Tips for flying with a guitar

Difficulty: White

So you need to fly with your guitar and you got some questions?

• Can I take the guitar onboard?
• Will it be safe in the hold?
• Do I need to buy and extra seat?
• Should I loosen the strings before I fly?

I'll get to answering these questions but I feel I should preface it with what I do when I fly...

Justin Flying Case

Justin's Flying Preference

I always put my guitar in the hold. Partly because I'm lazy and don't want to have to carry it around the airport with me, partly because I like the certainty and partly because (in a good case) I think it's the safest option. I usually have to pay the extra baggage, but sometimes the extra bag is included a business class fare - more on that later!

For electric guitars I use an SKB 3i - it's a tank, quite heavy but very strong. I did have a pickup pished in the first time I used it BUT on further testing I think it must have happened before going in the case, because I tried to repliocate the problem and couldn't and had no problems since.

For my acoustics, I use a Hiscox brand pro case and in all the years I've been flying I've not had a problem with any of my acoustics. The cases are a bit battered but that is to be expected I guess...

Can you take a guitar on the plane with you?

So the rule is, there is no rule! Totally depends on the airline, and even if you check in advance you might find a jobsworth that decides to make a hassle for you. Also note, that you should contact the website directly, in researching for this article I found several sites with conflicting specific airline information. Only rely on the website of the airline itself!

If you can email the airline and get written confirmation that it's ok to take your guitar on, then you 'should' be fine, but you never really know until you get there!

Lots of my friends take guitars in soft cases on planes all the time, most seem to do so without too much hassle, but then I hear some horror stories too, which is why I go the hold option... but it costs!

I think getting a hard case into the cabin will be pretty tricky, might have been done but I've not seen it... and if you travel with a soft case and they make you put it in the hold then you got a problem.

That said - I have mates that fly with "semi-rigid" soft cases which you could call hard or soft depending on which way you want to swing it. My pal Dario puts his favourite Les Paul in a Protection Racket case and puts it in the hold, and no drama's so far - but I ain't that brave! Mike Dawes travels with his acoustic in a Mono which looks super strong, but I gather he usually takes in on with him!

If you do want to take your guitar on, no matter what, then you can buy a seat next to you and strap it in! This is expensive but not usually as expensive as a normal seat, and worth it if you travel with a very expensive or fragile instrument. Contact your airline if you want to explore this option.

If you travel business class you are a lot less likely to encounter problems. You usually have a 2 bag check-in allowance, so you can put it in the hold without extra cost and the airline personnel are 'usually' more friendly about taking a guitar into the cabin, and you can ask them to put a case into the coat closet (up the front).

In this Guitar World article, they state that it's the law that you CAN take a guitar on a plane with you, with some stipulations. This almost certainly applies only in the US.

Is a guitar safe in the hold?

I've never had a guitar damaged in the hold.

I once saw my Gold Top being THROWN out of a plane in Malta, all my bands guitars getting thrown a couple of meters into a crate, but other than some superficial case damage, the guitars were all fine. Probably not their fault, but I won't ever fly Malta Airlines again!

Usually, I slacken the strings just a little, but many times I've forgotten and there's been no damage, maybe I've just been lucky, or maybe it doesn't matter - lots of different opinions about the internet around this topic. Certainly can't hurt! :)

Tips and tricks!

Getting your soft case bag as far as the plane...

  1. When you check in, make your soft case your only hand luggage (if you can) and explain how valuable your baby is and can you please take it on!
  2. Wear the backpack straps with the neck facing DOWN so you don't have the neck poking up over your head, makes it look less conspicuous.
  3. Ask to 'gate check' your guitar so it'll only go in the hold when you get to the plane door. It means it'll avoid the internal conveyor belts inside airports and some baggage handling, but it'll still be in the hold and often they come OUT with all the other bags...
  4. If you do get 'gate check', hold the handle and see if you can sneak it on and get it into a locker asap... unlikely theyll try and take it out and off if you get that far!

Putting it in the hold...

  1. Get a super solid case so you don't have to worry about it!
  2. Cut holes to fit pedals and other stuff in to so you don't have to have that stuff knocking around in your bag!
  3. Check the prices on business class flights, I often find it's almost the same to fly business than to fly economy and pay the extra bag on European flights (don't think this works on long haul.
  4. I've heard an interesting argument that putting a guitar in a soft case in the hold can be better because of the vulnerability of the instrument forces baggage handlers to be more careful than they might be with a hard case. I wouldn't trust it myself, but it's got a kind of logic!

Well, all that's left is to wish you safe travels, if you have any further questions or suggestions - leave them below! :)


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