I’m a former "professional" musician - now it’s just a hobby - and I can understand the fears of musicians who are traveling with their precious gear.
Trust me... musicians aren’t just being picky. Each instrument has its own feel and tone and sometimes it takes years for a musician to find their perfect implement of noise and expression. Instruments can also cost a pretty penny and most musicians aren't exactly living high on the hog.
You've probably seen the old movie cliché where somebody doesn’t like their car touched, let alone looked at? Well... some musicians are exactly the same way about their instruments.
Every type of musician travels with their “axe” Our officers see every type of instrument imaginable and successfully screen them daily. Pan Flutes, Sitars, Dulcimers, Theramins, you name it... So here’s the guidelines and some tips on how to travel with your musical instruments:
- First off, you can’t bring a grand piano through the checkpoint.
- Instruments can be checked or carried on the plane. Check with your airline about stowing your instrument in the cabin (Especially if it is a larger instrument such as a cello) prior to travel so you can fully understand their policies.
- If you have a fragile instrument such as a stringed instrument, it is suggested you carry it on the aircraft. Brass instruments are safe to check as luggage as long as you have the proper case.
- Our officers need to either X-ray, or physically inspect your musical instrument. You’ll be involved in the process as much as possible. Basically, you can advise the officer the best way to handle the instrument, but you won’t be able to touch it until the inspection is complete.
- Your instrument may need to undergo an explosives trace detection test which involves running a soft cotton or paper swab across the case and instrument.
- It is not uncommon to check instruments as checked luggage and there are manufacturers that make road worthy and tough travel cases that will prevent damage. So basically, it wouldn’t be wise to put your guitar in a soft sided case and check it as luggage.
- If your instrument is a collector’s item and you are uncomfortable with others seeing what you have, you can request a private screening.
- When checking your instrument as checked baggage, include short written instructions, where an officer will notice them, for handling and repacking your instrument. Make sure these instructions are very clear and understandable to someone with no musical background.
- If you check your instrument as luggage, be sure it is either unlocked, or that you are using a TSA recognized lock. If your case is locked with a lock we can’t open, we may have to remove the lock if the instrument needs to be inspected.
There are many great tips and advice on the web for traveling musicians: League of American Orchestras’ Tips for Traveling Musicians (PDF) And many more...
And now, I'll exit with some of my favorite extra corny jokes about instruments:
Q: Why did the man eat the Oboe?
A: He had a strange taste in music.
Q: What is the difference between an Oboe and a Bassoon?
A: You can hit a baseball further with a Bassoon.
Q: How do you fix a broken Tuba?
A: With a tuba glue.
Q: What do you do when a drummer knocks on your door?
A: Pay them for the pizza.
Two musicians are walking down the street, and one says to the other, "Who was that piccolo I saw you with last night?" The other replies, "That was no piccolo, that was my fife."
I play the harmonica. The only way I can play is if I get my car going really fast, and stick it out the window. ~ Steven Wright
TSA Blog Team