flying with your violin?

June 1, 2012 at 6:25 PM

I 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.

From Christian Vachon
Posted on June 1, 2012 at 7:04 PM
I have flown a lot and all of the above have applied. I just depends on where you are flying, where you are going, the airport, the airline and the staff at boarding.

These days, it's just best to check and be cool about things. That's when you have the least amount of problems.


From Tammy Kirwan
Posted on June 1, 2012 at 7:18 PM
I flew from Albany, NY to LA, to Auckland, New Zealand with no problems. When I tried to go from Auckland to Christchurch, New Zealand I was forced to check my violin at the gate. I tried to tell them that it was an expensive instrument, but they told me that it didn't fit in their metal size test thing, so I couldn't bring it on board. Luckily no damage was done, but I was very nervous for that 2 hour flight. Same story on the return flight.
From Ian Salmon
Posted on June 1, 2012 at 7:54 PM
I am quite a frequent flyer with American Airlines and have never had a problem. I am considering flying Delta and Jet Blue a few times this summer as AA prices has risen considerably. Has anyone had experiences with them?
From Annette Brower
Posted on June 1, 2012 at 8:09 PM
My most recent experience was flying Orange County-Chicago-Cleveland and back in April. I was held up at the gate twice. I was able to get the violin on the plane both times but I had to do some begging. One person knocked on my case, declared it was a hard case, and told me it would be fine. I think I have had problems every time I have flown with the violin....not sure what I'm doing wrong...
From David Knutson
Posted on June 1, 2012 at 8:30 PM
I recently took my violin to China. While in China I also flew locally between 5 different cities. To make it easy, I had a hard sided suitcase and put the violin case inside it,then checked the bag. So it was essentially double - cased. I also slightly loosen the strings and put foam on both sides of the bridge to prevent it from tipping. Worked great!

The only problem I had was with the batteries in my tuner! I couldn't check the bag until I took out the batteries.

From Philip Novak
Posted on June 1, 2012 at 9:47 PM
When I walk on the plane, I ask the flight attendant if they prefer to put the violin in the closet. They are always nice and either say, "no there's plenty of room in the overheads," or "sure I'll put it in the closet." I think it might help to have a traditionally shaped case, ie a dart or formed shape rather than the rectangle. Some people, including the flight crew may not know that the rectangle case has a fragile fiddle and will struggle with you to gate check it! I fly almost exclusively Delta, just cuz they have a hub here and I fly over 25,000 miles a year.

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.

From Joyce Lin
Posted on June 1, 2012 at 10:47 PM
Most of the time it's pretty uneventful, but here are some incidents I have encountered:

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.

From Atilla Yasar
Posted on June 1, 2012 at 11:29 PM
We flew to Turkey last summer (going again in a month) and we had got there with two planes (I think it was called transit flight?) and I can't really recall any weird stuff.. I think it went very smoothly
From Mendy Smith
Posted on June 2, 2012 at 12:52 AM
Domestically, I've never had an issue. When I had an overnight transit in Toyko however, I had issues getting through security and had to go back out to the ticket counter, plead my case and get a special tag to allow me to take it through security.

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.

From Jim Hastings
Posted on June 2, 2012 at 2:02 AM
As I've previously written, I stopped flying well before 9/11; so the times I did fly with the instrument, mostly during student years, no problems or hitches or hassles.

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.

From Gene Wie
Posted on June 2, 2012 at 4:16 AM
A couple years ago, Alaska Airlines made me take my viola out of its case, and I had to hold it in my arms for the duration of my flight.

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).

From Rachel Neville
Posted on June 2, 2012 at 9:51 AM
I've flown a few times with my fiddle on American and so far it's been ok. I've always been able to take it on board.
From Karis Crawford
Posted on June 2, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Surprisingly, I've flown A LOT in the past five years, with at least five international flights a year, and I've never had any trouble. Occasionally a security agent will ask to look at my violin after it goes through the scanner, but I've never been told that I need to check it in, and I generally travel with my violin case and a backpack. Once when flying from the UK to Italy and back, I took only my violin as a carry-on as I suspected they would have a full flight, and I was given no problem. I am always fully prepared to put up a fight if they decide to make me check in the violin, but so far it's never happened! I've flown AA, BA, Kenya Airways, Italy Air, Turkish Airways and Egyptian Airways (and possibly others but their names escape me at the moment).
From Mark Roberts
Posted on June 2, 2012 at 1:52 PM
I had a small amount of hassle getting my viola on a klm flight from cape town to london
From Asher Wade
Posted on June 2, 2012 at 9:55 PM
I've flown quite a bit in the past 24yrs with my violin & never had a problem ~ however, I must say with all the 'horror' stories I've read, I just decided that's THAT - so, I went out & bought my own plane! {:~))
From Peter Kent
Posted on June 4, 2012 at 3:27 PM
Having experienced problems on Delta one year, I bought one of those gig cases with outside bow holder....but I pack the bow in my checked luggage, in a sturdy bow case, and the violin is then in a much smaller yet secure case....No one questions the case that is merely 25" long....No problems since.
From Karila Rolling
Posted on June 4, 2012 at 4:41 PM
I flew with my violin a few weeks ago on Air-Tran..I was a nervous wreck with all the unknowns and horror stories I have read but no one even gave me a second look and we boarded in a later case fit perfectly in the over head bin on both trips. I was so relieved because I really wasn't looking forward to pleading with a flight attendant to get it on board the plane.

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