Over the past few weeks, I’ve had several few people ask me what I think about the upcoming United States Department of Transportation announcement that “[Airline] Carriers must allow passengers to stow their small musical instruments [guitars, violins, etc.] in an approved stowage area in the cabin.” I thought this would be a great opportunity for a fun blog post. I expect the media coverage on this is going to be escalated at the upcoming 2015 NAMM show in Anaheim, and frankly I’m looking forward to it!
On the face of it, the legislation looks like a panacea for guitarists’ traveling blues – but I think practically little is going to change for guitarists who really want to travel with their instruments, and you’ll likely see an increase of instrument check-in’s at the gate (for which most airlines already accommodate.) This is a fundamental supply-and-demand problem. There’s limited space in overhead bins and consequently passengers have limited carry-on allowances. It’s a zero-sum game for carry-on’s so to speak.
Here are a few key points quoted directly from the regulation: “Section 403 of the Act and this final rule provide that carriers are required to allow passengers to stow their musical instruments in an approved stowage area in the cabin only if at the time the passenger boards the aircraft such stowage space is available… accordingly, carriers are not required to remove other passengers’ or crew members’ carry-on baggage that is already stowed in order to make space for a musical instrument.” To read the legislation, click here.
If the popularized misunderstanding of this legislation becomes widely known, as I suspect it will, more guitarists will bring their guitars – expecting to carry them on, which in the end will create a greater demand for limited cabin overhead space. (By-the-way, for smaller planes like turboprops, on which I fly frequently in the Northwest US and domestic SE Asian flights – anything with over a 14” total bottom bout won’t even fit in the overhead bin – so this means dreadnaughts, GA’s, OM’s, and most parlours are likely to get a gate check.) In the end, I won’t be surprised if you actually see more breakage of guitars by airlines because you’re going to see more guitars gate-checked. And here’s another unexpected consequence – the few frequent-flyer guitarists who’ve currently mastered the tricks-of-the trade to smuggle their guitars into overhead bins, are going to have the odds even more stacked against them as this legislation becomes more widely known.
And what about international travel? The world is getting smaller, and I bet most of us have traveled overseas for either business or vacation and plan to do so in the future. Guitarists traveling overseas know full well that many other countries and foreign airlines are very strict in their carry-on limitations – particularly in Europe or Asia. You may easily take your boutique full-sized guitar in the overhead bin on a flight to Hong Kong, but try carrying it on at HKG airport – or try taking it on a turbo-prop flight in Indonesia or Thailand.
As a musician and business professional, I don’t like the risks of damages or delays that come from counter or gate-checking my instrument. I want to easily bring my instrument with me, yet I also want to be respectful of others right to overhead storage space as well. As a general principle, I want to be the guy you’re glad you sat next to on the flight, not the guy who is an annoyance to the others who are unlucky enough to sit next to him. At the end of the day, I want to travel with a guitar I love to play, and I can take with me anywhere I go without a hassle to myself or others around me. And I suspect that most of us guitarists are the same – which is why we started Journey Instruments, and why we offer the best travel guitar solutions in the world.
With the Overhead® we offer the best guitar solution for anyone who wants to bring a great guitar as a carry-on along with their gear. When I’m on a business day-trip, I love that I can bring a guitar I enjoy and I don’t have to worry about waiting at the baggage claim because I had to gate check it. When I’m island-hopping in Thailand with my family (with active small children, mind you) I love that my guitar is not a hassle at the airport, on the boat, or even on a crowded shopping street in Bangkok. I load up my collapsible carbon-fiber guitar, laptop, camera, i-pad, and a book and it all fits in 22*14*9 inches in an awesome backpack that I take everywhere without a hitch.
So as the media promote the news of new-found freedom for traveling musicians, I’m looking forward to giving them the best solution to the supply-demand problem of overhead storage space. Nothing makes me happier than taking my music with me and knowing that I play a part in enriching the lives of my fellow musicians with freedom for their musical journey – wherever it may take them.