Bringing A Guitar On A Plane – Everything You Need to Know


flying with a guitar

Whether it’s your first time flying with a guitar or you’ve done so before, bringing a guitar on a plane can be stressful. It can be difficult knowing the right things to do and ensuring your guitar doesn’t get damaged or stolen while flying.

That’s why I wanted to compile all the helpful tips possible for flying with a guitar, so you know exactly what to do when bringing a guitar on a plane. If you follow the 10 tips below, you’ll be flying safe and sound with your guitar stress-free. Let’s dive right in.

1. Check your airline’s instrument policy

Before you fly, do some research to learn the instrument policy of the specific airline you’re flying on. Simply googling “[Name of Airline] instrument policy” usually does the trick. Still, it’s safest to also call the airline if you really want to be 100% sure they’ll allow your instrument.

American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta, and Southwest all accept instruments, but have different policies. Southwest, for example, only accepts instruments on a conditional basis, which means you should definitely double check before trying to bring an instrument on board one of their flights.

2. Store Your Guitar Above Deck

Try to do everything possible to ensure your guitar doesn’t go below deck with the other checked baggage and luggage. This is because the luggage cabin below deck experiences much more pressure and temperature changes than the above deck cabin of the plane.

Try and store your guitar in an overhead bin if it will fit, or ask the flight attendants if they can take it and store it onboard somewhere above deck. If all else fails, remember to be polite and simply explain that you’re willing to store your guitar anywhere as long as it doesn’t go below.

The best way to do this is by communicating with airline staff, airport staff, and flight attendants before boarding the plane, or as early as possible. Let them know you’re flying with a guitar and would really prefer to keep it out of the luggage cabin below deck.

3. Loosen your guitar strings

As you fly, the temperature changes and so does the pressure in the cabin, as well as below deck. That’s why to be safe, it’s best practice to loosen your guitar strings. You can still leave your strings on your guitar, but I recommend tuning them way down to take as much pressure off of your guitar during the flight as you can.

Locking tuners vs locking nuts vs r... x
Locking tuners vs locking nuts vs regular non locking tuners

Even if you can fit your guitar in the overhead compartment or onboard the cabin of the plane, it’s best to loosen your strings and avoid any unnecessary extra pressure on your guitar’s neck.

4. Pack your guitar in a quality case

An easy way to ensure your guitar is as safe as possible is to invest in a high quality guitar case. Preferably, this would be a hard shell case. There is no safer place for your guitar than in a hardshell case.

A good case will protect it from bumps and bruises, and keep it safe throughout the flight. You can rest easy knowing your guitar is in a protective case.

5. Add some extra padding

Even after your guitar is in its case, it can’t hurt to take a few extra precautions if you’ll be flying with your guitar. When bringing a guitar on a plane, pack some t-shirts, socks, rags, or towels into any empty spaces that remain in the case.

The idea here is to reduce any movement of the instrument in the case, so it isn’t rattling around against the edges during the flight. By packing the extra space full of soft, padded material you’ll keep your guitar snug and secure and reduce any possible damage while flying with your guitar.

6. Consider a budget or travel guitar

Travel guitars pack the tone and playability of upscale instruments into a much smaller and convenient size. They’re ideal for any type of travel, but particularly good for air travel. Travel guitars take up way less space, whether that space is in your trunk, your pack, or a plane’s overhead compartment bin.

Martin actually makes a great steel string travel guitar. Or if you want a smaller guitar that still has a more traditional shape, the Little Martin fits the bill. There are many affordable yet high-quality travel guitars available on Amazon as well.

If you still want to bring a full-sized instrument, it might be best to fly with a budget guitar. The nice thing about flying with a cheaper guitar is that you’ll be less concerned about it getting stolen or damaged. I wrote a whole guide post of my 10 favorite budget acoustic guitars, ranging in price from the mid $100s to under $500.

These budget guitars play as good as many premier models, but come with less anxiety of them getting damaged or stolen.

7. Try to Book your Seat in the Front or Rear

If you’re allowed to choose your own seating on your flight, it’s best to try and score a seat in the front or rear of the plane. These areas of the plane are typically called to board first, so you’ll have priority when it comes to stowing your guitar on the plane, as you’ll be one of the first passengers.

Check whether your airline boards from the front or rear first, and then try to ensure that you’re one of the first passengers to board.

8. Keep Your Cool / Be Polite

Flying with your guitar can be stressful, but one of the best things you can do is keep your cool and remain polite. This is especially important when it comes to interacting with flight and airline staff.

If anyone gives you trouble about flying with your guitar, calmly explain yourself and your preferences for storing the instrument. This way, people will be much more likely to want to help you out and ensure your guitar flies safely.

9. Consider Shipping

If flying with your guitar seems like too much hassle or stress, you can always consider shipping it instead. Shipping a guitar is not too expensive, and will typically cost you around $25 for ground shipping with insurance included. Definitely spend the extra cash for insurance, as this way you’re protected if something goes wrong during the process.

10. Know the Law and Your Rights

Did you know you have the law on your side when traveling with a musical instrument. It’s important to know your rights. The following is from 49 U.S. Code § 41724. Musical instruments:

SEC. 403. MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS.(a) IN GENERAL—Subchapter I of chapter 417 is amended by adding at the end the following:

‘‘§ 41724. Musical instruments
‘‘(a) IN GENERAL—
‘‘(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 carry-on 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 instruments too large to fit in an overhead or under your seat, you can bring them aboard but you do have to buy another ticket:

‘‘(2) LARGER INSTRUMENTS AS CARRY-ON BAGGAGE.—An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a musical instrument that is too large to meet the requirements of paragraph (1) in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to the cost of the additional ticket described in subparagraph (E), if—

‘‘(A) the instrument is contained in a case or covered so as to avoid injury to other passengers;

‘‘(B) the weight of the instrument, including the case or covering, does not exceed 165 pounds or the applicable weight restrictions for the aircraft;

‘‘(C) the instrument can be stowed in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator;

‘‘(D) neither the instrument nor the case contains any object not otherwise permitted to be carried in an aircraft cabin because of a law or regulation of the United States; and

‘‘(E) the passenger wishing to carry the instrument in the aircraft cabin has purchased an additional seat to accommodate the instrument.

Summary

Now you have everything you need in order to fly with a guitar safely. When bringing a guitar on a plane remember to try and store it above deck, loosen the strings, and make sure it’s protected in its case.

You could also consider a travel guitar or budget guitar so that you’re not traveling with a guitar that’s irreplaceable.

Lastly, know your rights when it comes to flying with an instrument, and remember to be polite when communicating with staff. If all else fails, you can consider shipping your guitar instead.

I hope this helped you out, and that you’re less stressed about bringing your guitar on a plane. Thanks for reading, and as always, happy picking!

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Corbin Buff

Corbin has played guitar for over a decade, and started writing about it on Acoustic World in an effort to help others. He lives and writes in western Montana.

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