It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional musician or just an amateur. Your guitar is like an extension of your own body. And if for any reason you need to fly with your instrument, planning the trip can become a nightmare.
But are Guitars Allowed on Airplanes? Are they considered carry-on items or checked baggage? Will my guitar arrive safely? Do I have to pay any extra? These and even more questions come to mind every time that we want to take our guitar with us.
Unfortunately, the answers are not always clear. So, let’s find out everything you need to know about guitars and airplanes…
What the US law says
The good news is that regardless of the airlines you’re flying with, nobody is allowed to stop you from traveling with your guitar. The bad news is that in most cases, you will not be able to decide whether it will be with you in the cabin or it will be checked in the cargo hold.
Why is that?
This is what section 41724 of the Title 49 of the United State Code states:
(1)Small Instruments as carry-on baggage.
Any air carrier that provides air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a guitar, violin, or other musical instruments within the aircraft cabin. without charging the passenger any additional fee on top of the standard fee that carrier requires for comparable carry-on baggage, as long as—
(A)the instrument can be safely stowed safely under a passenger seat or in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin, allowing for the requirements for carriage of all carry-on baggage or cargo as established by the Administrator; and
(B)there is enough space for such stowage at the time the passenger boards the aircraft.
(2)Larger instruments as carry-on baggage.
An air carrier that provides air transportation shall permit a passenger who is carrying a musical instrument that is too large to meet the requirements of section (1) within the aircraft cabin, without charging a fee in addition to the cost of the additional ticket as described in subparagraph (E), as long as—
(A)the instrument is contained in its case or covered to avoid injury to other passengers;
(B)the instruments weight, including the case or covering, does not exceed 165 pounds or the normal weight restrictions for the aircraft;
(C)the instrument can be stowed following the requirements for carriage of carry-on cargo or baggage established by the Administrator;
(D)the instrument nor the case should contain any object not permitted to be carried in an aircraft cabin due to a law or regulation of the United States; and
(E)the passenger who wishes to carry the instrument within the aircraft cabin has purchased an additional seat to hold the instrument”.
What does this mean?
Well, it means that all American airlines can not refuse under any circumstances to carry your guitar, but they still have all the option to decide if it is hand baggage or checked-in baggage.
I don’t know about your guitar, but none of mine can be stowed under the passenger seat on a domestic flight. And even on a bigger international plane, the last thing I would want is to squeeze my precious instrument under a seat, with high chances that the person in front of me could accidentally kick it while moving his feet.
So what options do we have?
Can your guitar be placed in the overhead compartment?
The maximum size of a carry-on bag is 21″ x 15″ x 9″. This is quite standard for every airline, but keep in mind that it might vary slightly. In the case of nonrectangular shape bags, such as guitar in its case, the “linear inches” are taken into consideration. This means that the sum of length, width, and height of the object shouldn’t exceed 45″.
Are you already looking for that tape measure that you should still have somewhere?
Don’t worry; I did the math for you…
Any Stratocaster type of guitar, regardless of the brand, will be roughly 62 linear inches. A dreadnought acoustic guitar will be around 75 linear inches. And I haven’t even considered the case yet. So, if we look at these numbers, we should conclude that there is no way that we’ll be allowed to carry our guitar in the cabin.
Luckily, many airlines have more flexible policies, and as long as there is enough space in the overhead bins, they will let you take your guitar with you.
But even when you call the airline in advance and they confirm that it is possible, the chances are that when you board the plane, all the stowage areas are already full.
What will happen in that situation?
You will be asked to check the guitar, and they will move it to the cargo hold. And even if you show them proof of your conversation with an airline representative, they will not change their mind.
Does the plane have cabin crew stowages?
Have you ever wondered where flight attendants put their bags and their personal belongings? Depending on the plane, they might use the same overhead compartments that passengers use, or, especially on a bigger and newer aircraft, they might have dedicated spaces.
For example, on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, cabin crew stowages have much more room than what they need. If you politely ask them to store your guitar there, they will most likely be able to accommodate your request.
However, if you’re flying short hauls, you’ll probably be on a smaller and older plane. In this case, if your guitar can’t be safely stowed anywhere, you will have to gate-check it.
Don’t even try to argue or ask if you can keep it on your lap or secure it on the side of your seat. Because of safety rules that flight attendants are obliged to follow, none of them will make an exception for your guitar, even if you’re traveling with a 1936 Martin D-45.
If you want to be a hundred percent sure that you will be allowed to board the guitar as carry-on baggage, you will have to buy an extra ticket.
The only limitations are the weight (which a guitar will never exceed), the mandatory case, and the fact that you’ll be asked to treat it like a baby: which musician wouldn’t be happy to do that?
The guitar will be placed on a window seat, but not in proximity of an emergency exit. You’ll be sitting next to it, and you’ll be responsible to properly fasten the seatbelt and make sure that they’re fastened all the time.
Remember that under any circumstances, you will be allowed to unfasten your guitar, open it, and, even worse, play it.
Are Guitars Allowed on Airplanes? – what about in Europe?
In Europe, the situation is basically the same with one noticeable difference.
There isn’t any law establishing that an airline is obliged to accept a musical instrument. However, I wasn’t able to find any news about any carrier denying a passenger to board a guitar. The bottom line is that they all have different policies, so it’s always better to contact the airline in advance.
The possibilities are the same that you have in the US:
- Buy an extra ticket
- Take it as a carry on bag if the airline allows that and if there is enough space in the overhead bins
- Check it as a baggage item
What to do before your trip
If you want to minimize the risk of damaging your guitar, you need to properly prepare it for the trip.
Here are some useful tips…
Contact the airline
Before booking your ticket, send an email to the airline regarding their policy. Be specific about the measurement of your guitar, including the case if you have it. And if you don’t, I highly advise you to purchase one. Check out our reviews of the Best Electric Guitar Case and our in-depth Mono M80 Electric Guitar Case Review for some excellent options currently on the market.
But more on this later…
If you’re planning to carry the guitar in the cabin without buying an extra ticket, ask them if there is the possibility to pay a little extra for the priority boarding. By doing so, you’ll be one of the first few passengers to board the plane, and the overhead compartment will still be empty. Therefore, you’ll have plenty of space and time to safely store your instrument.
Make sure you print a copy of their answer and take it with you. In case the ground staff makes any problem at the boarding gate or during the check-in, you can show it to them.
Hard Case vs Gig bag
As already mentioned, it’s crucial to have a hard case or a gig bag.
But, which one is better?
The decision is yours and can be influenced by several factors. A gig bag is way easier to transport, it’s lighter, and it takes less space in the overhead compartments. Moreover, it still offers enough protection to guarantee that your guitar will be safe if you’re the only person to manage it.
The problem arises if you’re planning to keep it with you on the plane, but then you’re asked to gate-check it. If that happens, you will instantly regret that you didn’t use a hard case, and you’ll spend the whole duration of your flight thinking about what’s happening to your guitar in the cargo hold.
The responsibility will be on you…
It’s very unlikely that an airline will be considered responsible for any damage that might occur to a guitar that came in a soft case. So before you decide, consider both the economic and emotional value of your instrument, and take into account the possibility that it might be damaged. Is it a risk that you’re willing to take?
Here are my recommendations in case you decide to purchase a hard case.
Several options are also available for acoustic or classical guitars, such as the Gearlux Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar Hardshell Case with Accessory Compartment and the Gearlux Classical Guitar Hardshell Case.
Any guitar has a few weaker spots that we should be extra careful with when we take it with us on a plane. This is particularly important if we use a gig bag that offers less protection.
The neck is often the first that breaks after a fall or when it gets hit by something. It usually happens near the headstock, where the neck is thinner or where it attaches to the body. Wrap the whole neck with soft packaging material or with clothes. This will also save some space in your luggage.
If you have an electric guitar with the tremolo, the bridge is also a sensible spot. Even though it is obviously made to resist vibration, there is always a limit. Place a t-shirt or anything soft under the floating bridge, and it will be much safer. The pickups are another thing that you might want to secure, depending on the type of guitar.
Loosen the strings
Loosening the strings is crucial, and it’s something that many people tend to forget. The change of pressure that happens on a plane will modify the tension of your string. Not only could this cause your strings to break, but it will also increase the stress on the neck. Under these circumstances, even a small blow could be enough to cause a break.
You don’t need to completely remove the strings; tuning them down a couple of tones will be enough to prevent any damage.
Are Guitars Allowed on Airplanes? – The best alternatives
If you’re planning to stay at your destination for more than just a few weeks, there are some alternatives that you might want to consider. So, let’s take a look at them…
Ship your guitar
Shipping your guitar offers several advantages, and it would be my first choice, especially with valuable instruments.
- It’s practical! You can do everything beforehand, and you don’t have to carry it during your flight
- It’s safer! Guitar shops have been shipping expensive instruments for decades without any issue. As long as you pack your guitar properly and you choose a reliable courier, your guitar should arrive at your destination without any problems
- For peace of mind, you might want to buy an insurance policy against loss or damage, especially if the guitar has a high value
- Depending on your destination, it might be cheaper than buying an extra seat on your plane
Buy a guitar on your arrival
This doesn’t apply to a musician who’s traveling for work, but if you’re going on holiday and you just want to have a guitar to play with your friends or to keep practicing, why not buy one when you get there?
A cheap acoustic guitar to play on the beach will not cost you much money and will save you from spending your holiday worrying about your precious instrument. Moreover, you will be able to take it back home, and you’ll have a spare guitar to use anytime you travel. And if it gets damaged during the flight back, it’s not going to be a major issue.
Buy a travel guitar
If you’re a frequent flyer and you cannot live without your instrument, a travel guitar can be a game-changer. Their smaller size makes them lighter to transport and easier to fit in an overhead compartment. Depending on the plane, they might even fit under the seat.
And the best part is…
You don’t have to compromise on quality. Some of them sound really great, and the only noticeable difference with their bigger sisters is the reduced volume. However, this shouldn’t be an issue unless you’re planning to play in front of a big crowd. And if you are, there will probably be an amplifier available, or you can mic the guitar up through the PA system.
Lastly, if you don’t like the idea of a 3/4 guitar, the Journey Instruments Solid Sitka Travel Guitar might be the ideal solution. A full-size guitar built with solid wood that features a removable neck. When the guitar is disassembled, it fits in its small case, which is compliant with the hand baggage policy of most airlines.
Looking for more superb travel guitar options?
Then check out our reviews of the Best Acoustic Travel Guitars and the Best Travel Electric Guitars, as well as our in-depth Traveler Guitar 6 String Escape Mark III Review and our Traveler Guitar 6 String Acoustic Electric Guitar Review.
If you opt for an electric travel guitar, you may well also need one of the Best Mini Amps or the Best Portable Guitar Amplifiers currently available. As well as a few sets of the Best Acoustic Guitar Strings, or the Best Guitar Strings, or even the Best Guitar Huimidfiers you can buy in 2021.
Are Guitars Allowed on Airplanes? – Final Thoughts
Traveling with a guitar is a perfect way to meet new people, to have the best friend with you when you’re by yourself, and to ensure that you maintain your practice regime and development.
You are now aware of all the possibilities and some alternatives that you might want to consider instead of carrying your valuable instrument. Remember to check with the airline on their exact policy on the matter. All of them have different requirements, and they might change without notice.
Have a safe flight! Both you and your guitar!