The 2018 NFA convention is less than two weeks away, which means you are probably thinking about your travel plans. Hopefully, you already have everything set, but you still might be worried about flying with your instruments.
While this is my first time attending NFA, I have flown with instruments before. So, I am going to share tips from my own experience as well as from various travel websites. The tips here will be in chronological order, so you can get a head start with the first few tips before you even arrive at the airport.
You really shouldn’t be worried about flying with instruments, and these tips will further diminish your worries.
1. Boarding/Check In Upgrades.
I don’t know much about other airlines, but Southwest has an amazing upgrade option called EarlyBird Check-in. Southwest is unique in that you do not get an assigned seat on the plane; you choose your seat when you board the plane.
So your boarding position could have a huge impact on not only the seat you get but also the overhead bin space. Overhead bin space is crucial for musicians, because it means you can still bring your carry on and personal item on the plane.
As the plane fills up, passengers might be required to gate check their items; DO NOT DO THIS. Your instrument needs to make it onto the plane in your hands (more later).
For these reasons, I decided to pay the extra $15 each way to purchase EarlyBird Check-in. This feature will check me in automatically, and it will check me an 12 hours earlier than normal check in.
If you can swing it, boarding and check in upgrades can relieve some or all of your travel stress.
2. Remove Excess Items.
Make sure your case is void of items that might be considered suspect. A simple reed knife or cigarette paper (for pads) might be okay to a musician, but that same item might pose a problem for security personnel.
So try and keep your case simple and neat, that way if your bag needs additional screening, it won’t take as long.
If possible, store these other items in another bag or suitcase. You can still have them on your trip, but it won’t seem as scary to those who might need to investigate your bag.
3. Get to the Airport Early.
Give yourself extra time to get to the airport, through security, and to your gate. You never know what the traffic will be like on the way to the airport; especially if your flight is at a busy time.
You also want to allow extra time for going through security. While there shouldn’t be a huge problem, you want to be prepared for the worst. Depending on your instrument or baggage, it might be manually searched. The TSA staff might also want to inspect your instrument itself.
Then, you will still have to make your way to the gate. I am pretty lucky in this regard, because the Kansas City airport (my home airport) does not have one central security line. Each group of gates has its own security line, so once I know where my gate is, I can go through security and be at the gate.
But if you aren’t so lucky, you will still need time to get from security to your plane’s gate.
4. Have Your Paperwork Organized.
Especially if your instrument is on the more expensive side, or you are traveling with a wooden piccolo (see CITES), you will want to have proof that you own your instrument.
Be prepared with the serial number, approximate value, and purchase receipt or invoice. While you shouldn’t need to show this information to anyone, it is good to have it for your records. You will also want this information if your instrument becomes lost or stolen.
God forbid something so terrible, but you should be able to show proof of ownership.
And a side note: be sure your instruments are insured, whether on their own policy or under a home owners or renters insurance. You want to protect your babies.
5. Pack Your Instrument with Other Items.
Whether you stick your flute or piccolo in a backpack or you store some clothes in a bass flute bag, make use of all available space. Packing your instrument with other items will help keep the instrument safe during any turbulence, but it will also allow you to carry more stuff on board the plane.
My goal every time I travel, alone or with family, is to carry on everything I bring. Yes, I know that’s a crazy goal, but it cuts down on time spent in the airport and lessens the chance of losing something of value.
I will probably be packing my flute in my backpack or carry on bag. That way, I can have my flute with me but also have space for things like my computer, snacks, and other necessities.
If you have to carry your instrument case separately, make sure you have documentation from the FAA that states musical instruments count as personal items.
6. DO NOT ENTER THE PLANE WITHOUT YOUR INSTRUMENT.
If you only follow one of my tips, make it this one. Do not check your instrument. Do not gate check your instrument. And do not let your instrument out of your sight/possession.
This is possibly the most important tip of all, because it actually concerns you and your instrument.
If your instrument is too big to carry on, please consider buying an extra seat. Yes, it is expensive, but the cargo hold is often not temperature controlled. Anything you check will be subject to fluctuating temperatures, and instruments (especially wooden ones) can sustain major damage.
Make sure your instrument makes it onto the temperature controlled cabin of the plane. If you play a string instrument, make sure you tune the strings down so that they don’t break. And make sure your instrument is in a hard case.
7. Maintain Physical and/or Visual Contact.
This goes for any instrument. During your whole trip, you want to make sure you know exactly where your instrument is. You can take a break if it goes up into the overhead bin.
Other than that, you want to keep track of your instrument. Thieves can be quick, and it only takes one second looking in the other direction for someone to steal your instrument.
In order to avoid this, don’t travel with an expensive looking case or bag; use the case your instrument came with. Flutists, as stylish as Fluterscooter bags are, they look and are pricey. Thieves can see an expensive bag and they will go for it.
But no matter the case you use, do not leave it with anyone. Do not set it down without securing it to you. When sitting at the airport, string your arm or leg through a strap on your bag. That way, no one can just walk by and grab your bag.
8. Use Straps.
Whether you are sitting at the gate, on the plane, or walking through the airport, straps are your best friend. Make sure your case or bag has straps. They could be backpack straps or an over the shoulder strap. But you want to have straps that can be secured to your person.
If you merely sling your case over one shoulder or hand carry it, the likelihood of dropping it or someone stealing it increases.
Don’t let that happen to you.
As much as we’d like to believe the world is full of good people and that TSA is completely understanding, that is not always the case. Make sure you have extra time and that you are alert during your trip. And if you’re looking for something to do on the plane? Why not learn a foreign language?
Do you have any tips for flying with your instruments? Leave your tips in the comments!