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Home » Traveling Musician » Tips for Safe Air Travels with Your Instrument

Tips for Safe Air Travels with Your Instrument


The AFM works hard with its partners in the National Musical Instrument Carry-On and Ivory coalitions to make air travel easier for you and safer for your instrument. New rules and more specific guidelines negotiated over the past few years with the airlines, US Department of Transportation (DOT), US Fish and Wildlife Service, Customs, and other agencies have made vast improvements and reduced unexpected surprises when traveling by air. Safe instrument travel begins with careful planning long before you board the plane. Here are some tips to make flying with your instrument more carefree.

Before You Buy Your Ticket

  1. Insure your instrument. An airline will not cover replacement cost for your valuable instrument if it is damaged, lost, or stolen. Airline liability limits are about $3,500 per passenger on domestic flights and less on international trips.
  2. Know the size/weight of your instrument in regards to regulations. Airlines must accommodate musical instruments as carry-on items as long as there is room available in the overhead bin or under-seat area at the time of boarding, and the instrument is in a case. Typically, airlines allow you to check musical instruments as baggage as long as: the sum of the length, width, and height of the exterior case dimensions does not exceed 150 linear inches and the weight does not exceed 165 pounds (this can change if flying smaller regional aircraft). Larger instruments may be allowed, but subjected to “oversize” fees. Always request to have your checked instrument stowed in the climate controlled storage area where pets travel.
  3. Notify the airline that you will be flying with a musical instrument. Have your case dimensions handy. Inquire about the size of the aircraft that will likely be used and how that might limit your ability to fly with an instrument in cabin or in the cargo hold.
  4. Remove all extraneous items from the case before leaving home. Any sharp objects or liquids larger than three ounces should be packed in checked baggage or left at home.
  5. Extra padding. Consider installing additional foam or using bubble wrap in your case for extra protection.
  6. Print a copy of the airline’s specific policies regarding
    instruments. You can find many airline policies listed at http://
  7. Consider early boarding options. Depending on individual airline policies, paying extra for early boarding or requesting a seat assignment at the back of the plane may provide more time to stow your instrument, and more space options.
  8. Limit the number of carry-on items. Most airlines permit one carry-on bag and one personal item. Your instrument will be one of those items.
  9. If traveling internationally, consider whether your instrument may be subject to the US Fish & Wildlife Service bans on import/export. Some musical instruments contain parts or products of species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and/or the Endangered Species Act (ESA), such as African ivory or certain woods. If you think your instrument may fall into this category, you may want/need to obtain a US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) traveling permit for your musical instrument well in advance of your travel date. For more information visit:


For more tips on traveling with your instrument, download the Guide to Flying with Musical Instruments PDF at:

At the Airport

  1. Be prepared to open your case for inspection. For checked instruments, offer to open the case for TSA or customs officials so you can ensure it is properly stowed following examination.
  2. Board as soon as you are called. Airline overhead space is on a first come, first serve basis. Once your instrument is safely stowed in the overhead it cannot be removed or replaced by other bags.
  3. Deal calmly with problems. Move out of the way of other boarding passengers, then show the gate agent a copy of the federal rules ( and quickly and calmly state your understanding as they apply to your situation. Explain the precautions you have taken to travel with your instrument. Don’t take it personally if a gate agent or a flight crew member seems indifferent to your concerns. Their time is limited. In many cases, the problem may be resolved easily.
  4. Have a backup plan. Be prepared in the event that you are not allowed to travel with your instrument in the cabin. Do you have a sturdy travel case? Are you prepared to check your instrument? Don’t forget to insist that the instrument be stowed in the temperature-controlled section of the cargo hold.
  5. Inspect your instrument upon arrival. Carefully examine your instrument for any sign of damage. Report any problems to the airline baggage office before leaving the airport.

If you experience problems that are counter to an airline’s posted policies you are encouraged to file a complaint “first” with the airline ( If the airline’s response is still contrary to its posted policy, write a compliant to the US Department of Transportation ( The DOT monitors complaints for patterns or egregious cases that warrant actions to hold airlines to laws and regulations.
For more tips on traveling with your instrument, download the Guide to Flying with Musical Instruments
PDF at:

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