8 Essential Traveler’s Tips for Taking Your Guitar/Instrument on an AIRPLANE

6 minutes read
Travel guitar airplane New Zealand
Catching some precious practice time before a flight out of Wellington, New Zealand

“I’m leaving on a jet plane…” As the song says, only that you are not really leaving for good, but you are heading on some travels,  AND you also want to take your guitar with you on the airplane to add some music to your adventures. This is awesome and I am here with some suggestions. A lot of that may apply to similar or somewhat-similar sized instruments as well such as cello, etc.

Over the last couple of years, I have taken more than 20 flights, both domestic and international while carrying my acoustic guitar. These are my conclusions for do’s and donts on keeping your guitar intact and saving your time and money.

Although it may seem like it is not a problem and you just take the guitar with you, check in your other bag, and board the airplane to your destination – unfortunately, the truth is that many times, taking your guitar on your travels is not as smooth sailing as it can be. Rest assured because I am here to help and possibly save you hassle, time, money, and a possible broken heart for a broken guitar. Here are a few traveler tips for taking the guitar on an airplane that I have compiled:

1 – Always Aim For Taking The Guitar On The Airplane As A Carry-On
guitar airplane
About to board a flight in JFK with my beloved Washburn.

This is the first golden rule we are going to make. When you are checking in for the flight in the airport, about 50% of the times you are not going to encounter any problems (assuming you have just the guitar and another carry on bag) and you will be allowed to simply carry your guitar on to the airplane. This is great since you know that you are going to be handling your baby yourself and it is going to stay safe. Personally, I still haven’t heard any horror stories about guitars that has been damaged after they were sent in, but all those airport’s automated baggage conveyor systems never seem like the friendliest place for your instrument and you do not want to become that first story.

2 – Check Ahead For Carry-On Baggage Size Limits In The Airline’s Website

This by itself can solve all your problems and clear your way of surprises so I highly recommend doing it. Still, many times even if the stated limit is smaller than your guitar case, they will still let you carry it on and I have met a lot of mismatches in this area, so better keep on reading below…

Watch This Funny Viral Video With Over 15M Views – “United Airlines Breaks Guitars”…

3 – In Case Of A Negative Answer – Insist

This one works for a good portion of the times. Sometimes you will arrive at the check in desk and they will say that you have to send it in. Insist on carrying it in and say that you have no problem with leaving the guitar at the flight attendant’s baggage zone in the airplane (more on that in a minute) and it is important for you to handle the guitar on to the airplane yourself.

4 – Low-Cost Airlines – Warning:

With the low-cost airlines, you have to take extra precautions because they just LOVE musicians who haven’t read the small letters – it’s a great source of fees money for them. I once had to pay Jetstar 70$ to send my guitar in for a domestic flight in New Zealand. And the flight itself cost me 58$. Yeah, it sucked, so to avoid it make sure to call beforehand, tell them specifically about everything that you are carrying with you, and they will let you know if you need to add any kind of baggage fee – and you better pay that fee beforehand because if you’ll wait for the actual check in at the airport it is going to be about 4-5 times more expensive.

As I said, they really love music instruments because they are a huge source of fees for ’em, so make sure you are not the one who’s making them love guitars from the wrong reasons.

I had a great time in New Zealand, but in both the domestic flights I took there, I got ripped off for 80$ for taking my guitar. It was more than the price of the ticket itself. Lesson learned...
I had a great time in New Zealand, but in both  domestic flights I took there, I got ripped off for 70$ for taking my guitar. It sucked! Learn from my mistake and ask the customer service on the phone beforehand to make sure what’s the deal with guitars.
5 – Upon Boarding, Ask The Flight Attendants To Store The Guitar For You

The flight attendants have specific places for this kind of special baggage in most planes and will happily do it for you. This will save you the hassle of carrying it all the way in and out to your seat in the tight airplane with all the people around, it will also save you from having to cramp it in the overhead compartment luggage and it will especially make your disembarkation quicker and much smoother.

Make sure that if you have in the guitar case anything that you need for the flight period itself, like a book or charger, that you take it out beforehand.

6 – If Your Intended Carry-On Is Changed In The Last Moment – Don’t Forget To Not Leave In It Anything That Is Over 100ml3.38 fl oz

Here I am talking about cases that you planned your guitar to be a carry on but then you had to send it in and carry on your other bag. The solution is to think ahead and put that cologne inside the guitar bag that you are sending in.

If not, it will be taken away for good at the next security check. This can be a toothpaste tube, a shampoo, a bottle of cologne or anything similar that you might have. 150ml3.38 fl oz is usually the liquid limit that is allowed to be taken on the airplane in most countries.

traveling musician
Traveling is one of my favorite things to do. Not sure why? Read inside.
In Case Your Guitar HAS To Be A Checked-In Baggage:

7 – Make Sure Your Guitar Is Wrapped In Bubble Wrap Or A Similar Material And That It Is Marked As “Fragile”

In case you have to send it in, and especially if it is a more expensive guitar, I would highly recommend asking the check-in staff to wrap it in a bubble wrap which is something that usually will be available at their counter. This should make you calm.

Guitar carry on airplane travel
My Ready-To-Be-Checked-In guitar in Tokyo Narita airport
8 – If You Are Flying Through A Connection – Ask To Send It All The Way To The Final Destination

This will save you the hassle of standing twice at the baggage claim and also will minimize the time that the guitar is running in and out of the baggage conveyors and thus reduce the risk.

That’s it. Have fun on your travels! A guitar is the best travel companion.

Have you had any good / bad experience when traveling with the guitar on airplanes? Please share the info with us in the comments below, thanks!

Alon Cooper

Alon Cooper

Hey! I'm Cooper, and I hope I can be a helpful friend on your musical journeys. I'm a music artist based in Austin & Amsterdam, playing venues with a band / solo, and trying to learn with the most inspiring musicians wherever I go. In the last 8 years I've lived in Australia, northern Europe, the US and more.

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I hope this list has given you some great ideas, and if you want to have another bunch of song ideas in a fancy PDF songbook form, then feel free to download the songbook in this link.

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