Guitar Zen: Flying With Your Gear

As a touring musician, I spend a good amount of time flying the friendly skies. But the reality is that the skies (along with airport security & baggage handlers) aren’t always so friendly to your $2,000 axe and expensive pedals! On a domestic flight last year while touring the US, upon landing and arriving at our gate, everyone on our plane stood in awe as I was SCREAMING through the giant glass window at the baggage handler who was throwing our gear on the conveyor belt with reckless disregard for it’s expense or importance. Just then, I saw my pedal board fly through the air, bounce off the conveyor and land on the ground, busting off one of the wheels and leaving a huge dent in the road case. I spoke with the airline and they were unwilling to do anything at all and said it’s my responsibility to pack things safely when flying and that they were not responsible for the damage (even though about 100 people on the flight saw the pedals hit the ground as tears filled my eyes). So needless to say, this is an issue close to my own heart.

Getting the gear to your gig safely is CRUCIAL and I’ve learned over the years that you can save time, money and a lot of aggravation (not to mention the added benefit you get by being more confident that your precious PRS gets to the gig in one piece) by following a few simple rules. So here are a few tips to help you fly your prized guitar and effects, without the fear of them being flung on the ground!

  • Use a good HARDSHELL case or gate check your axe if you only have a gig bag. 95% of the time, Airlines will let you take your guitar as a carry on provided it’s in a gig bag. This will also save you a few bucks if you fly an airline that has hefty baggage fees. Though this is an option that is available to you, the safest way to go… would be to make sure your gear is in a solid case that can be flipped, tossed, or dropped, while still creating superior protection for your instrument.
  • Pack it so it’s easy to open and easy to close! TSA agents WILL INDEED go through EVERY case you send through, so make sure that your pedal boards are easy to open and close as well as your guitar cases (you can buy a TSA approved hardshell case with a lock however you cannot lock it because they will break it open). You want to make sure that when the handler opens your case, that he or she can get it shut with ease, otherwise they will often leave things half-open and you will lose stuff.
  • Tools (IE: Guitar tools, multi-tools, screwdrivers, soldering irons etc) ALL of them need to be in your checked baggage and not on your carry on. You can carry small pedal boards or things in your backpack, but it’s often easy to forget that the handy string cutter/Swiss army tool that you can’t live without just looks like a weapon to the airport security agent and you’ll either loose it, get fined, or detained and it’s a hassle that’s easily avoided by packing it in your guitar case or whatever case you intend to check.
  • Mark your gear and make it identifiable to you and you alone! MANY people fly with gear and it’s not uncommon (especially when flying in and out of LA or Nashville) to see several guitars come down the belt and you don’t want someone grabbing your axe by mistake. Tag it, label it, write your name and address right on the case, and make sure if you have a really common case (like an SKB) make sure to tie a bandanna or something to the handle or sticker it uniquely. Point is, you just want to make sure that your gear ends up in your hands after the flight and not someone else’s.

If you follow these few simple steps and use some good old fashion common-sense you and you and your gear can sit back and enjoy the flight, worry free!

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Scott “SVH” Von Heldt is a staff writer for SMG. Scott is currently the lead guitarist for Brian “Head” Welch (ex-Korn) and has worked with members of White Zombie, Cirque Du Soliel and many others. In late 2008 he released the first book of his Mystic Art of Self-Discovery series entitled Mind Over Metal: The Musician’s Guide to Mental Mastery.

Email: SVH@sharemyguitar.com

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  • I’ve managed to take my acoustic as carry on or leave it with the stewards.

    But so far I haven’t traveled with an electric that would really worry me!

  • I would be okay with carrying on my gear because I can keep an eye on it and keep it safe, but if I was to check anything, I would be sure it was packed in a very good flight case and I would purchase insurance to cover replacement costs just encase the gear was lost or stolen… Never can be too careful!

  • Andrea Ebner

    dont´t take the guitar to the check in because they´ll make you to check it in along with your other baggage. Board last minute. You´ll be fine, always worked for me. Last time the Stewardess wasnt keen about it and kept bitching at me, but in the end she put the guitar into the Captains Cabin

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