Air travel with the violin

July 4, 2006 at 05:12 PM · I will shortly become a student in New York. Hailing from the UK, I am wondering how I will safely transport my violin back and forth.

Obviously I don't want to put my violin in the hold, but I think it would be safe in the overhead locker of a plane. However I have an oblong case which is larger than the normal hand luggage conditions.

If anyone has experience of which airlines would be amenable to me transporting my violin as hand luggage, and what special permission was required, it would be much appreciated.

Replies (38)

July 4, 2006 at 06:33 PM · Exactly how long is your case? I've traveled with my violin as carry-on luggage multiple times and have never had an issue. Usually the rule for carry-ons is "one small suitcase and one personal item" -- the violin counts as a personal item.

I've heard people say the strings should be loosened before flying due to cabin pressure changes, but as a physics major and a pilot, I can say that that's absolute nonsense (not going to get into it). If the strings should be loosened, it's because of the sudden and drastic change in humidity in an airliner's cabin (I believe it drops below %5 at altitude), but I'm not sure about that.

July 4, 2006 at 11:01 PM · Hi. I've been travelling with my violin with various airlines for a few years now. I'd never had a problem until last week, when at Liverpool airport, they had a problem with my spare strings. They said they could be used as a restraint. This is odd, since the strings on my violin were fine apparently. I don't understand this - if you can use strings in an envelope as a restraint, why can you not use strings on a violin as a restraint? Anyway, take from that what you will, but regarding my violin, I've never had much trouble. Sometimes, they say it has to go in the hold. But as soon as you tell them what it's worth (I often exaggerate and say £50,000) they get the picture. My advice would be: try it once - if there's a problem, switch airlines until you find one that's willing to accomodate musicians! After all, it's the airline's loss, not your's...

July 5, 2006 at 01:02 AM · I would suggest you consider not traveling Delta with a violin. For more about this, please see the archived discussion : Delta Airlines wants you...just not your violin.

July 5, 2006 at 06:47 AM · In the U.S. I generally fly Continental and I've never had a problem with them. America West on the other hand has given me trouble before. I also have friends who hate America West for other reasons besides instrument trouble. I fly to Europe with Lufthansa and I've never had a problem with them either.

July 5, 2006 at 03:08 PM · Yes, Lufthansa is great for overseas flights. In the US, I've never had any trouble with Southwest or JetBlue...both very friendly and never questioned my violin.

July 5, 2006 at 03:46 PM · Even Delta had no problem with my Ukulele :-) I think the length of the case may be the big factor. The uke case is shorter than a violin, but not by much. The body of the case is the same size.

Anybody try a folding bow ;-)

July 5, 2006 at 06:30 PM · Lufthansa usually works - but if you happen to get a stupid check-in-person, just ask for the supervisor. They usually understand, in fact there is some law that instruments like flute,oboe, violin etc. have to be allowed in the cabin, unless the case doesn't fit into the overhead compartment - and mine always does. Don't fly Air Lingus, they gave me trouble at check-in (even saying that its a Stradivarius with a 3Million$ value didn't help). In the end I smuggled it on board and after the flight they told me that I may never fly Air Lingus again. So - don't try it there.

Lufthansa, United, Air France, KLM, US Airways, Delta, ANA, Czech, Austrian all worked for me without any problems.

July 5, 2006 at 08:31 PM · Rebecca:

In general, the airlines are not that bad. Most of the time, I have not had a problem. Delta does seem to have been worse than many.

What can be a problem is a very full flight. If you are one of the last ones to get on, there may be no more overhead space. In order to reduce the likelihood of this, try to get there early. Recently, I got bumped to a later flight on stand-by and was the last one on the plane. There was no more space.

Another idea is, if you can pick your seat, pick one toward the back. Then you are more likely to board the plane earlier than other passengers and find that there is overhead space.

Recently, in a moment of utter incompetence, some airlines have gone to "zone" boarding. The zones do not seem quite correlated with row numbers. It doesn't make any sense.

July 6, 2006 at 10:28 PM · Lucky You, being a student in new York. As i also come from your side of the Atlantic, let me share a few tips....

Aer Lingus (irish), are generally very nice about violins, iv never had any hassle

Ryanair (low fares) are ridiculous, dont even bother booking with them if your bringing a violin

British Airways are fine, no problems usually

Air France and Cityjet are generally pretty good, but in peak travel times like summer it can present a slight problem, just exaggerate the value of your violin, and they wont want to cause trouble.

Also, a few general tips, I think it was already mentioned, but put spare strings in your other baggage, and a metronome, cos u dont want it to start ticking mid-flight! Also, just act casual, as if there's no problem with bringing your violin, and you do it everyday, and nobody will dare stop you!! enjoy the U.S.!

July 6, 2006 at 10:48 PM · Besides "zone" boarding, airlines are now experimenting with "window first" boarding, thus having window passengers board first, then middle, then aisle. While having a copy of the FCC letter regarding musical instruments (see archived Delta discussion) would seem to be a priority, finding your airlines boarding criteria and planning your seating to board early would be helpful in making sure you and your instrument stay together.

July 6, 2006 at 11:02 PM · I've flown Southwest sometimes. Not only did they barely look at me or my violin, but they were like "Sit wherever you want on the plane."

Nobody noticed/said anything/gave me any trouble.

July 7, 2006 at 02:48 AM · I've flown American Airlines and United with my violin and haven't had trouble on those, at least not for getting my violin on. Getting to where you're going on the day you're supposed to get there is another issue though....

As for boarding, don't be afraid to be a little rude about boarding. Even if you're in the last boarding group if you make sure you're the first of that group to board (push your way through a little if you have to) you should be ok. Be careful of taking your violin on very short flights though (like an hour or so). They often use the really small planes for those that have essentially no overhead space. For those kinds of flights they gate check your luggage. I would avoid that kind of flight all together if you can. Just make sure not to have connecting flights to closeby cities.


July 7, 2006 at 03:08 AM · Laura is right about the small planes. Some of the overhead space simply won't accomodate anything.

Angelo: I think you are right abut the "window first" boarding. That may be why the zone business does not make sense to me. Recently, I was in a window seat halfway back in a plane and was zone 2. The person in the aisle seat two seats away was zone 6. We speculated that they were giving priority to windows. If that's the case, anyone carrying an instrument should book a window seat to be sure to get on early.


July 9, 2006 at 11:45 AM · I've never had any problems on Swiss and SAA wherever I went I took 2 violins with me in the cabin.I'll be trying Emirates next.

July 10, 2006 at 11:01 PM · Hello,

Anyone have any experience of Sky Europe? Will be travelling Europe to UK this month and hope to take my violin!!!

January 26, 2008 at 03:16 AM · Put a NASA sticker on your case and it will go as carry on. Have some stories ready about stuff that happened on the space shuttle to entertain the children.

January 26, 2008 at 03:37 AM · Yep, small planes on flights of even moderate length are becoming the norm here in the U.S. And, these tiny planes have NO overhead whatsoever! I'd change flights before subjecting my violin to the hold. I would simply refuse to check a violin, unless of course it was a run-of-the-mill factory instrument, which I do not own nor use.

January 26, 2008 at 03:40 AM · If your case will not fit in the overhead space,you can put it in the 'closet'---just in front of 'first class' seats--to the left..

This is what guitar players do---and their cases are much larger than a violin case...

Delta is the worst,as mentioned...

Generally, you will not have a problem..

Guitar players do this all the time...

It is a huge pain though,but you will be ok.There is still a degree of respect for musicians on most airlines...

January 26, 2008 at 05:15 AM · Joe, that was a good suggestion but people should know that it does not always work. I have at times found this compartment to be full, and in one instance it was full of a flight attendant's personal belongings, which were more important to the flight attendant than a customer's very valuable instrument. Thankfully not mine at the time, but rather another passenger's better-quality classical guitar. I told the guy to slack off the string tension before they stuffed it in the hold, which he did and thankfully for him everything turned fine. However, be careful in doing so if you play a violin, viola or cello as a lack of string tension could cause the belly to rise from a lack of down pressure being supplied by the bridge, which could cause the soundpost to fall out of place or move. For cellists, however, there's always the option of buying your instrument a seat alongside your own.

Another subject altogether is shipping violins, violas or cellos. At some point along the way these no doubt wind up in a cargo plane, which have uncontrolled environments as well. What about this situation?

January 26, 2008 at 05:21 AM · I don't think it's uncontrolled. They put pets in there, and it's got to be like 0 degrees and a near vacuum outside :)

January 26, 2008 at 05:21 AM · As a retired TWA Capt. we used to let musicians put their instruments in the overhead or under

the window seats. No way you're going to trip over a case under a window seat that's not by an emergency exit.

In the event of an accident please do NOT grab for the violin, viola, whatever, I've seen the movies and spoken with victims and you would be shocked at how fast you can die from smoke or chemicals you can't even smell. Get out NOW via the nearest exit which may not be the one you came in.

The humidity in the cabin at altitude can be really really low. Keep a good humidifier like a Planet Waves or the Musafia ones filled up. The air you breathe basically comes from the engines and air conditioning packs so there is no practical way to humidify the air. Besides the plane's instruments love the dryness even if our bodies and our instruments do not.

January 26, 2008 at 05:44 AM · Ray makes a great point. Air travel can definitely take a toll on a stinged instrument, and so advanced planning is required.

The great cellist Jacqueline du Pré toured extensively with a masterpiece Stadivari cello named Davydov. Shortly before the time she became terminally ill with MS, Davydov became unplayable. Some have speculated that her contant touring -- flying around the globe via airflight in the rough earlier years of airtravel -- took a toll on the cello. Back then, as one book I read described, the musicians would rush to the hotel and immediately place their instrument in the bathroom with the shower running hot and humid -- all day. Or maybe the cello simply withdrew as du Pre became horribly ill.

Anyway, Yo-Yo May now plays the Davydov Strad cello. It sounded bad when he first received it. But slowly, slowly as he played Davydov, he said, each time it slowly improved, and slowly a little more improved, and a little better each time. And now it is back to health.

January 26, 2008 at 11:57 AM · I've never had any problem getting an oblong violin case to fit in the overhead lockers. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both allow you to have the violin as an extra piece of hand luggage. So far, (touch wood) not had any difficulties at security in Heathrow or Gatwick with violin. Just be polite, calm and smile a lot if they ask about it.

January 26, 2008 at 01:55 PM · I haven't done international flying for a while. But for domestic US travel I find Jet Blue to be fine. Here's what I do with my violin. I keep the tension normal, but use a cardboard fingerboard wedge even say in Winter, when I wouldn't otherwise use it. I also fill in the spaces between the f.b. and the bridge, and the brige and the tailpiece with foam rubber. I aim for snugness - not tension. Then the violin is put into a decent suspension case. I also try to politely ensure that other people don't put stuff on top of my case in the overhead, and they're ususally nice about it. So far, I've had no problems.

January 26, 2008 at 02:50 PM · I'm not a travelling peformer, I just take my violin with me everywhere. I have never encountered a problem taking my oblong on board. The few times I haven't had room in an overhead, the flight crew has been super cooperative in providing space. No complaints. Only in the continental U.S. though. I fly mostly Delta.

January 26, 2008 at 03:37 PM · Don't worry about anything. You just need to be confident and push through. I've "smuggled" my younger sister's cello on flights before (last summer) If guitars can go on. So can uh, big guitars ;)

January 27, 2008 at 06:04 PM · I just flew to Germany and back on Delta and had no problems whatsoever. I stowed it in the overhead and it did fine.

January 27, 2008 at 06:57 PM · I've had no problems, ever, on any US domestic carrier. But that being said, it does seem like policies for both airlines and the TSA seem to depend more on what the actual employee wants to do at any given moment. Is the flight attendant in a good mood that day?

Was the security guy just hired and feels like enforcing everything?

On my last flight, security at only one checkpoint made me take off the baby's tiny baby slippers. Give me a break.

January 27, 2008 at 07:41 PM · I've never had problems taking my violin into the hold. I actually think a violin fits more comfortably into the overhead cupboard than lots of other hand luggage.

One other thing you can try is to carry the violin on your shoulder as you board the plane, as this makes it slightly more discreet than if you carry it by hand, and less likely to attract attention.

Regarding Ryanair, I think they've recently changed the rules about taking violins into the hold. As far as I know, you have to pay for it to go on. At least in that case it's possible to guarantee it will go in.

October 10, 2015 at 10:37 PM · Any experience with Blue Air? Their rules state that violin cases exceed the accepted size for hand luggage.

October 11, 2015 at 01:03 AM · Do you mean JetBlue?

April 10, 2016 at 07:29 AM · Has anyone travel with violin shaped case as cabin luggage on Emirates flights?

I'm going to travel from Paris to Jakarta using Emirates and I have to take my violin with me. I have a GEWA BIO violin shaped case, and I don't know if they will allow it as a cabin luggage (because its size is of course exceed the maximum cabin luggage size).

April 10, 2016 at 11:39 AM · Ask the airline.

In the U.S., The FAA (federal aviation administration) has a stated policy allowing you to bring a violin as a carry on. But that policy doesn't cover foreign based flights.

April 10, 2016 at 03:14 PM · Anisa,

check directly with the Emirates and have it in writing (e-mail from them, or printed screen from their web site). Even if the carrier allows you to carry violin on, this does not mean that the personnel on the airport will be aware of the policy.

Bring the paper with you and do not hesitate to immediately escalate with management if you are not allowed to proceed.

Also, do the same for any connection flights (which may use smaller planes).


April 10, 2016 at 04:51 PM · When travelling by air I always have the smallest violin case possible. Airline staff are less likely to object to a small case than some huge monstrosity.

Cathay Pacific are always good ; they have a written policy of allowing violins on the plane. Dragonair in China will sometimes insist that you cannot take the violin with you on the plane but they label it as fragile and it is 'walked' through by staff ie. not treated as general baggage and tossed on the conveyor belt.

April 10, 2016 at 04:56 PM · Might be time for a new thread. This one is from 2006.

Hopefully the OP has been travelling stress free for the last 10 years...;)

April 10, 2016 at 10:33 PM · Funny I just mentioned this on another post.

I've been flying to and from Europe for years and I've never had an issue. I usually just get an "oversized carryon" sticker. I also have a rather large case, but it does fit in the overhead lockers.

If there is a lack of room in overhead lockers, the staff can sometimes put the case somewhere in the back where it'll be out of the way. In general though as long as you don't also have a bunch of other carry-ons there shouldn't be an issue. People just seem to instinctually know that there's no way I'm getting on the plane without it and there's no way it's going in with the luggage. I don't even ask if it's an acceptable item. It's coming with me and that's that. And after all, we're all human and they're just the flight crew, even if it's an exception they're generally willing to make it for an instrument.

April 11, 2016 at 12:29 AM · I travel to Japan frequently and have a sleek Eastman Rocket case for flying( I don't know if they make them anymore? I got it on EBay). It is more compact than a standard oblong, and it "looks" like there is a violin in there.

It usually goes up top, but sometimes on smaller domestic connections it goes under the seat in front of me.

No problems so far, 5-6 trips a year for the past three years.

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