Tips for Air Travel with a Violin or Viola
As violinists and violists, we're lucky that our cases fit in the overhead bins when we fly. Can you imagine having to buy a seat for your instrument? So expensive!
But even more troubling than buying an extra seat? Rolling the dice and checking your instrument.
My 1882 Wasserman violin is probably my most prized possession. It's not the most expensive instrument, but it has a gorgeous sound, and I often feel like it's an extension of me. Am I comfortable having it ride in the belly of the plane? Holding my breath that it will pop out unscathed at baggage claim? I don't think so!
Recently, two violinists on a U.S. Airways flight were told they could not bring their instruments on board, that they would need to check them. As Laurie at Violinist.com points out, it appears that denying them on the flight was against FAA policy. Check out Section 713 of the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2012. (Emphasis below is mine.)
Requires an air carrier to permit an air passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument on a passenger aircraft without charge if it can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft or under a passenger seat.
Coincidentally, the same thing happened to me on my way back from the SAA conference in Minneapolis. I wasn't prepared for this. I've flown with my instrument countless times and it's never been an issue.
I was told that the flight was full and I'd need to check my violin. I calmly told the gate agent that it was a violin and I would not be checking it. She reiterated that I would need to check it, and handed me a pink tag to check it at the gate.
I thanked her, smiled and proceeded down the jetway with no intention of following instruction. (If you know me personally, you know this was a HUGE deal as I am an extreme rule-follower!) Instead, I simply boarded the plane, found my seat, and put my instrument in the overhead compartment. There was plenty of room, and the person next to me had plenty of space for his things as well. Whew!
But what if they had insisted about checking my violin? This got me thinking about the best ways to prepare for flying with my instrument. Here are a few tips:
1. Print this out and keep it with you.
From now on I'll have Section 713 ready to go.
2. Board early.
Once your stuff is in the bin, it's rare that they ask you to move it. Many airlines offer early boarding for a small fee. The peace of mind is worth the $10! Pay the extra money and get on early. You're far more likely to find a space for your instrument.
3. Make sure your other carry-on is small.
Let's not be greedy! We're trying to ensure that our most prized possessions make it on board with us. Bringing a smaller bag as your other carry-on item can't hurt.
Last but definitely not least...
4. Be nice!
Had I pitched a fit I doubt I'd have been able to get my instrument on board. Inside I was annoyed by the mere suggestion that I needed to check my violin. You want to chuck my priceless, beloved, magical work-of-art-of-an-instrument in the belly of this airplane???? But on the outside I gave a big smile and moved along. I like to think that helped.
* * *
I realize my story could have gone in a very different direction. I'm not sure what I would have done if they had insisted on checking it. Or, what if I was boarding late and there really was no more overhead-bin space? Would I have refused to board? Would the airline refund my ticket if I refused?
I'm going to keep researching as I expect my violin and I will be traveling more and more. I'll update this post as I learn more.
What are your tips for traveling with your instrument? Let me know in the comments!