Fender stratocaster in a suitcase

How to Fly With a Guitar: Essentials for a Safe Trip

Last Updated on August 4, 2023 by AG

Traveling with your guitar can be a wonderful experience, allowing you to bring your music with you wherever you go. However, it can also be a daunting prospect, as guitars can be fragile and require special care and attention when in transit.

Whether you’re a professional musician heading out on tour or a hobbyist taking your instrument on vacation, there are several important considerations to keep in mind to ensure that your guitar arrives safely and in good condition.

In this article, we’ll explore some tips and advice for traveling with a guitar, including how to pack it properly, taking your guitar on a plane, climate considerations, the benefits of a travel guitar, and security concerns.

By following these precautions, you can enjoy the freedom of traveling with your guitar while ensuring that it remains protected and ready to play when you arrive at your destination.

Tips for Packing Your Guitar

When traveling with your guitar, packing it properly is essential to ensuring that it remains protected from damage. Here are some tips to keep in mind when packing your guitar:

Loosen The Guitar Strings A Little

Temperature can cause strings to extend or contract, potentially increasing the strain on the neck and guitar top in the process. Loosen the strings slightly to relieve the tension on the neck. This can help to prevent warping or cracking and saves you a possibly unpleasant surprise at your destination. To prevent the strings from bouncing around and causing damage, use a piece of foam or a cloth to gently secure them to the fretboard.

Pack accessories separately

Remove any accessories or detachable parts from the guitar, such as the strap, capo, or tuner, and pack them separately in a zippered pouch or bag. Parts that move around in your guitar case can scratch and damage your guitar. Also, make sure that everything you have in your carry-on bag isn’t considered a security risk. I have heard of cases where extra strings were considered a weapon and if you have string cutters in there, they won’t be happy either. So make sure what is legally allowed at the moment of your journey.

Add extra padding and secure the guitar

By taking the time to properly pack and protect your guitar, you can help to minimize the risk of damage during travel and ensure that your instrument arrives at your destination in good condition.

The neck and headstock are vulnerable parts of a guitar, so take care to cushion them with towels or foam padding. You can also use a neck brace or something similar to prevent the neck from bending.

A neck brace or other padding also helps to keep the guitar securely in place inside the case. This can help prevent the guitar from shifting or bouncing around during transport.

Consider also adding extra padding around the guitar case, such as bubble wrap or foam, to provide additional protection and prevent your case from opening if on a bumpy ride.

Label the guitar case

Like any other luggage, labeling your guitar case is a must. Label the case with your name, contact information, and also a “fragile” label to ensure that the case is handled with care and finds its way back to you.

By following these tips, you can help ensure that your guitar is well-protected during transit and arrives in good condition.

Guitare Case vs Gig Bag

If you travel a lot investing in a high-quality sturdy guitar case that’s designed to fit your guitar and protect it from impact and moisture is a good idea.

A well-padded case can help protect your guitar from bumps and jostles during transit. This is especially important with delicate instruments like hollow-body electric or acoustic guitars, or if you know beforehand that you will have to give it up at check-in with your other luggage.

A Hard-shell case is preferable for flights, as it offers the most protection and gives you the best chance for an undamaged guitar at baggage claim.

It keeps your guitar safe, but a guitar case takes up much more storage space, looks bulkier, and in most cases won’t fit into an overhead bin. So depending on your (and your guitar’s) way of transportation something smaller could be the better option.

While a padded gig bag has much more chance of being allowed as carry-on baggage and can also work very well for short trips, it is surely nothing you want to choose for a guitar that is destined for the luggage compartment of a plane. Careless baggage handlers would be a disaster for your guitar.

Another plus of gig bags is, that they often can be carried on your back, giving you a free hand for your other baggage.

So it is a hard choice. Gig bags have the advantage that they are not likely to attract scrupulous flight crews and fit in smaller spaces, but

. Despite its size and unforgiving appearance, a hardshell case will make it appear like it takes up more room than an ordinary suitcase, and it can cause unwanted eye turning.

Airline Regulations

When traveling with a guitar, it’s important to be aware of the rules and regulations for musical instruments on airplanes. The regulations can differ greatly between commercial airlines, so check every individual airline before booking. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Check airline policies

Before booking your flight, check the airline’s website or contact their customer service to find out their policies regarding flying with a guitar. Some airlines allow guitars as carry-on items, while others require them to be checked as baggage.

If possible, it’s best to carry your guitar on board as a carry-on item, as this gives you more control over its handling and reduces the risk of damage.

However, some airlines have size and weight restrictions for carry-on items, so be sure to check these before heading to the airport.

Fees and restrictions

Some airlines charge extra fees for checking a guitar as baggage, and others have specific rules regarding the type of case you can use or the number of instruments allowed per passenger. Be sure to check these restrictions before booking your flight.

Declare the instrument

When checking your guitar as baggage, be sure to declare it as a musical instrument and request that it be handled with care. You can also attach a “fragile” label to the case for extra precaution.

Book nonstop flights

Take the directest flight possible. If possible get a nonstop flight as every change brings the risk of damage. The more a guitar is moved around between planes the greater the risk of damage. This is especially true if you have to check it in at the beginning.

If a guitar fits in overhead bins you can keep an eye on it, but still, there is a risk of other passengers or flight attendants handling it on each take-off or landing.

Another point to consider is a possible change of regulations if you have to switch airlines. So check for that in advance.

Being aware beforehand can help ensure that your guitar arrives at your destination safely and without incurring any unexpected fees or restrictions.

Get To The Airport Early

It’s advisable to be early if you are going to travel with your guitar. It is impossible to predict every obstacle that may arise, so plan in plenty of extra time, especially if you are planning to bring your guitar as a carry-on.

When traveling with a guitar on a plane, arriving at the plane early gives you the chance to get enough space for it in the overhead compartment right by your seat. If you arrive just before departure all the space close to you may be taken up by the carry-ons of the other passengers.

Buying an additional ticket: When you have oversized luggage that is fragile you can always check with the airline if it is possible to get an extra seat. Plan in the possible extra cost if the cargo hold isn’t an option for you. Because even small instruments may not always be accepted as carry-ons. Particularly if it is a small commuter plane or if the flight is very booked.

So, consider booking a separate ticket when flying with a guitar to ensure that your favorite guitar stays by your side, instead of going as checked baggage.

Planning is crucial, don’t rely on your ability to sweet-talk the flight attendant. If you are early you are better prepared for other problems to arise, like if your specific flight is overbooked.

Navigating airport security with a guitar can cost you extra time, too. But here are some steps you can take to make the process as smooth as possible.

  1. Arriving early can help alleviate stress and ensure that you have enough time to address any issues that may arise.

  2.  Be prepared to remove your guitar from its case: You may be required to remove your guitar from its case and place it on the security conveyor belt for screening. Be prepared to do so quickly and efficiently to avoid holding up the line.

  3. Request a hand inspection: If you’re concerned about potential damage to your guitar during screening, you can request a hand inspection instead of using the conveyor belt. Be polite but firm in your request, and be prepared to explain why a hand inspection is necessary.

  4.  Stay calm: Remember to stay calm and patient during the screening process. Security checks can be stressful, but getting angry or upset will only make the situation worse.

  5. If you have a guitar with parts made from endangered species that fall under der CITES treaty (like Brazilian rosewood) be sure to apply for the correct forms before traveling across borders, especially on international flights. Otherwise, you could lose your instrument! In all cases, it is advisable to put a list of the materials used for your instrument inside your case (an official document from the manufacturer or luthier would be best).

How much does it cost to fly with a guitar?

Flying with a guitar can be done without extra cost if it is taken as a carry-on. But maybe you want to think about investing in priority boarding to make sure the guitar finds a place in the overhead bin close to you. And what should go without saying, being nice and polite to your flight attendants will get you farther than demanding. They may even place it in one of the closets on board (which are usually in first or business class) if there is free space.

If you can’t take your guitar as a carry-on, you are left with two options, buying a separate ticket or your guitar flying as checked baggage.

Deciding on the option with the best protection, or the most guitar-friendly will double your travel expenses for this flight, as you have to buy a separate ticket. The price is with most airlines the same as you would pay for another person.

The cost of flying with a guitar as checked baggage depends on the airline. Most airlines allow for one checked luggage per person, with the option of paying for every extra piece of baggage. So your guitar will cost the same as every other added bag.

If you have to check in your guitar, ask if gate-checking is possible. You would then take your guitar with you and hand it to the gate attendants at the gate check-in. It will be stored in the cargo hold, but at least you saved your guitar some of the handling on the way. You often also get it back separately and before baggage claim, be sure to ask a flight attendant about it before leaving the plane.

Which airlines allow guitars as a carry-on?

Most American airlines allow flying with a guitar as a carry-on, as long as it fits in the overhead bins, some have additional size restrictions (varying between 114 – 129 cm in length).

With European airlines, it is not that easy, as there are quite a few that refuse to take a guitar as a carry-on, at the moment Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, Aeroflot, Austrian Airlines, and Turkish Airlines allow flying with a guitar as a carry-on, as long as it fits in the overhead bins and doesn’t exceed a length of 118 cm (Aeroflot allows up to 135 cm).

But that is only valid as long as there is enough space.

Climate Considerations

Temperature and pressure changes as well as humidity can have a significant impact on the condition of your guitar, so it’s important to take steps to protect it from these environmental factors when traveling.

Avoid extreme temperatures

Avoid exposing your guitar to extreme temperatures, such as leaving it in a hot car or storing it in a cold cargo hold on a plane. These temperature changes can cause the wood to expand or contract, possibly leading to warping or cracking.

Whenever possible, store your guitar in a temperature-controlled area, such as a hotel room or climate-controlled storage facility. This will help maintain a consistent temperature and humidity level.

Put a Humidifier Inside Your Guitar Case

While traveling you should consider using a guitar humidifier to ensure the right humidity for your guitar (here you find more about that topic). This is especially true if you’re traveling to a dry climate or know you will be leaving your guitar in a tight closing hard-shell case for long periods. A humidifier prevents the wood from drying out and becoming brittle, there are even some that will absorb excess humidity too (like the humidipak by D’Addario). These devices can be inserted into the sound hole, attached to the strings, or placed in the case to help maintain a consistent level of humidity.

By being mindful of climate considerations and taking these precautions, you can help ensure that your guitar remains in good condition during transit and throughout your travels.

Invest In A Travel Guitar

If you’re planning to travel frequently with your guitar, you may want to consider investing in a travel guitar specifically designed for this purpose. Although it’s certainly no cure for all ailments, it can make your life easier. Here are some benefits:

  1.  Size and weight: Travel guitars are typically smaller and lighter than full-size guitars, making them easier to transport.

  2. Sound quality: While travel guitars may not have the same full-bodied sound as a full-size guitar, some models still produce a really good tone and are enjoyable to play.

  3. Price: Travel guitars can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, so there are some to be found for every budget.

By choosing the right travel guitar, you can enjoy the convenience of having a guitar that’s easy to transport while still providing a satisfying playing experience.

Caring for Your Guitar During Your Trip

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, it’s important to continue caring for your guitar to ensure that it remains in good condition.

  1. Choose a safe storage space: When you’re done playing guitar, store it in a safe, dry place, such as a storage closet or a guitar stand. Avoid leaving it in direct sunlight or a humid area, as this can damage the wood. Also, most hotel rooms aren’t very spacious, so the closet space next to your t-shirts is better than on the floor where someone could fall over it.

  2. Keep your guitar clean: Use a soft, dry cloth to wipe down your guitar after each use to remove any sweat, dust, or debris. Avoid using any harsh cleaning agents or polishes.

  3.  Monitor the humidity: as we mentioned above not all climates are guitar-friendly and the change in air pressure, humidity, and temperature can be hard on your instrument. Consider using a humidifier or dehumidifier, or a combination of both depending on the climate.

  4. Check the strings: Keep an eye on the guitar’s strings during your trip. And replace them if necessary to avoid damage to your guitar.

  5.  Consider a tune-up: Once you return home from your trip, consider taking your guitar in for a professional tune-up and inspection. This can help ensure that your guitar is in top condition and ready for your next adventure.

I hope you know now how to travel with a guitar and what precautions to take, so your guitar arrives safely. Happy traveling!

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