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Flying with your Guitar: Tips for Travel with your Instrument, Using a Guitar Case & more

It seems people are flying again, a lot. Here are some comments on flying with guitars.

I’ve flown guitars probably hundreds of times, with only a moderate history of problems. It’s a bit burdensome but goes with my profession. I have some very sturdy flight cases, but a decent standard plywood case with an arched top is okay. First, wrap the head thick with clothing to prevent a “whiplash” snap at the head if the case falls on its back, the most common airline damage. If the body is loose in the case pad the sides with socks or T-shirts, but nothing on the top. I don’t know if loosening the strings matters, but you might as well do it, it doesn’t hurt.

I usually travel with my guitar in a case covered with backpack straps, and when they ask me if it’s a bag I just say yes. Supposedly they are required to allow gig bags on the plane, but it’s not always complied with. Also if you’re trying to get it in the overhead get in line early and board while there is still space. If you get on the plane and there’s no room overhead or in a closet it’s a whole new social drama.

If you have to check it ask to send it with oversize. They will hand carry it from the check-in counter which keeps it off of the long conveyer systems, although then it travels with golf clubs, surfboards, bicycles etc., which is not ideal. Gate checking is okay, especially on a direct flight, and, usually, it’s waiting at the door when you get off, but sometimes it still ends up on the baggage carousel.

More than once I’ve experienced damage that wasn’t from baggage handling, but happened when security inspectors opened the case, took the guitar out, and banged it against something. Nothing you can do about that. You can wrap the case with something like plastic wrap or tape or ribbon to secure the lid, but they require that it be opened.

A couple of times they have lost or misplaced a guitar. After a late arrival at SFO, I waited until everyone else had collected their bags and gone home only to find that my guitar was still in Hong Kong.  Eventually, it was delivered to my house and left on the porch, undamaged, but melancholy with separation anxiety and jet-lagged. Another time my flight got cancelled but somehow the checked guitar was already on its way. I got to San Jose and there on the carousel was my guitar circling on the carousel all by itself, it had been doing that for 5 hours.

“Flight" cases include Visesnut, Calton, Hoffee, Karura, Gator, Slatko, and no doubt others I don’t know about. Usually by nature, they are pretty heavy and not as much fun for day-to-day use, except Visesnut which is a very reasonable weight. They’re all pricy, upper hundreds or over a thousand dollars, even more, but it’s a good investment.

In the event there is some damage from a break don’t try to do anything about it until you see a good repair person. Often breaks in wood can go back together very well if you don’t mess with it, leaving only some cosmetic issues. Good repair people are hard to find but don’t do anything until you find one.

In my life, I don’t go anywhere without a guitar, both for professional reasons and, more importantly, because I need it every single day. Life feels incomplete without it. Maybe you feel the same way.

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