Last Updated: July 11, 2023

Taking a Guitar on a Plane: Tips and Tricks for Getting It On

Are you planning to travel with your guitar? Then you may be wondering how to take your guitar on a plane.

Luckily, you can bring your guitar with you on most airlines, either as a carry-on or checked baggage. However, there are some guidelines you should follow to make sure that your guitar arrives as safely as you do at your destination.

Summary

  • Guitars can be taken as carry-on but there are exceptions
  • Be creative and you might get it on
  • Prepare for checking it in by packing it right

Rules For Guitars on Domestic Flights

According to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, U.S. airlines are required to accept musical instruments on planes as either as carry-on baggage or checked baggage, provided that certain conditions are met.

This means that you have the right to bring your guitar on a plane with you. However, it’s important to realise that each airline may have its own specific rules and regulations regarding musical instruments, so it’s always a good idea to check with your airline before you travel. Especially when it comes to something as important as your guitar!

Rules For Guitars on International Flights

The rules for traveling with a guitar on an international flight are a little more complex as it really depends on the airline. I have listed all of the major and most popular airline rules a little further down the page.

taking guitar on plane

Understanding Airline Policies

As boring as that sounds, it is important to understand the policies of the airline you’re flying with. It might mean the difference between whether you decide to take your guitar on the plane or not.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Knowing Your Airline’s Rules

Each airline has its own rules regarding musical instruments, including guitars. Some airlines allow you to carry your guitar on board as cabin baggage, while others require you to check it in as hold baggage. It’s important to check with your airline before you travel to avoid any surprises at the airport.

Here are some of the most popular airline’s rules for musical instruments:

United States

Europe

Some airlines may also require you to fill out a special form or provide advance notice if you plan to bring your guitar on board, so reading the above rules is a great way to be prepared. I hate it when I get to the gate only to be told I have to check something in.

Extra Fees

Domestic airlines rarely charge an extra fee for carrying a guitar on board, however, they often only allow small instruments. International airlines have a range of rules including fees. And, this fee can vary depending on the airline and the size of your guitar.

Packing Your Guitar

packing guitar case

You should pack your guitar well for any flight. It could end up squeezed in an overhead bin or get thrown in with the check-in baggage. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Choosing a Case

Choosing the right case is crucial to ensure your guitar stays safe during the flight. There are two main types of cases to consider: hard cases and soft cases.

Hard cases offer the most protection, but they are also heavier and bulkier. They will be a lot more difficult to put in the overhead bin as they take a lot more room. And with a guitar, this space is precious, as it is a tight squeeze to fit it in any overhead bin.

Soft cases or gig cases are lighter and easier to carry around, but they offer less protection. So, if you opt for a gig case, you will have to prepare and protect your guitar a lot more.

Securing the Guitar

Once you’ve chosen the case, it’s important to secure the guitar properly inside the case to prevent any damage during the flight. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Loosen the strings: Loosening the strings slightly can help relieve tension on the neck of the guitar during the flight.
  • Use padding: Add foam padding or bubble wrap to protect the guitar from any bumps or jolts during the flight. Focus on the vulnerable spots like the neck which will suffer the most.
  • Use straps: To keep the guitar in place inside the case. You can use straps that come with the case or add your own straps if needed.
  • Pack accessories separately: Pack any accessories, such as pedals or cables, separately from the guitar to prevent them from scratching or damaging the guitar.

Do everything you can to imagine which part of the case will be put under pressure or bashed and protect that. Also remove anything you can and take it in your bag.

At the Airport

Here’s what you should think about during the check-in and boarding process.

Check-In Process

When you arrive at the airport, head to the check-in counter to check your guitar in. Most airlines will allow you to bring your guitar on board as a carry-on item, but some may require you to check it in as baggage. 

If you are required to check your guitar in, make sure it is properly packed in a hard-shell case. Or, alternatively, have someone ready to take it if you decide it is too risky to check it in.

Boarding

Although the staff may say one thing at the check-in, the boarding staff are ultimately the gate keepers when it comes to getting your guitar onto the plane. I have had a number of situations where the check-in staff and boarding staff contradict one another, so always assume the worst.

So, if you get to boarding, do not be surprised at the gate when they require you to check your guitar in. If they do so, make sure it goes on last so that it is not squashed by heavy gear.

On the Plane

Once you’re on the plane, it’s important to know where to store your guitar. Here are some tips to help you find the best place for your guitar during your flight.

Overhead Storage

The overhead bins are the most common place to store your guitar during a flight. However, these bins can fill up quickly, so it’s best to board early to ensure you have space. If you can, book a seat at the back of the plane to board first, as people at the back of the plane usually get to board first.

When storing your guitar in the overhead bin, make sure it’s in a case to avoid injury among other passengers. Some airlines may require you to place your guitar in a soft case, while others may allow a hard case. Check with your airline before your flight to ensure you have the correct case.

In The Closet

You may never have seen it or used it, but many planes have a closet at the front. It is a longer cupboard designed for hanging things like suits. It is worth asking the flight attendants when you board the plane if you can store your guitar in the closet. It is the perfect spot for it, and if there are not many people with suits or jackets, there may be space too.

Under-Seat Storage

It is unlikely that you will be storing your precious guitar under the seat in front of you. However, if it is small enough or you are desperate enough you may want to try it.

Pay for An Extra Seat

Some airlines may also require you to purchase an extra seat for your guitar if it’s too large to fit in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you.

You might also want to buy the seat next to you anyway. If the price is cheap enough. 

Obviously, this can get quite expensive, but if your guitar is worth a lot of money, then you might consider it.

Arriving at Your Destination

After a long flight, you’re probably looking forward to collecting your guitar and getting on your way. Here are some tips to make the process as smooth as possible.

Collecting Your Guitar

When you arrive at your destination, head to baggage claim to collect your guitar. If you checked it, it should be waiting for you with the other checked bags. There is also an oversized luggage area, but it is rare that a guitar will end up there.

Inspecting for Damage

Before leaving the airport, check your guitar for any damage. Check the body, neck, and headstock for cracks or other signs of damage. Look for scratches or dents on the finish.

If you notice any damage, report it to the airline as soon as possible. They may be able to help you file a claim for repair or replacement.

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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