TSA Travel Tips: Traveling With Musical Instruments

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

To help passengers who are traveling with instruments, TSA partnered with musical organizations around the country to understand the challenges of transporting musical instruments, and we recommend the following:

  • Instruments can be checked or carried on the plane. Check with your airline about gate-checking or stowing your instrument in the cabin prior to travel so you can fully understand their policies.
  • If you have a fragile instrument, we recommend you carry it on the aircraft. Brass instruments are safe to check as baggage 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 and can advise the officer of the best way to handle the instrument.
  • 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 baggage and there are manufacturers that make road-worthy and tough travel cases that will prevent damage. So basically, it’s best to not pack your guitar in a soft-sided case and check it as baggage instead.
  • 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 clear and understandable to someone with no musical background.
  • When possible, we encourage you to stay with your instrument while security officers screen it to make sure it is repacked properly.
  • If you check your instrument as baggage, 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 it if the instrument needs to be inspected.

If you have any other questions or concerns, or would like to report an issue you had while traveling with your instrument, please reach out to the TSA Contact Center online inquiry form.

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Bob Burns
TSA Blog Team

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