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Home » Legislative Update » AFM Takes Leadership Role in Historic Instrument Carry-on Talks

AFM Takes Leadership Role in Historic Instrument Carry-on Talks


by Alfonso M. Pollard, AFM Legislative-Political Director and Diversity Director

Instrument Carry-on Talks

The AFM recently participated in historic instrument carry-on talks at the Department of Transportation (DOT). Meanwhile, the ivory debate shows some progress.

The AFM realizes that the recent “turbulence” encountered by traveling musicians is very real. Union leadership and senior legislative staff are fighting aggressively to ensure our musicians rights. After decades of debate, public relations, organizing, lobbying, and regulatory commentary, critical federal policy issues effecting musicians’ travel have now converged. Whether traveling across the US with your instrument as carry-on or traveling with musical instruments containing CITES designated endangered species or rare wood component parts, these “fronts” are going through stringent legislative and regulatory scrutiny in Washington, DC.

DOT Acts Decisively on Carry-On Rules

On July 9, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx convened a historic meeting between national and regional airline executives, the AFM, and other stakeholders. AFM President Ray Hair led talks on behalf of the music delegation with each of the eight national music organizations outlining their stake in the carry-on rule-making process. The purpose of the meeting, encouraged and supported by 35 members of Congress, was to assist DOT in the carry-on rulemaking process. The meeting was the first step toward reconciling our musical instrument carry-on issues with the airlines. Major and regional airline executives, just about all of whom at one time played a musical instrument, took serious interest in our comments and were extremely open to constructive dialogue. As the meeting progressed, national music groups at the table became more confident that DOT, FAA representatives, and the airlines are on the right path toward the development of new rules and final resolution of this decades-long issue.

To more vividly make our point, a musical instrument exchange took place among airline executives, DOT staff, and music participants, giving each the opportunity to handle these delicate musical instruments. Violist and Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) member Jennifer Mondie, a member of our delegation, performed a brief, impressive excerpt from the classical repertoire. Mondie is a member of the National Symphony Orchestra. 

These talks remain sensitive, so little detail can be revealed at this moment. However, at the conclusion of the meeting, we all agreed to continue our work under the auspices-watchful eye of Secretary Foxx. Many thanks to all involved. 

Update: Travel with Instruments Containing Endangered Species Parts and Rare Woods

In written testimony delivered to the US House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, AFM President Ray Hair made it clear: “musical instruments containing small amounts of ivory simply should be exempted from the ivory ban, and second, that at a minimum, the application of the amended Director’s Order and any new rules regarding musical instruments should be held in abeyance until clear, reliable, and non burdensome means of compliance are worked through their stakeholders.” Hair addressed the negative economic impact of the new rules on musicians when legally purchased instruments are confiscated by customs and boarder agents. He also made it clear to Natural Resources Committee members that devaluation of musical instruments containing ivory threatens the livelihoods, capital investment, and future retirement of musicians, while it keeps a new generation of musicians from being able to utilize some of the finest musical instruments in existence. 

Much has happened since the June IM update. While the AFM, along with our African Ivory Coalition, works toward comprehensive solutions, I thought I would provide you with additional information you can use to help negotiate USFWS regulations, while remaining on a clear path toward smooth travel.

Passports and Certificates: For multiple border crossings you may now use USFWS form 3-200-88, which more clearly addresses musical instrument requirements for travel abroad.

Pernambuco Bows: For musicians traveling with bows made of pernambuco wood that do not contain component parts of endangered species, no permit is required. The USFWS has issued a letter that cites the bow’s exemption.  (Feel free to call the AFM Office of Government Relations to discuss this matter.)

For those who still have difficulty navigating complex CITES requirements, you can refer to information, now more clearly written, on the CITES musical instrument webpage (see above link). For answers to questions about traveling with instruments containing CITES restricted materials, US citizens may contact USFWS (e-mail: or 1-800-358-2104). Canadian members can contact the AFM Canadian Office with travel or immigration-related questions.

Tenacity Sometimes Rules

Reknowned bassist and AFM Local 802 (New York City) member Christian McBride described to media how he lost a specially crafted carbon-fiber bass bow while departing the US for a concert in Saskatoon, Canada. In an interview, he recanted his misfortune when Transportation Security Administration (TSA) enforcement officers collected his instrument and bow for inspection. His entire bass case, with the bow inside, was taken for a back-room inspection at Newark Airport. “People are normally allowed to accompany their instrument during these inspections”, McBride remarks, however, this time he didn’t go.

Upon arrival at his Canadian destination, McBride noted that his bow (which did not contain CITES materials) was not in his Lemur Travel Bass case. In its place was a note from the TSA announcing “We searched your luggage.” After backtracking at home, at work, and at his studio, it was obvious that his bow was misplaced during the TSA search. Numerous calls were made to TSA Customer Care, the TSA Coordination Station, and finally, TSA Lost and Found. After months, his call was finally returned, but the news was no better. It was only after his persistence and a high level of media attention, that McBride received an apology from TSA.

Not only did McBride’s unanswered calls create frustration, but the incident left him without one of his primary work tools. “I’m surprised that it took so long to get a response from the agency,” he says. To the AFM and all of McBride’s colleagues, this was an extraordinary faux pax. But it was his understanding of the touring business, tenacity, social media savvy, and broad network of friends and colleagues, that eventually brought TSA around. As musicians, we are not helpless. Ours is one of the most socially connected professions in the world, and we can take advantage of that.

McBride notes, “Now that more musicians are speaking out about their tribulations, hopefully something will be done about the protocol.” That, in part, is the AFM’s goal, to educate our members, advocate on their behalf, provide tools that help guarantee change, and serve as a platform for members, keeping their careers on track, whether on stage, in the studio, in the classroom, or on the road.

Right now, McBride has the attention of the TSA and musical flying community. TSA is working with him in an attempt to, hopefully, make him whole. However, his story is unique. Not all musicians with similar stories can say they were treated equally. (TSA’s over-reach in McBride’s case will be addressed in a direct AFM inquiry to TSA.) 

Stories about mistreatment and abuse of authority are becoming more prevalent thanks to musicians using social media to spread the word. To help in conflicts with TSA employees, we recommend that each traveling musician carry the AFM TSA letter found on the myAFM section of, under the AFM “Document Library” tab’s “Travel Information” category. This letter does not guarantee that your carry-on instrument will make it onto the plane. Only our current work with DOT and the FAA will bring about a final resolution of the carry-on issue. The letter does make it clear to TSA employees that the agency supports passage of musical instruments. 

Tapping into Members as a Resource

Public policy advocacy cannot be accomplished in a void. The Office of Government Relations reaches out to local officers and members across the country. Whether asking for calls to members of Congress, to sign letters to the President of the US, or for participation in petitions and political rallies, each time, local officers and members respond positively. When it comes to solidarity each volunteer advocate knows that actions that help one musician, help us all.

It stands to reason that Local 171-710 members play a unique role in politics and legislation. Our union’s participation in congressional hearings, TEMPO growth, organizing, as well as AFL-CIO national activities, makes a difference. The Office of Government Relations, with the help of Local officers, will step up its outreach to as many AFM members as possible to move our policy agenda forward. Thus far, we have had successes with immigration, funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, copyright protection, and many other matters before the Congress. We look forward to your participation and thank you for your membership.