Can I Take A Guitar On A Plane?

Yes. Most airlines generally accept guitars and other musical instruments. You will need to check them in as part of your luggage. Some airlines may even allow guitars in the cabin for an additional fee. But you will need to check with the particular airline you are planning to fly with, well in advance. 

According to TSA guidelines, a passenger may carry one piece of musical instrument (guitar) with them. These will require a physical screening by an official whether you are checking it in or carrying it with you. 

Traveling is generally a leisure activity for most. But if you have a flight to catch for a gig and have your guitar with you, it can become a nightmare. While packing up your guitar in a flight case and traveling by road is the best way to transport your instrument, it is not possible to do so at all times.

So if you want to know how you can take your guitar on a plane, read on to find out more!

Things To Keep In Mind When Travelling With A Guitar

If you find yourself in a situation where traveling on a plane with a guitar is unavoidable, then here is an important checklist of things to follow.

Check With Your Airlines In Advance.

When the TSA guidelines on guitars were announced, musicians were thrilled because the rules were no longer ambiguous. However, different airline companies have different policies. While some are okay with you simply carrying your guitar in a soft case as your carry-on luggage, others may charge a fee to allow you to do so. Airlines may also require you to check your guitar in. Many international flights require you to purchase an additional ticket if your guitar is too large for the cabin.

Since there is no singular rule for all airline companies, it is always advisable to find out more details from the airlines after you have purchased a ticket. It is always good to be prepared instead of finding out the airline policy at the last minute.

Invest In A Good Guitar Case

Whether it is a flight case that you are checking in or a soft case that you can take as a carry-on, buy a good guitar case. The case should be sturdy, have ample cushioning and your guitar should fit snugly into it. 

Remember that guitars are fragile and the last thing you want is your case to betray you, especially if you have transits or if you are on a longer flight. While turbulences don’t necessarily affect us as passengers, even small ones can take a toll on your guitar.

Guitar cases are great not just for travel but you can also store your guitar in them when you are not playing and want to avoid dust and debris from collecting.

Loosen The Strings Of Your Guitar

Since there will be changes in temperature and pressure during your flight, this can affect the intonation and action of the guitar because it is likely that the wood will react to these changes. 

For this reason, it is best to loosen the strings of your guitar to reduce the tension. You can tune your guitar again once you land, and your journey is over. Don’t do this while you’re still in the aircraft because nobody likes a passenger who causes inconvenience to others!

Pack Your Guitar Case With Care

Roll up some clothing items and make sure the neck is well protected and does not move from its place. Fill up empty spaces in the case with clothing, packing material, or any other lightweight material. 

Be mindful of two things when you are doing so – the weight should not exceed the limit set by the airlines and you might have to open the case and show a security official your instrument if asked.

We often keep tools such as Allen/Hex keys, screwdrivers, instrument cables, fretboard polish, strings, etc in our guitar case. Make sure you remove any such items to avoid being hassled at the airport during a security check.

Be Nice To Airline Personnel

Although you should always be nice to airline personnel whether or not you are traveling with an instrument, remember that where your guitar is stored is solely at their discretion.

If your flight is fully booked, there may not be any space in the overhead bins. In such situations, you can request them to store it in the coat closet. This may seem like an unreasonable demand to the flight attendant if you don’t ask them nicely. So be polite.

Since the attendants are not usually obligated to make room for your guitar, they may often suggest placing it in the holding area or even checking it in. Unfortunately, this depends on how busy the flight is and you cannot pre-plan this step.

Book A Strategic Seat

Whether it is right at the back or in front, many musicians usually book these seats because this means that you will be the first or the last to board your flight. This will save other passengers’ time and if the overhead bins are full already, you can sort it out with the flight attendants without causing inconvenience to others or holding up the queue. 

All airlines have clear rules on how large your carry-on case can be. If you don’t want to check your guitar in and if it is too big to fit in the overhead space, you might have to purchase an additional ticket for the instrument. 

Check And Inspect Your Guitar When You Land

For those who check in their instrument, it is very important to inspect every little detail when you land for any potential damage. There have been many instances of breakage or even loss of guitars. In such cases, the airline is legally obligated to compensate you for the damages.

However, many airline companies, especially during international travel, often make passengers sign an indemnity waiver. In such instances, you cannot quite do much else but have a luthier assess the damage to see how it can be fixed.

Get Insurance

Although this is not mandatory, if you are planning to take multiple flights then you may want to look into getting your guitar insured before you fly.

Many companies offer policies that cover unfortunate instances such as theft or loss. It would be a good idea to have an insurance policy for your guitar. As the saying goes, it is always “better to be safe than sorry”. 

Book Direct Flights

The shorter your flight, the better the chances your guitar will survive the journey unharmed. Also, whenever possible, try to book direct flights to your destination and avoid layovers as much as possible. 

The reason for this is pretty simple. If you check your guitar in, the chances of it getting lost are significantly higher if there are multiple layovers in your journey. Even with gig bags, the fluctuations in air pressure and weather may cause intonation issues in your guitar, even if you loosen the strings.

So while this tip may not be applicable for all, it is best to shorten the journey as much as possible when you are traveling with your guitar.

Ensure That Your Guitar Fits

If your guitar is in a gig bag and you plan to stow it in the overhead bin, remember to measure how big your guitar is and that it falls under the baggage limit. This is the reason many guitar players purchase travel-sized guitars that are smaller in size.

If your guitar is in a hardshell case, then be mindful of the weight. You may have to pay an excess baggage fee if you go over the limit.

When you board your flight, the last thing is you want is for your guitar to be stored in the baggage hold because its dimensions are too big for the overhead bins.

Types Of Guitar Cases

Guitars can be stored and carried in many different types of cases. Let us take a look at some of the best options.

Gig Bag

These are the most common cases for guitars and generally come with the purchase of one. Gig bags are made of cloth and have padding to keep the guitar from moving around too much when it is on the move.

Gig bags can be carried like a backpack and have an additional pocket to store accessories such as instrument cables, extra sets of strings, picks, etc.

In terms of a price point, there is a wide variety to choose from. While cheaper ones usually do not have sufficient padding, more high-end ones have heady padding and offer much better protection.

Hardshell Case

These are generally made of wood or cardboard and offer much better protection than gig bags. However, the major problem with these is that you cannot store them in overhead bins and thus they need to be checked in.

Different hardshell cases are built for specific models. So if you are planning to buy one, make sure that you buy the correct one.

Hardshell cases are excellent for storage or road travel. However, a cardboard case is not recommended for flight travel. 

Molded Cases

Molded cases are a variation of hardshell cases. They are made of plastics such as ABS or PE and sometimes even fiberglass, instead of wood. 

Although these cases can be expensive, they are designed to fit your guitar snugly inside them and protect vulnerable areas such as the neck with heavy cushioning.

It is important to note that not all molded cases are travel-safe. If it specifically mentions a TSA-safe locking mechanism or an ‘ATA’ grade shell, this means that it can be used as a flight case. So remember to look for ones with these features.

Guitar Vaults

These are generally used by bands to transport not just guitars but also amps and lighting, PA, and monitor systems. Also known as ‘road cases’, these are made of durable plywood and sometimes even metal.

Guitar vaults are generally expensive and not recommended for personal travel. They are heavy and they need manpower to carry them around.

But if you are on tour with your band and crew, then it might be a worthwhile investment for you.

Hybrid Cases

As the name suggests, a hybrid case is a mix of a gig bag and a hardshell case. These offer better protection than gig bags but are not as bulky as hardshell cases. This means that you can get away with storing them in the overhead bins on a flight. 

Like gig bags, there is a wide variety to choose from depending on your budget. There are also custom-made hybrid case makers who let you pick the level of cushioning, shape, size, etc.

Final Thoughts

Traveling with a guitar for the first time can often feel intimidating and takes a little bit of getting used to. Remember to keep this list handy when you’re making travel plans and have a guitar.

It is worth mentioning that acoustic guitars are a lot more fragile than electric guitars. So if you want to take your guitar with you on a holiday, then get a baby or a travel guitar which can withstand journeys.

Many traveling musicians don’t have a choice but to carry their guitar with them on a plane. In such cases, invest in a good hybrid case that will protect your guitar and you will still be able to carry it on board with you. 

Thanks to technology these days, horror stories of airline companies losing guitars are becoming a lot rarer. However, no one can ever predict these things. If you want to check your guitar in and be extra careful about it, you can always slip in a tracking device such as an AirTag in case they misplace your guitar. However, this does not protect the instrument from damage if the baggage handler chooses to be rough with it. So if you must check your guitar in, invest in a good molded case that will prevent any damage or movement during your flight and after.

Traveling with a guitar isn’t all that bad. You just need to be a little careful about it. If your guitar has undergone an extensive journey, check and repair its intonation and give it a good cleaning. It will go back to sounding great once again.

  • Suyasha Sengupta

    Suyasha Sengupta is a writer, singer, songwriter, and music producer from India. Following the break up of her band The Ganesh Talkies, she currently makes music under the moniker 'Plastic Parvati' and uses her platform to discuss issues such as politics, rights, and gender in India. Her articles have appeared in, among other outlets, Rolling Stone India.