Senator Seeks Clarification of Carry-On Rules After Musician Booted From Plane

Sunday, July 27, 2014 - 08:00 PM

A US Airways Express Jet at Nashville International Airport A US Airways Express Jet at Nashville International Airport (Flickr/AFagan)

Update: Jack Reed speaks with WQXR about carry-on reform
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- The government should clarify federal rules about bringing musical instruments on to commercial flights as carry-on luggage, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said, after a report of problems encountered by a band flying to Rhode Island for the Newport Folk Festival.

In a letter sent Friday, the Rhode Island Democrat urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to speed implementation of a 2012 law that requires commercial air carriers to allow musical instruments as carry-on items as long as they can be safely stowed in the aircraft cabin. But Reed said the law has not taken effect because the Department of Transportation has yet to adopt the specific rules needed for the provision.

Reed cited a report in the Providence Journal that members of the band Deer Tick were delayed while traveling from Nashville. The newspaper reported that U.S. Airways refused to allow the band's guitarist, John McCauley, board a connecting flight in Philadelphia with his guitar. The airline later apologized, according to the report, and paid for a train ticket to get McCauley to Rhode Island.

"We have a lot of great musicians come to Rhode Island for our world renowned music festivals, and they shouldn't have to deal with arbitrary and conflicting storage policies from one airline to the next. There should be clear rules of the road," Reed said in a statement.

In his letter to Foxx, Reed cited reports from other musicians that their instruments had been lost or damaged after being placed in baggage holds.

Below is guitarist McCauley's original Twitter message.


More in:

Comments [35]

karen from nyc

really - you al should feel great you MIGHT even have a chance to carry your instument aboard -

think of 'cellos, string basses etc - where you have to buy another seat for the instrument - no ifs ands or buts....

Aug. 08 2014 04:08 PM
Emy Marquez from Germany

Yes i was flying from Frankfurt to Barcelona cos i have to make a recording and produce music in the Spain with Lufthansa,per flight i must pay 80 Euros just for my guitar,although i didnt have so much kilos for my clothes,maybe only 5 Kgs,but the guitar i must pay extra.why the airliners are making this advantage illegally?and besides they didnt have any maybe wrapped and packed well or a real good compartment for the instrument.even if the instrument cost a lot ,but why is this so?????????????????????????

Aug. 07 2014 10:11 AM
d_blue from Memphis

If the flight involved was on an Express jet, as pictured, this incident is more convoluted then a usual 737 or Airbus 320 trip. If John McCauley threw a fit & got booted to Amtrak, he might have deserved it. The overhead bins on smaller jets are also smaller, and most guitars will simply not fit. I carry my bass guitar in a gig bag & it goes in the cabin on normal flights. I was skeptical the first time it got "gate checked" to go under a regional jet, but the handling was done gently & I watched it go in & come out. No Problem. MUCH better than being checked as baggage!

Aug. 02 2014 11:05 PM

Has to be a better way of transporting instruments by air, than in baggage. I know of an incidence of a vintage 1960s Gibson ES335 being destroyed by a conveyor belt at the airport.

Aug. 02 2014 08:54 AM
Randy May from STL, MO

The problem with buying a $100 guitar when you get there is that is sounds like a $100 guitar. My instruments average $2000 to $8000 each. And yes, the instrument does make a difference. Those who think that you can get a decent instrument (guitar or otherwise) for $100 are either not musicians or they are harmonica players. :)

Aug. 01 2014 11:32 PM
Photographer from California

Why should musicians traveling with instruments have a different set of rules for the rest of us traveling for business? I am a photographer and often choose to take my own cameras with me on assignment. I am always made to check them through. They are delicate and expensive and if they go missing in transit I'm screwed, but still they insist they go into the haul. And now I am charge extra baggage costs as well. Welcome to the real world musicians. Either suck it up or find another way to transport your equipment.

Aug. 01 2014 03:28 AM

I too got kicked off a southwest flight for my fiddle and my banjo while trying to meet up with a bluegrass festival on a cruise ship. Something had to give.

Jul. 31 2014 12:01 PM
KCJazzKeys from Kansas City

For the non-musicians post recommending we just, "leave our instrument at home and pick up another one for $100". Are you kidding me? I'm not a guitarist, but I would be very particualr about not having my instrument that is set up the way I want it, and a prefessional guitar is not going for $100, try more like $1500-$5000 depending on the make and model, and you would still have to get it set up for you.

For synthesizers, sure, I can leave it at home, take a flash drive with my patches and have it set up in my rider that a such n such keyboard will be waiting for me on stage, but an instrument that is more personal can not be substituted.

It would be like telling the office exec, you don't need to bring your state of the art MacBook on board, we have a Dell 386 with 16MB RAM running Windows 3.1 that should be just fine!

Jul. 31 2014 04:11 AM
Jake from Wyoming

I, being of Lakota/Arapaho lineage and playing a guitar, I think i'd tell 'em it's a drum. appearances are deceiving. what to do but find a way to carry that ole guitar, it's an acquired art and should be treated as such..damn the air way of Omaha

Jul. 31 2014 03:16 AM

Anybody heard of a travel guitar?

Jul. 31 2014 01:45 AM
David from Flushing

I imagine babies could become "dangerous projectiles in an emergency," toxic waste and all.

Jul. 30 2014 05:46 PM
John Montagna from Brooklyn, NY

When I fly, my bass guitar is in a soft case on my back. But it is my overall appearance and demeanor that helps me get my bass on the plane without any trouble. I arrive for my flight clean-shaven, dressed nicely (a clean black t-shirt and one of my more expensive pairs of jeans) and greeting all airline personnel with direct eye contact and a smile. A little bit of schmoozing goes a long way; you'd be surprised how quickly and easily most airline staff will come to your aid if you show them some respect up front. That being said, I fully support Sen. Reed's initiative!

Jul. 30 2014 05:34 PM
Count Culo from ATL GA

Hate to tell ya folks, but airlines no longer ALLOW purchasing an extra ticket & strapping an instrument into the seat.... they claim it could still become a dangerous projectile in an emergency.

Jul. 30 2014 05:19 PM
Mike Spaziani from Toronto

For the non-professional musician on a holiday try this. Leave your guitar at home. European airlines are even more restrictive than american ones. Buy a guitar at your destination. I found one for $100. Use it for 2 or 3 weeks then give it to a local who will cherish it

Jul. 30 2014 04:38 PM
Tom B from MD

So far so good with my Mandolin travel case which easily fits in the overhead bins...but I worry constantly as it is a custom made instrument worth several thousand dollars.

Jul. 30 2014 02:47 PM
Lenny from Pittsburgh

A guitar salesman shared a trick with me. Take your guitar in a soft case and carry it upside down on your shoulder with a back pack and they won't notice you have a guitar until after you have boarded. I have travelled this way at least a dozen times without a problem. No guarantees though. I also pray a lot.

Jul. 30 2014 02:45 PM
Ray from Pa.

Steve Howe would (and may still) buy a separate ticket for his guitar. The original 175. He would make sure it was buckled in too!

Jul. 30 2014 02:14 PM
John from Franklin, MA

I too have had recent problems with taking my guitar on airplanes. I went round trip from Boston to Atlanta on Airtran. I had no trouble on the way to Atlanta, however on the return trip when I was checking in the Airtran employee insisted that I put my $4000 Martin guitar in checked baggage. I calmly explained to her that I had always traveled with my guitar and that it fit in the overhead compartment and would get destroyed in baggage, She told me I should considered that before I brought it with me. I asked for a manager and he backed her up, but offered to have it "hand carried" on and off the planes. I had no choice. When I arrived in Boston it was not hand carried and I caught it as it was dropping from the outside conveyor onto the baggage carousal. I have not traveled by Airline since.

Jul. 30 2014 12:47 PM
Dean Chambers from Oakland Calif

I gave up taking my guitar on long travel, thinking i would rent one when I reached my destination, it never worked out that way. Then I bough a Nolo Press book on music law and it documented that they have to let you carry your guitar on if it can fit in the overhead. The information here is a bit different, but I hope it is not true. After reading the book I packed my guitar with confidence and went off to Italy last December. I met some Italian musicians in a cafe and because I had a guitar my whole travel experience changed, I was able to communicate with people and go play at clubs, cafe's and really connect with people who did not speak English. In essence, I confirmed what I have always felt, i.e., Music is the worlds greatest universal language, I will never travel without my guitar again, I will most likely refuse to patronize any airline that will not support the new law. I take my hat off to this senator from Rhode Island, Thanks much!

Jul. 30 2014 01:35 AM
Andy from Denver

This is not restricted to musical instruments but some scientific instruments as well. People fly with delicate atomic clocks in the cabin. I fly internationally with an ultra sensitive gravity meter that must perform properly on reaching the destination. I have to negotiate with the ticket counter personnel, airport security organizations, TSA, airport management and it sometimes finally depends on the pilots yay or nay as the person ultimately responsible for the flights safety. Generally the more documentation on what you are carrying, why you are carrying it, who you are and documents from the gig at the end saying they have contracted you is useful and sometimes gets you and your instrument home.

Jul. 29 2014 03:32 PM
Victor from Columbus, IN

My guitar,of much sentimental value,
Was going to be delivered as a gift for one of my friends,
In a fly from Indianapolis, Houston, TX. didn't arrive on the same flight I did, I received it a day later destroyed , even when it was packed in a good solid guitar case.

Jul. 29 2014 03:06 PM
Tony Amadore from Panama city beach,florida

The arbitrary enforcement of alleged guidelines became just too stressful for me. I seldom fly with my irreplaceable instruments. I have used,with good result,UPS to deliver my instruments to the Grand Canyon one year for my artist in residence gig, it was cheaper than a plane ticket, insured to the hilt and packed by them, in my hard shell cases. I sent them ahead by a week and got a notice when they arrived. Sent them back the same way.No issues and no stress! Also, if it's possible I drive and the instruments don't leave my sight.

Jul. 29 2014 02:32 PM
Sarah Eigen from New York

Trains may be the best way to go! For relatively short distances, you save time, instead of the trip to the airport, the wait time, adding up to at least 2-4 hours without getting on to the plane. Yes, a lot of the staff on the planes do not understand the value of their customers. Somebody needs to blow horns in the stuffed ears of the air staff!

Jul. 29 2014 01:06 PM
Carrie Chesnutt from Toronto, Canada

There is a thing with the golf clubs.. you know. BUT more especially, the people who own them.$$$$$
Most Airlines dont even charge or count them as baggage.

Musical Instruments , delicate, expensive , easily broken, or thrown out of alignment and their owners are disrespected. Hey I m not flying with all this stuff for FUN, It's my work , my living . These instruments are are also not easily replaced. It is a terrible stress to fly not knowing what you have to deal with getting your instrument on board.

Jul. 29 2014 10:34 AM

To my fellow cellists, how do you transport your instrument? I've not yet had to consider it but the day will come.

Jul. 29 2014 10:07 AM
Michelle Pellay-Walker from Memphis, TN

Violins and violas (and trumpets, probably) will easily fit in the overhead compartments. Small woodwind instrument cases can even be stored beneath the seat in front of their owners. Storing babies in either location is not an option. I personally have no intention of paying a single penny when adequate storage is available in the cabin without inconvenience to other passengers.

One thing the airlines could do to alleviate some of these problems is allow musicians with small instruments to pre-board and get their instruments safely secured. They already allow those with babies and/or young children to pre-board for that very purpose.

Jul. 29 2014 08:32 AM

So many issues related to this subject. Lots of misinformation as well. As yet there is no actual law in effect for the musician re: instrument carry-on. Laws and regulations have indeed been "passed" in 2012 -- but not finalized as Federal Regulations which airlines must obey.

This is far too complicated to discuss here. Better you refer to the Federal 'white papers' available on instrument carry-on. Read the current law. It's available online.

while you're at it -- if you own a vintage instrument there are very recent regulations in place prohibiting the passage of instruments which contain "endangered" materials (various exotic woods, ivory, tortoise shell, and so on).

Basically: DO YOUR HOMEWORK before attempting to carry your instrument onboard.

Jul. 29 2014 08:32 AM
Daun from Oswego

These instruments cost a lot of money to purchase. Care should be taken to make sure they get to their intended destination the way they got to the airport! Another thing, there are occasions when baggage gets lost, as was the case with my son's trumpet when he had to perform shortly after arriving at his destination. Luckily, it turned up! Please consider these musicians! Go ahead an inspect the instrument cases; allow them to purchase an additional seat or carry on.

Jul. 29 2014 08:09 AM
Michelle Pellay-Walker from Memphis, TN

I cannot BELIEVE this crap is STILL going on with the airlines!! They just do not get it, and for the life of me, I don't understand why. The last time I travelled with my instrument (a viola), I was scared to death of what they'd do--and that was nine years ago (I was able to keep it with me, but not without a couple of incidents). The rules supposedly have been changed to allow those of us with smaller instruments to store them in the overhead bins; it's not as if they don't fit. WHY is this still a problem, and WHY can't the airlines follow their own bloody rules and at least PRETEND to be reasonable about this??

Jul. 29 2014 08:08 AM
Alan K from New York, NY

I have a problem with large pieces of baggage being brought onto aircraft that is actually "luggage". Passengers try to beet the $25.00 fee and carry on their entire load of stuff. Overhead compartments were not designed for this purpose. That being said musical instruments that cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars should be allowed to be carried on but not as regular baggage. If the musician feels their instrument is that delicate then pay for an extra ticket and strap it into the seat next to you. Mothers have to hold their babies or buy a seat and use their car seat for the baby so why shouldn't it work the same way for musicians. If this is a problem take the train or switch to a harmonica.

Jul. 29 2014 05:42 AM
Chuck Boody from Mound, MN

There is no excuse for this. There is very specific information allowing instruments to be carried on for domestic flights. You should not be able to hide behind "guidelines are not in place." Shame on the airline. Go read your materials concerning this and keep your gate employees from playing God.

Jul. 28 2014 11:40 PM
Peter Adams from Not here

When I used to fly with my cello-sized instrument, I have to buy a seat for it. Even with a seat assigned at the bulkhead, having bought the tickets months in advance, getting on the plane is a too often an nightmare. Once, I put the instrument in with luggage. The cash was trashed and I had to pay for repairs to the instrument and buy a new case. Thanks Braniff and thanks for shipping it to the midwest when I was going to the east coast. Glad that airline is dead.

Jul. 28 2014 11:32 PM
Philip from Ridgewood, Queens.

I'm tired of this and "arbitrary" is the word. I often take my 12-string guitar when flying and airlines sometimes tell me it counts as a "piece" of carry-on, and sometimes not. The softcase, over the shoulder, probably saves me a lot of grief; at least I don't get told to stow it below (often).

Jul. 28 2014 01:08 PM
Joseph Saetveit from Buffalo

Can't they just have a general rule: DON'T BE STUPID! This would apply to bringing musical instruments as carry-on, impounding 200 year-old violins with a tiny piece of ivory trim, and priceless collections of FolkArt flutes destroyed as agricultural imports.

Jul. 28 2014 11:05 AM
Frank from UWS

This is really ridiculous. Come on, airlines. These musicians aren't hijackers intent on causing trouble. I saw a guy trying to stuff golf clubs in an overhead compartment last week - and on a small commuter jet. No flight attendant stopped him either. A violin or guitar should be considerably less trouble.

Jul. 28 2014 09:29 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Follow WQXR 







About WQXR Blog

Ignite your love of classical music every day with the articles published in the WQXR blog. Here you can find blogs about classical music, playlist selections, curated videos, and other features highlighting the joy of great music.