If you’ve ever had a “flyout” gig, you know that one of the toughest calls is whether or not to take your prized baby guitar to the show. You want to play your best guitar, but you don’t want to lose it or have it damaged in transit.
There are pros and cons to checking your guitar into baggage and bringing it into the cabin for the overhead bin. Some airlines simply don’t allow the latter (fortunately, Southwest Airlines does!)
Amongst our team members here at Danville Music, we have personal experience having knobs broken, pickguards cracked, cases broken, and necks out of adjustment. A buddy had his expensive Gibson SG that was thrown so hard that the headstock snapped.
With these various scenarios in mind and to address your concerns about flying with your axe, Danville Music presents our Top 10 Tips for Flying With a Guitar! We hope it helps you calm your nerves.
How to Bring a Guitar on a Plane
Bypass Regular Bag Check
Do not let baggage handlers (AKA throwers) accost your guitar. Do not use regular check in if possible. Instead “gate check” your guitar (see Tip #3!) Having said this, I have traveled throughout this great land with a guitar going into regular baggage check, and so far, I have not lost one.
Soft Guitar Bag Trick
If you must travel with a soft guitar bag and you’re on Southwest Airlines, try this trick! With “Friends & Family” boarding on Southwest, you can board right after the “A” boarding group and skip the “B” boarding group if you sign up for it at the little desk at the gate. This way you can board immediately after the “A” group with your instrument to the back of the plane, where there’s usually overhead bin space for your soft case/guitar. If you can pull this maneuver, the flight attendants in the back of the plane are usually okay with it.
Overhead Bin Space
Make sure to check in early so that you can get closet/overhead space before. Southwest Airlines has overhead storage that accommodates guitars/basses- their business model was to purchase the same model of airplane for their fleet- so the space on every plane for luggage is consistent - and their return policies and airfare make it a great choice for flying.
Get a Flight Case
Okay, you won’t be able to (or don’t wish to) bring your guitar on the plane. In this case, you should get a hard shell flight case. An SKB flight case is a great investment. They even make flight cases with rollers on them for larger instruments such as basses. Of course, you can get an Anvil-style case for the highest level of safety, but heavens to Betsie, those things weigh a ton. With great security comes great weightiness. The SKB cases are a great balance of a little extra weight with a lot of extra security.
Make Sure Your Flight Case Has a Lifetime Guarantee
SKB Cases have a lifetime guarantee.My beautiful SKB flight case even had a hole punched in it somehow. But the guitar miraculously was fine, and SKB has a lifetime guarantee, so they actually replaced the case with a brand-new case! Love SKB.
Gate check-in is a great way to alleviate bumps and bruises to your guitar. Gate check-in or just “gate check” for short, means you carry your guitar all the way as if you were going to bring it on the plane with you, but at the last minute (usually at the end of the jetway when you’re about to step on the plane) the person standing there takes the guitar. It still goes into baggage, but it comes out first, and ends up getting less bumps and bruises because you’ve skipped at least one baggage handler/thrower.
It may go without saying, but be nice to the flight attendants. They’ll often give you little tips or find some space for your beloved guitar. Fun fact: they like it when people are nice to them, and for some reason, they collectively seem to have a soft spot for musicians. “Life on the road”, and all that.
Fight for Your Right to Flight
FAA regulations require that instruments be allowed on the plane if there is room. It was put in place by the “FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012” Section 14 CFR Part 251…. I printed page 5 and put it in my guitar case when I flew- because I have encountered disgruntled employees that gave me a hard time.
Use One of Our Recommended Guitar Flight Cases
For carrying on an electric guitar in the plane cabin: Mono case M80-EG-BLK for 1 guitar, but the Mono M80-2G-BLK is great for 2 electric guitars- shhhhhhh! Don’t tell the attendants there are two guitars in it- this case makes 2 electric guitars look like 1 acoustic. I’ve been on several flights with the M80-2G-BLK in the cabin across the United States.
For checking your guitar in baggage: If using a guitar as a carry- on isn’t an option, you’re gonna want a solid hard shell case. ATA flight cases are great- but they can be expensive. We recommend Hard-shell SKB cases. Danville Music’s Adam Schuman toured several cities in China with his 1969 Les Paul Custom, and used an SKB-56 and his guitar never got damaged. Adam’s guitar tech told him he had seen a car back over a guitar in this type of case and the guitar was unharmed. The next step up is the SKB iSeries, which introduced the first injection molded guitar case- and it’s waterproof.
Choose Your Adventure & Breathe
Realize that no matter how many precautions you take while traveling with your instrument, something, eventually, will happen. Before you fly with your precious axe, consider if your next most-precious axe might not be a better alternative. Which one would you rather lose in the long-run?
We hope this guide was helpful for you.
Safe travels and good rockin’ tonight!