Tag Archives: traveling tips

When It Comes to Air Travel, Preparation Is Key to Keeping Your Instrument Safe

Commercial air travel with a musical instrument can be a challenging and nerve-wracking experience. Handing over luggage is one thing, but a valuable instrument is quite another. With advance preparation, that is, reviewing airline regulations and following these guidelines, the process can go much more smoothly—and reduce your stress in this new age of air travel.

Making Reservations

Airlines are required to allow musicians to carry on instruments if there is room on the flight and instruments fit safely in overhead compartments or under seats. For instruments too large for overhead compartments, you may be able to carry on these instruments if you book a seat as “seat baggage” or “cargo in passenger cabin.” Airlines are not required to allow you to book a seat for your large instrument, but some airlines will permit you to do so for a fee. Fees can be equal to the cost of your ticket.

Airlines must allow you to check instruments in the baggage hold if the sum of the length, width, and height (linear inches) of the exterior case do not exceed 150 inches and the weight does not exceed 165 pounds. Some airlines will permit instruments exceeding these limitations, but you may be required to pay “oversize” fees.

Determine the size in linear inches for your instrument’s case. (For example, if your case has dimensions of 20″ x 10″ x 10″, the linear measure would be 40 inches.) You can find links to the major airline policies in the AFM Travel Kit at https://www.afm.org/what-we-are-doing/travel-resources/afm-travel-kit/.

When purchasing air tickets:

  • Inform the carrier representative that you will be transporting a musical instrument.
  • Request or purchase priority seating or Zone 1 boarding, which will allow you early access to overhead bin stowage.
  • Special fees cannot be charged for an instrument, but typical carry-on fees will apply.

Preparing to Travel

Pack your instrument in a hard case. Even if you’re taking it as hand luggage, flimsy instrument bags are a no-no. Get a sturdy case to reduce the risk of damage. Airlines will require a case that meets the Air Transport Association (ATA) 300 required standard.

Use fragile stickers on the case and be sure it’s clearly labeled with your contact details inside and outside. All checked baggage should have a tag outside the bag with your name, permanent address, and phone number (preferably a cell where you can be reached during your trip). Include a note with the same information inside the instrument case.

If you plan to carry your instrument in the cabin, all tools and other items should be checked or carried separately. Items that are familiar to you—cleaning fluids and tools, valve oil, end pins, reed knives, mutes, tuners, metronomes—may be deemed suspicious by screening personnel.

At the Airport

Musical instruments transported as carry-on require a physical inspection at the security checkpoint. Inform the TSA officer if your instrument requires special care and handling.

Keep carry-on items to a minimum. Passengers are permitted one carry-on bag (stored in the overhead bin) and one personal item (stored under the seat). The instrument will be counted as one of these items.

Board your flight as early as possible since overhead compartments are distributed on a first-come basis. Once an instrument is stowed in-cabin, it cannot be removed or be replaced by other passengers’ items. The reverse is also true—airlines are not required to remove other passengers’ items to make room for your instrument.

If you’re carrying an instrument larger than a guitar, like a cello, you should purchase an extra seat. It’s usually called “seat baggage” or sometimes “cargo in the cabin” and typically a window seat. A weight limit may still apply and you might be limited to certain locations in the cabin.

If you must check your instrument, insist that it is put in the temperature controlled section of the cargo hold where pets are placed. If it goes in the regular baggage hold, changes in temperature may cause serious damage.

If you are traveling with instruments that are made of rare materials, become familiar with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (www.cites.org). Instruments may include unique materials. For example, if your bow is made with horse hair or your strings with gut, you might want to check if you’ll need a permit to take these materials on board.

It’s a good idea to photograph everything in its preflight state. Examine your instrument for damage before leaving the airport at your destination. If you discover damage, report it immediately to the airline baggage office near the baggage claim carousels and be sure to fill out a claim form before you leave the airport.

If Something Goes Wrong

Have a backup plan. You may not be able to travel with your instrument in-cabin—even if you have followed all the procedures. What will you do? Are you willing to send your instrument by air courier? Some airlines will provide passengers with a box or envelope in which the item can be shipped back home.

Know the airline’s policies as you understand them—among your documentation, have a printed copy from their site—and explain the precautions you have taken to prepare your instrument for safe travel. If necessary, ask to resolve the matter with a customer service representative or airline supervisor.

If your experience flying runs counter to the policies posted by the airlines, you are strongly encouraged to submit a complaint to both the airline and the US Department of Transportation (DOT). Start first with a complaint to the airline. The DOT requires airlines to acknowledge consumer complaints within 30 days of receiving them and to send a substantive response within 60 days of receiving the complaint. Submit a copy of your complaint to the DOT at www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint, so that they have a record of the difficulty musicians encounter when flying. The DOT monitors complaints for patterns or egregious cases that warrant actions to ensure that airlines are complying with laws and regulations.

Quick Reminders

  • Pack your instrument in a hard case and place identification inside and outside the case.
  • When making reservations, mention you will be traveling with an instrument and request priority boarding.
  • Pay fees during the call with the agent and have receipts emailed to you.
  • Carry a copy of the DOT Rule as outlined in the Federal Register.
  • Do not argue with flight crews! Musicians who encounter problems at the gate or onboard should immediately ask to speak with an airline customer service supervisor or a complaint resolution officer.
  • Inspect your instrument after landing. Report any violation of airline policy or damage with airline customer service before you leave the airport.
  • Insure your instrument in case there is any problems associated with the flight.
US Visa

Planning for a Successful US Visa

Getting a work permit (O or P visa) for the US as a foreign artist (or nonresident alien) requires a lot of advance planning and thoughtful consideration of the time required for the many steps involved, including the possibility of unavoidable delays.

It’s an unfortunate circumstance that artists are often unable to enter the US to perform because they simply run out of time for the visa process. Here are some suggestions:

First, an artist should start the process as soon as possible. Even beginning a year in advance of a proposed performance date or start date in the US is not too soon. Even if contracts have not yet been signed, you can apply for a nonimmigrant work permit (O or P visa) with deal memos, emails, or letters of intent, as long as they confirm that there are performance date(s). Of course, a foreign artist cannot apply for a non-immigrant work permit but needs to appoint a petitioner (a US-based individual or entity). Gathering this evidence and appointing a petitioner takes time.

Next, the required petition materials must be gathered and prepared to form part of the petition. These materials include passport photo pages from everyone who will be performing (passports need to be valid for six months beyond the proposed US dates), personal information, reviews, programs, biographies, letters of recommendation, lists of awards, a tour itinerary, etc. Although for the P-2 permit specifically, which for musical artists can only be obtained through the AFM, evidence of reviews, biographies, and other accomplishments are not required. It may take some time to gather this information, so start early.

Once completed, a formal petition is submitted to the USCIS office in either Vermont or California for regular or premium processing. Regular processing is less expensive than premium, but currently can take up to four months for an approval; in the case of a P-2 visa, these petitions have been taking 100 calendar days from the date of submission to the AFM. Premium Processing costs more, but USCIS guarantees a response in 15 days. However, even with premium processing, you must apply for the petition at least 25 days before entry to the US to ensure your Approval Notice will arrive in time. There is no guarantee of approval with either processing. At times, USCIS will require further evidence and this can cause unexpected delay in the process. All submitted petitions are issued a receipt number from USCIS, identifying the application.

Eventually, an approved petition will result in receipt of an I-797 form. USCIS will also send a copy of the petition to the Kentucky Consular Center for download to the Petitioner Information Management Service (PIMS). This can take a few days.

Canadian citizens, including Canadian members of the AFM, who are able to apply for P-2 visas, do not need to go to a consular interview, but can go directly to the Canada-US border with an approved I-797.

For non-Canadian citizens, once you have an approved I-797 in hand, you can schedule an appointment at your closest US Consulate. (Wait times for an interview vary from two to 40 days or more.) Go online to complete the required DS-160 Visa Application form, pay the required visa fee, and then arrive at the consulate for an interview with your DS-160 barcode page, proof of payment, and required photos. Once you have been approved for the visa, the consulate, will retain your passport, process the visa document (times vary from consulate to consulate), and make arrangements for these documents to get back to you.

Only after completing these steps are you able to go to the US with documents in hand and speak with a border official, at whose sole discretion you will be allowed into the country.

Take the time to determine the best timetable for getting through the process and ensuring that you will be able to be in the US for your performances.

I welcome your questions and concerns. Please write to me at: robert@bairdartists.com.