All You Need To Know When Flying With a Guitar

flying with a guitar
Flying with a guitar? Good.

Here is our new 2020 COMPLETE "flying with a guitar" guide, it has practically everything you need to know!

We all know the horrendous stories about how guitars were stolen at the airport, how they got broken or cracked when handled by the airport workers or any other terrible incident.

The truth is that it can happen to anyone with any airline whether it’s your first time flying with a guitar or 10th! 
Prevent all that headache by being prepared!

The best and safest way to fly with a guitar is knowing exactly what you’re getting into, both from the legal aspect and the practical experience.
flying with a guitar
Article Chapters:

  • YOUR RIGHTS AS A PASSENGER AND THE WRITTEN LAW (EU and USA)
  • AIRLINE POLICIES (EU and USA)
  • PACKING AND PREPARING YOUR INSTRUMENT FOR A FLIGHT
  • TIPS VERY IMPORTANT (at the end of the article)
  • FLIGHT CASES

Let’s get started...

👊 The best way to “battle” ignorant airport workers is knowledge! Knowing your rights (and printing them of course) can easily win any argument on this subject.

☝️ Don’t forget that as a passenger and a paying customer, you have rights! (whatever you say or do though, do it in a calm and nice manner, It can go a long way). 

Your Rights when flying inside the USA: (EU below)

Flying with a guitar in the USA

When flying with a guitar in the United States (EU - on the next section), since the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the airline companies have to let you bring your guitar on board (as a carry on) as long as it fits in the plane’s closet or in the overhead compartment.

* Every normal Bass, E.Guitar or Acoustic/Classical will fit in an average size overhead compartment with no problem).

👇The FAA (USA) Law: PRINT IT AND PUT IN YOUR GUITAR CASE!!!

‘‘(1) SMALL INSTRUMENTS AS CARRY-ON BAGGAGE - An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carryon baggage, if:

‘‘(A) the instrument can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin or under a passenger seat, in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator.

AND

‘‘(B) there is space for such stowage at the time the passenger boards the aircraft.

* For the source click here (pages 72 and 217)

Now, let’s break it down:

🔹 The first section is the new official edict that all of us guitarists were so stocked about when it came out! There it clearly states that a passenger is allowed to bring a musical instrument as a carry-on without any additional fees!

🔹 Section A states that the instrument needs to be safely stowed in the designated storage places - the upper storage compartment, the aircraft’s closet or stowed under your seat.

🔺 Section B - Now, this is IMPORTANT!!! This section states that there has to room on-board for your guitar!

What does it mean?

It means that if you’ll get to the point when the airline is gate-checking the bags of the last boarders, you're going to be asked to send your carry-on (that means your guitar) with the rest of the flight’s baggage.

☝️ It is best if you’ll be among the first boarders to make sure your guitar has its place!

flying with a guitar

🤦‍♂️ In case you are late, your best chance is to just be nice, polite and plea with the crew to let you take your expensive, gentle and oh so important guitar on board. It could be stowed in the on-board closets that are usually reserved for coats.

How to prevent this from happening:

There is something you can do to make this whole process a little more comfortable!

💸 You can upgrade to “premium” seat (each company has its own variation of this small upgrade) to ensure a better boarding position for a relatively small fee, this way you’ll be among the first passengers to go on the plane, this way, you can make sure your guitar is properly stowed for the flight.

Your Rights When Flying inside the EU:

Flying with a guitar in Europe

IMPORTANT: The improvement of American law regarding flying musicians and their instruments does not apply in the EU, but it did make the European Commission address this issue. They made all the airlines publish specific information regarding air-traveling musicians and their instruments.

The EU law transcript: PRINT IT AND PUT IT IN YOUR GUITAR CASE!!!

Whereas (29). “Musical instruments should as far as possible be accepted as baggage within the passenger cabin and, where this is not possible, should where possible be carried under the appropriate conditions in the cargo compartment of the aircraft. In order to allow the passengers concerned to assess whether their instrument can be stored in the cabin, air carriers should inform them about the size of storage facilities. Regulation (EC) No 2027/97 should be amended accordingly.”

In simpler words:

🔹 The good news - every airline should publish specific information regarding any issues when flying with a guitar (or any other instrument).

🔺 The same news - There is no definitive law that obligates any company to operate in any certain way and some may charge you even more than the cost of a ticket (at the airport). The law DOES say that musical instruments should be allowed to be taken on board.

Conclusion: 

📑 Print the EU law, check the airline’s musical instrument policy (print it as well) and stow it in your guitar case (pro tip: laminate it and save the trouble in the future).

✈️ Do whatever you can to be among the first people to board on the plane, and avoid any unnecessary problems with the aircrew.

* Many airlines have cheap upgrades that can save you so much headache, so check for any upgrade in boarding priority.

Airlines policies:

Although every airline has to follow the law, each one has a slightly different policy regarding musical instruments, so you’ll better check the specific policy of the airline you’re flying with and make sure everything is in order.

Flying with a guitar in the USA

Airline policy list: (USA)

1. United Airlines guitar policy - the main thing that is important to understand on the United Airlines Guitar Policy is that the company does NOT take responsibility for any damaged items (in a soft case) so make sure your guitar is in a flight case, hard case or at least a reinforced gig bag.

2. JetBlue Guitar Policy - When flying with JetBlue, the aircraft does not have closets to stow musical instruments. Overhead bin space is on a first-come, first-served basis so you better make sure you’re among the first boarders!
You can purchase a seat with extra space and priority boarding on this link.

3. Southwest Guitar Policy - What they are basically saying is the same as every other airline. The instrument has to fit in the upper cabins, in some cases (only with bigger instruments) you’ll have to purchase an extra seat or even check-in your instrument. The maximum instrument size (the sum of the length, height, and width of the outside linear dimensions”) allowed on board is 150 inches, including the case!

4. American Airlines Guitar Policy - American Airlines states the exact maximum measurements for instruments that you are allowed to take with you on board. 

They also specify two different aircraft models, therefore they also have different max instrument sizes so be sure to check the plane type (and check again at the day of your flight, just to make sure your guitar will fit in).

5. Alaska Airlines Guitar Policy ⭐️ with Alaska Airlines, the feeling is a little more friendly towards musicians, they open with the sentence We know how important your musical instrument is to you, and we'll treat it with extra care. 

In their policy, you’ll also find an organized table with every piece of information you need including sizes and extra fees for any kind of instrument.

6. Spirit Airlines Guitar Policy - ⚠️ Spirit Airlines doesn’t even have an instrument policy, a little concerning! 

They do have a section with frequent questions with almost no information about musical instruments. If you’re flying with Spirit Airlines, we recommend you to call customer service and check that everything is in order.

7. Delta Airlines Guitar Policy - Delta’s policy has everything you need to know in it. Height, length, width, weight, instructions for other/bigger instruments, etc. Check everything thoroughly and make sure everything is in order.

8. Air Canada guitar policy ⭐️ from the first sentence, the Air Canda musical instruments policy is very musician-friendly. There you’ll find specific instructions regarding the air-transport of any musical instrument as well as how to prepare your instrument to dramatic changes in pressure and temperature. (in the next section, you’ll find a more elaborated walk-through of this process)

 

Flying with a guitar in Europe

EU Airline policies

1. EasyJet Guitar Policy👍 EasyJet is definitely our favorites! They allow instruments up to 120cm long, which means you can bring your guitar with you on-board! That also means that flying with a guitar with EasyJet is much cheaper than any other airline in the EU. 

  •  Some Bass Guitars will fit inside the measurement restrictions (including the case) and some will be a few centimeters longer than the limit (for example, standard e.bass hard case length is around 126 cm, some cases will be even a few centimeters longer). 
Personal opinion: we believe you won’t have any problem bringing a bass guitar with you, only because that means that the airline workers will have to actually measure each and every guitar that passes through their gates.

2. KLM Guitar Policy -  ⭐️ KLM is a second-best only because it’s a little more expensive.
The advantage they have over EasyJet is that they allow instruments up to 158 cm as a hold-luggage! 
That’s good news for Bass players, with KLM, you can be sure that the law is on your side and no one will harass you and your Bass!

3. Lufthansa Guitar Policyat Lufthansa you’ll be able to take your guitar with you on the plane instead of your carry-on luggage. If you want to take a carry-on AND a guitar, you’ll HAVE to purchase an extra seat!

Notice: Small instruments won’t have any problem, a guitar is a little more complicated, here is what they’re saying:

  • In exceptional cases, dependent on aircraft load factor and aircraft type, you may also take slightly larger instruments into the cabin with you as long as these fit in the overhead locker above your seat. However, please understand that we cannot guarantee this.

4. Ryanair Guitar Policy - The Ryanair policy regarding musical instruments clearly states that you have to purchase an extra seat for an instrument such as a guitar (and even a violin!). From personal experience, we can definitely say that if Ryanair will have a reason to charge you - they will! But they’re also one of the cheapest airlines out there so that’s understandable.

* We do not recommend bringing a guitar to a Ryanair flight, it might end up to be more expensive than another option.

5. Air France Guitar Policy - Air France will let you check your instrument in as baggage (that means that you can come on board with your guitar!
VERY IMPORTANT: if you wish to take your guitar on-board,
you have to notify customer service and get an approval 48 ahead of your flight! (Air France customer service).

6. British Airways Guitar Policy - 👎 British Airways won’t let you take your guitar as a carry-on and it is stated very clearly on their terms and conditions. Unfortunately, the only option you have is to purchase an extra ticket for your instrument.

7. Virgin Atlantic Guitar Policy - 👎 With Virgin Atlantic, unfortunately, you’ll have to purchase another seat for your guitar and you can bring a maximum of 2 guitars (and purchase a ticket for each one!).


HOW TO PACK A GUITAR FOR A FLIGHT:

Packing your guitar properly, especially if you’re traveling with an acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar is extremely important due to rapid changes in pressure and temperature - these changes can result in cracks in the wood! Yes, you heard right, so don’t you dare skip the next part!

How to pack a guitar for flight

Packing your guitar for a flight divides into two sections - Packing and Flight Cases.

How to pack a guitar for a flight:

DO NOT underestimate the importance of properly packing your guitar for a flight! It can save your gig, or just save you a big headache.

1. Place a piece of paper between the strings and the neck - to prevent the strings from grinding into your frets.

2. Add extra padding to the guitar’s headstock, neck, and heel - to prevent it from moving inside the case, you can use a few tees and wear them after! If your case isn’t molded, add padding until your guitar is secure inside your case.

    how to pack guitar for flight

    3. Loosen the strings to prevent string tightening that can lead to a neck twist.

    4.  📑 Don’t forget to pack all the documents you need - the law, the airline policy and personal details (laminated will save you time in the future).

     

     

    “Flying with a Guitar” TIPS

    Follow these points and you’ll never (ever!) have a bad experience when flying with a guitar.

    flying with a guitar

    TIPS AND IMPORTANT INFORMATION:

    1. PRINT ALL THE DOCUMENTS YOU NEED AND KEEP A COPY INSIDE YOUR CASE! (the best way to do so is to just laminate everything once and for good).

    What you actually need:

    • Printed FAA or the EU Law (depending on your flight of course)
    • Printed Airline Musical Instruments/Sensitive Carry-On Policy
    • Printed personal details

    2. FLYING WITH A HARD/FLIGHT CASE OR A SOFT CASE?

    In case your guitar will sustain damage over the flight, AND it was in a hard case, you will have a much better legal stance when suing for damages!

    3. EVERY AIRLINE HAS ITS OWN DIFFERENT POLICY!

    Some even state the exact maximum measurement for an onboard musical instrument.
    To be on the safe side, make sure everything fits, print it and put it in your guitar case.

    4. UNDERSTAND HOW INSTRUMENT SIZES ARE SOMETIMES CALCULATED.

    Length plus height and width does not exceed < *some limit*
    Sometimes definitions will be a lot clearer like max length, max-height, and max-width.

    5. HAVE AN EXTRA STICKER WITH YOUR DETAILS ON THE OUTER SIDE OF YOUR CASE.

    In case it’ll get lost after checking it in or any other unknown reason.

    6. TRYING TO COMMIT TO ONE AIRLINE MIGHT BE A GOOD IDEA.

    Companies often reward their frequent customers with faster boarding options.

    7. CHECK THE PLANE TYPE.

    Check it once again at the day of your flight to be sure, smaller planes sometimes have smaller upper compartments that cannot fit a regular size guitar!

    8. A PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION FROM US:

    Anytime you can pay a relatively small price and get an upgrade, do it. The convenience just worth it, and if you know how touring goes, you know that it’s hard anyway, so why not save a little trouble?

    9. IN CASE YOU ORDER AN EXTRA SEAT FOR YOUR GUITAR:

    Usually, it is best to contact the customer service of the airline you are flying with. Don’t forget to properly fill in the extra seat name, fill in “extra” on the first name option and “seat” at the last name option.

    10. STANDARD GUITAR AND BASS CASE SIZES:

    Standard Electric Guitar - (L x W x H) 105 x 41 x 13.5 cm

    Standard Acoustic Guitar (L x W x H) 116 x 49 x 16.6 cm

    Standard Electric Bass Guitar (L x W x H) 126.5 x 41 x 14 cm

    Standard Acoustic Bass Guitar - (L x W x H) 113 x 46 x 16.5 cm

    11. GOOD ATTITUDE 😁

    Remember that sometimes even the airport workers don’t know the exact rules about everything and besides that, a calm and firm explanation with a smile can go a long way with service-givers! 

    THE PRO TIP:

    When touring, guitars are at a much higher risk of getting stolen or damaged, that’s just a fact that anyone who ever toured knows.

    flying with a guitar

    What a lot of professional touring guitar and bass players do is upgrading a low-budget guitar with new electronics.
    This way a Squire can sound amazing AND you won’t get your heart broken in case it’ll get stolen or damaged along the way.

    These guitars may vary between $250 - $700 (depending on the model, Les Paul style guitar with Humbuckers will be more expensive, while a Stratocaster Squier can go even under $250 if you find a good deal on it)

    We recommend (as it is our official partner) Coils Boutique Pickups. Why? They are a REAL boutique! 
    Coils Boutique Pickups

    • Handwound and hand-crafted pickups, constructed from the best materials available on the market.
    • Their communication is personal, attentive and super fast
    • They have a great selection to fit every musical orientation.
    • They offer FREE worldwide shipping!

     Boutique Guitar Pickups:

    Stratocaster
    Telecaster
    Jazzmaster
    Jazz Bass

    Precision Bass

    • We also recommend just getting a Squier, it’s the safest option when it comes to such low-budget guitars.

     Squier Guitar Models:

    Stratocaster
    Telecaster
    Jazzmaster
    Jazzbass
    Precision Bass

    Bass, Acoustic & Guitar Flight Cases!

    A good flight case is a very important component when flying with a guitar! - The case you choose to fly with directly affects the amount of responsibility an airline will take over damaged items!

    flying with a guitar

    In case your guitar will sustain damage over the flight, AND it was in a hard case, you will have a stronger legal stance when suing for damages!

    Yes, we know that soft cases are more comfortable and a lot lighter but when it comes to flying with a guitar, you can never be too safe.

    how to pack guitar for flight

    Okay, now let’s talk about flight cases...

    When it comes to cases, there are three types: Soft gig-bag (some of them can be extremely protective), Hard Case, and a Flight Case.

    On this list, you'll find only hard cases and flight cases since we recommend flying only with these.

    • You will be able to fly with a soft case and everything can go smoothly, but if you want to be safe without a shroud of doubt you need a flight case or at least a hard case.

    1. Delux Molder Electric Guitar Case by Fender - One of the most favorite among guitar players is the Delux Molder Electric Guitar Case by Fender.  Although it is made out of plastic, it is highly durable, has a snug fit on your Stratocaster/Telecaster, and one of the lightest flight cases.

    Stratocaster Flight Case

    Pros 
    Cons
    • This Fender case is constructed out of ATA molded military-grade polyethylene.
    • TSA approved locking center latch
    • Protective neck cradle
    • Relatively cheap (around $200)

    There’s a better option, the Gator Titan Series if you don’t have a budget limit, it is a stronger and better-built case (costs approximately $300).

    UPDATE (09.20): There's even a cheaper solution! Gator offers a new transit (soft!) case in a fair price!

     

     2. Gator Cases Molded Flight Case For Les Paul - This is a great case for a great price and here is why:

    • The Gator Les Paul case has a highly protective shell and a soft interior with a snug fit that prevents scratches and absorbs impacts.
    • Molded soft handle (more important than you think).
    • TSA approved locking mechanism.
    Les Paul Flight Case
      Pros
       Cons
      • ATA Roto-Molded Polyethylene Outer-Shell
      • TSA approved, impact protected locking latch.
      • Snug fit
      • Relatively cheap (around $165)
      • Les Paul has a soft spot, and this case provides adequate support at a critical location.

        3. SKB 3I-5014-44 Bass Guitar Case - This is a great case for a great price and here is why:
          • Water-resistant
          • An exceptionally strong case. The handles and hardware are super-sturdy!
          • TSA approved locking mechanism.
          • It has wheeeeeels!
          • A lot of accessories storage place.
          SKB bass guitar flight case
            Pros
            Cons
            • Water-resistant
            • TSA approved, impact protected locking latch.
            • An exceptionally strong case. The handles and hardware are super-sturdy!
            • It has wheeeeeels!
            • A lot of accessories storage place.
             


              4. Gator Acoustic Dreadnought Guitar Case (GTSA-GTRDREAD)

              Bullet points:
              • This case is constructed of solid, military-grade polyethylene plastic.
              • This case features a newly designed TSA approved locking latch and a comfort grip. 
              • Soft and a snug interior that protects the guitar from scratches. 
              • Extended reach protective neck cradle to secure the guitar into position. 
              • This case will fit most popular guitars by manufacturers such as Fender, Gibson Acoustic, Taylor, Martin, and many more (don't forget to ALWAYS check dimensions first). 
              Acoustic flight case
                Pros
                Cons
                • Super strong exterior and a soft interior that has a good grip on the instrument.

                • TSA approved locks

                • Protective neck cradle
                • IMPORTANT: This is not an actual flight case, it is durable and it is properly padded but you’ll understand what is a proper acoustic flight case (that costs around 1250$) in the next product. This is still your best option if you're on a budget!

                • Won’t fit ANY guitar! You have to properly check the dimensions of your guitar against the interior dimensions of the case.
                  

                 

                 

                "Flying With a Guitar" Q&A

                Can I carry my guitar on a plane?

                Sometimes you will, and sometimes WON’T!

                How will I know?

                Scroll up and you’ll find a list of Europian airlines policies and a list of American airlines policies, under each one you’ll find all the details you’re looking for.

                In case you didn’t find the airline you’re flying with, please write down in the comment section so we’ll update our article!  

                How much does it cost to fly with a guitar?

                Flying with a guitar can cost you nothing, you can be charged a large amount or even be obligated to purchase a ticket for your guitar.

                How will I know? Scroll up and look under “airline policies”, there you’ll find every airline’s (USA & EU) musical instruments policy.

                How do you pack a guitar for air travel?

                When packing a guitar for air travel, the most important thing for you to remember is to make sure it doesn’t move inside the case, but that is only a small part of how you need to prepare yourself for air travel with a guitar. Scroll up and find the full guitar packing instruction.

                Will a guitar fit in an overhead bin?

                A guitar should fit in every standard overhead bin, but we recommend to always check the model of the plane before your flight. Just to be on the safe side, some smaller planes have smaller overhead bins that cannot fit a guitar inside! (the companies don’t publish the sizes of the overhead bins but the bigger the airplane, the more chance you have to fit your guitar in the overhead bin).

                In case your guitar can’t fit in the overhead bin, or you just boarded among the last passengers and the overhead bin is full, you can politely ask the crew if they can place your guitar in their closet, and hope they will be able to help.

                Which airlines allow guitar carry on?

                Scroll up and you’ll find a list of Europian airlines policies and a list of American airlines policies, under each one you’ll find all the details you’re looking for.
                In case you didn’t find the airline you’re flying with, please write down in the comment section so we’ll update our article!

                Do musical instruments count as carry on?

                The plain answer to that question is yes, but only in some cases. There are different policies for each airline and differences in law restrictions between the USA and Europe. Scroll up and you’ll find everything you need to know about flying with guitars - laws, policies, packing instructions, documentation, tips, and flight cases. 

                😆  Funny note: after an incident that happened during a United Airlines boarding, where the baggage handlers were seen throwing guitars instead of carefully carrying them, a protest trio called “United Breaks Guitars” was formed and made this great song telling the tale!

                 

                That's all for now fellas! If there is anything that wasn't covered on this subject or you feel could be added, please write your ideas in the comment section.

                For amazing guitar videos - Follow our Instagram!
                For unique and beautiful playlists - Follow our Spotify!

                Rock On 
                🤘

                 

                1 comment

                • Hello Dear Writers:)

                  Just want to say wooowwww and a big thank you for this article on travelling with instrument, extremely helpful, thank you sooooo much!
                  I don’t know if you check the comments, but just a question: since this article was written in March, do you guys know whether there has been any change since then due to covid? I would be flying next year from South-America to EU, probably by KLM or Air France according to your recommendations with a bass.
                  Once again, thank you all!
                  Lili

                  Lili

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