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Violin And Case As Carry-on Luggage?


Scott S

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I will be flying US Airways thusday, Detroit to London England with a layover in South Carolina. I would like to take my violin, but get conflicting information about taking it as carry-on luggage. Customer service tells me there are exemptions for musical instruments but the size regulations are conflicting. They told me that the flight crew has last say in matter. Please, any first hand knowledge or experience is greatly needed and appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Scott

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I will be flying US Airways thusday, Detroit to London England with a layover in South Carolina. I would like to take my violin, but get conflicting information about taking it as carry-on luggage. Customer service tells me there are exemptions for musical instruments but the size regulations are conflicting. They told me that the flight crew has last say in matter. Please, any first hand knowledge or experience is greatly needed and appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Scott

Well, most airlines have come to agreement with the AFM about travel for musical instruments, but some problems do still arise from time to time. Time was (in the good old days) that I could carry two quad dealer's cases and toss them in the overhead without a blink, but that's not the case anymore (no pun intended). Here's a few things I've come to use as ways to make sure everything goes smoothly.

When I travel, I always find that it's better if the case is over my shoulder -- the attendants don't seem to notice it nearly as often. When they do notice it, the best thing that I've found is to tell them that it's a violin, smile sweetly, and say that the airline told you it was okay. Don't try to quote chapter and verse on a regulation of some kind, just stand your ground and be polite. I've never had any issue with an attendant not letting me take the case on the plane after that.

Now if you happen upon the rare case of an attendant whose last relationship was with a violinist who left them for a conductor, and now has a grudge against every musician on the planet, you might be in trouble. But that won't happen, because how many violinists would leave a flight attendant for a conductor anyway? :)

Safe travels!

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Last year, I flew Delta Airlines to Germany from Idaho and back with a violin and bow. Because I was concerned about the size restrictions, I put the fiddle, for carry-on, in a Bam Hi-tech Overhead case for violin only, 25 inches long and fits diagonally into the "test box" that some airlines have for checking carry-on size. I put an inexpensive but usable carbon fiber bow into a sturdy single bow case and packed it into a very sturdy suitcase for check-in. That arrangement got me through the trip with no harm done to violin, its case, or bow.

I wouldn't have any hesitation in carrying the very finest of violins in that Bam case. I kept it on my back all the time I traveled inside Europe, bumping into things with it, without so much as putting a visible scratch in the case or harming the fiddle.

If I wanted to bring a better bow, I might consider putting the bow into an even sturdier bow case than the one I used and packing that in an even sturdier piece of luggage for check-in.

Air travel to England, as I remember reading details last year, is the most restrictive in Europe. Where other European airlines might be fine with a full size 31 inch violin + bow case, I'm not sure the English will allow it.

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Hi Scott, The TSA has written two letters to the president of the AFM concerning musicians with instruments. I recommend to people that travel with their instruments that they print these out and have them in their case if needed to get through security with their instrument. These address the policy of the TSA, but makes it clear that individual airlines have the final call about charging for instruments or allowing them as a carry-on. These probably won't be much use internationally, but if you are flying with a US based airline, it wouldn't hurt to have copies with you.

http://www.fineviolinbows.com/pdf/TSALetter-2003.pdf

http://www.fineviolinbows.com/pdf/TSALetter-2005.pdf

Good luck and safe travels.

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You might want to telephone the airline well ahead of time and have them put in their "customer notes" file, or whatever they call it, that you are allowed to carry on the violin. I did this with Midwest Airlines, which, believe it or not, let me carry on a cello for which I had not purchased a seat. They have (or used to have) an "empty seat" policy that allows one to use an empty seat for a large instrument, if the seat is still unsold when you get to the gate.

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Thanks everyone for your comments and advice, though I was hoping for a more definate answer. As I said "customer service" is of no help. Contemplating taking a less valuable instrument in checked luggage or backpack. I have a neice in England that is interested in violin and would really like to play for her and further her interest. Perhaps even ship her a first instrument.

Scott

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Hi Scott, The TSA has written two letters to the president of the AFM concerning musicians with instruments. I recommend to people that travel with their instruments that they print these out and have them in their case if needed to get through security with their instrument. These address the policy of the TSA, but makes it clear that individual airlines have the final call about charging for instruments or allowing them as a carry-on. These probably won't be much use internationally, but if you are flying with a US based airline, it wouldn't hurt to have copies with you.

http://www.fineviolinbows.com/pdf/TSALetter-2003.pdf

http://www.fineviolinbows.com/pdf/TSALetter-2005.pdf

Good luck and safe travels.

Josh,

Thanks for those links, especially the 2nd (which I hadn't seen) which makes clear that there are at least two sets of restrictions to satisfy for anyone traveling internationally to and from the US, the restrictions of the TSA and the restrictions of the airlines. The airlines' restrictions may be more restrictive than those of the TSA.

Scott,

Judging from the Delta website, there's an additional restriction in flying from the US to the United Kingdom that probably applies to all airlines. Delta's website has this statement: "Guitars and other smaller musical instruments, such as violins, will be accepted as your free carry-on baggage on Delta operated flights1." That "1" after "flights" is a footnote that reads in part, "Not valid for travel to and from the United Kingdom." Given how general Delta's allowance otherwise is, that United Kingdom restriction is probably imposed by the British authorities on all airlines.

So, if you're flying from US to Britain, you have to deal, first of all, with the rules of the American TSA, secondly, the airline's own, somewhat more restrictive rules, and thirdly and most restrictively, the rules imposed by the United Kingdom.

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I have to say that I think you are worrying way too much. I've frequently (more than a dozen times) taken my violin over the Atlantic from UK to USA and back (in a Musafia oblong case so hardly light or particularly small) and have never ever had any problems of any kind either at UK check-in/security or even in the USA on arrival or departure after 9/11.

If you look confident that you know you are allowed to take the violin as part of your hand-luggage allowance and don't make a big thing about it (in fact I usually "hide" the violin under a coat on my baggage trolley when checking in) then you won't have problems - I definitely second the advice about carrying it on your back or shoulder. Additionally, if you only have the violin as hand luggage - no roll-on bag etc, that also eases the way as well. I also always make sure to stand in the queue at the gate behind some businessman who has a jam-packed roll-on bag, two plastic bags of duty free booze, a suit carrier etc etc. In comparison you look like you are travelling extra light.

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I'd agree with Maestrolover; I fly with a fiddle several times a year and have never had issues on domestic or international flights (although I don't travel USAir so have no experience with them). I've never asked permission and nobody has ever questioned my carrying it onboard. That said, unless I'm flying to a paying gig I take my #2 instrument, a fairly cheap but decent-sounding anonymous old Strad copy in a shaped case, rather than my main fiddle in its Weber oblong. No sense in tempting fate...

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I've had mixed reactions when I travel with my violin. US Airways has been pretty good about letting me bring my violin on board, though some passengers think it hogs too much precious carry-on space. JetBlue has also been cool with it, as has Southwest.

United, on the other hand, has razzed me about the violin, even when it was 1 of my 2 pieces of carry-on luggage. I was permitted to keep the violin out of the cargo hold, but I was warned sternly that I shouldn't try this again. And I've heard bad stories about Delta, though I haven't flown them with an instrument in years.

This is, however, one reason that I will sometimes pack my Wiplstix instead of a real violin. No one can complain about that little guy!

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Additionally, if you only have the violin as hand luggage - no roll-on bag etc, that also eases the way as well.

Definitely agreed. A standard violin with bow case, at 31 to 32 inches in length, violates every airlines printed rules for carry-on dimensions I've ever seen. So, you're getting that case on the plane as carry-on based on the good will and kind hearts of the attendants standing at the gate and the airplane door, their willingness to bend a rule. If you can reciprocate that good will by burdening them with just one carry-on rather than the two you might be permitted, you've probably increased your chances of the attendants being agreeable.

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Although a violin and bow in a case exceeds carry-on size limits, I have flown with a violin a number of times domestically and once to Ireland without any problems. Here are several of my tactics:

Knowing that I might be required to check the violin, I bring one that is not my favorite.

I bring a copy of the TSA letter that Josh Henry linked, but I've never had to show it.

I use a shaped case because it looks a lot smaller than a rectangular case and therefore might be less likely to be challenged. I use one of those cheap plastic-covered cases of the type that are often used for rental instruments, which seem to be sturdy and offer good protection.

Some people carry small tools like fingernail cutters or tweezers in their cases. These will likely be seized at the metal detector if left in the case. The security people don't know what a shoulder rest is and might consider it a dangerous weapon, and you could strangle someone with your spare strings. All that stuff should be removed from your case and put it in checked luggage.

If you play professionally, a letter from your orchestra director or other documentation might help.

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We have many friends who travel to Ireland from the US and from the UK and other parts of Europe carrying violins as hand-luggage and they've never had problems. Neither have I. That's not to say you won't meet some obnoxious petty tyrant through bad luck, but so far neither myself or any friends have had problems either before or after 9/11.

In fact the only problem I know of happened to a friend who put a priceless instrument in the baggage hold. Whilst he was looking out of the plane window he saw it fall off a baggage trolley and go straight under the wheels of the one following it! Smashed to thousands of small pieces :-( He (eventually) got the money back but the instrument was irreplaceable for him.

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Smile. Look confident. Don't ask permission. You'll be fine.

I fly with my viola case all the time. Doesn't matter the airline. The only time I've ever had trouble was when one of the overhead bins was almost full and I was having a hard time shoving my case into it (eventually it fit). So, when you're getting onto the plane, if it looks like most of the bins are full, just put it into the first open space you see. Don't worry about it being near your seat.

Politely ignore anyone at check-in or security who tells you your case is too big. The only people who have authority in the matter are flight crew. I once had a lady at check-in tell me, like, 20 times that the flight crew could refuse to allow my bag on the plane. I just had to keep smiling and nodding and explaining that I knew that and that it wasn't going to be a problem. As usual, it wasn't a problem. Some people just love authority.

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Given the way check-in luggage is handled, I don't think there's any circumstance under which I'd check-in a violin, no case strong enough and no fiddle cheap enough.

The bow is a different matter. That can be packed securely enough as to be nearly bomb-proof. For instance: Place bow in sturdy bow case. Place bow case, wrapped in some padding, in 36 inches of 3 inch diameter sewer pipe with ends capped by the same kind of material. Place sewer pipe in hard sided luggage padded with clothes. The hard sided luggage will cost you $500+ if it's any good. When plane crashes, bow will probably be there, intact, for your beneficiaries.

If you do decide to put a bow in check-in, remember that check-in luggage might be taken apart for security examination. So, you would want to use containers -- bow case, sewer pipe, outer luggage -- that are easy to get into and easy to put back together and close properly. Also if you can't stand the thought of some security attendant handling your bow, then check-in for bow is out of the question.

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I have been flying overseas from Norway to the US via UK, Germany and Netherlands (summer 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively) with a doble case first year, and the two next years, a quad case with violins. The quad case just fit into the overhead compartment and is from Concorde. It looks as if it is a big single viola case. I have managed to get the instruments with me as hand luggage on all flights, usually three flights each way. The companies has been KLM, Lufthansa, Continental and United Airlines.

I have heard, though, that it has been problems on flights to the UK after 2006, but nothing lately.

I try to be early on the plane. Joe Curtin once mentioned that he took the instrument(s) out of the case once he had to leave the case outside and held the instruments in his hands during the flight.

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I've flown with mine a couple of times in the US and once overseas to Spain via London. No troubles any of the times. I try to board as early as I can to get an open space in the overhead near me and recruit the flight attendant to help get room. Compared to some of the stuff I see carried on planes (size wise) A violin is small, just a bit long in the case.

Have a good trip.

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Just one other point in case it is of interest or use to anyone, British Airways are particularly good about violins, if you are travelling from or via the UK, you can take a violin case (in fact, anything up to the size of a guitar...) as an EXTRA piece of hand baggage in addition to your normal allowance of laptop bag or handbag plus roll-on case. If you are travelling from the USA you have to include the violin case in your standard hand baggage allowance - i.e. violin case plus just the laptop bag/handbag/briefcase, but still reasonable in my opinion.

See here for details: http://www.britishairways.com/travel/gsans...k=searchResults

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Thank you ALL for your encouragement and suggestions. This morning I talked to the manager of customer service at US Airways. She gave me information about the overhead compartments on each of the specific planes that I would be flying on. There is an exemption for musical instruments but their regulations get a bit cloudy when it comes to compartment size. Musical instruments have a limit of 75 total inches when length, width and height are added, versus 45 total inches for normal carry-ons. My case has a measurement of 45 total inches. She said I should be OK. I will use a combination of all of your recomendations and post about my experience when I get to London and then when I get home, hopefully.

Thank you much, Scott

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well, tis the season for high school orch. to be traveling, the latest group was told by the direstor that all instruments need to be checked, not a big concern for most with rental grade stuff but the daughter of one of my clients has a very nice viola and was not happy, Fortunately the parent mentioned it in passing and I refered her to this thread and also hooked her up with a rolling duffel bag type suitcase I had to loan her, it is roomy enough to fit the viola case and all the clothes for the trip stuffed around it, it has a hard bottom with wheels and a tow handle for the airport walkways. I checked it to and fro to China with no problems - the return trip had a uhr in a case which gave me the idea.

Reese

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I had no problem anywhere, no warnings not even second looks. I used a cloth covered, styrofoam, small case. Detroit to Charlotte was the smallest jet that I have ever flown on but still the overhead compartment was large enough. Charlotte to London was an Airbus A330, lots of room in overhead. Other passengers grossly exceeded carry-on restrictions. So here it is and so am I, 24 hours from Michigan.

Too tired to play, Scott

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well, tis the season for high school orch. to be traveling, the latest group was told by the director that all instruments need to be checked, not a big concern for most with rental grade stuff but the daughter of one of my clients has a very nice viola and was not happy, Fortunately the parent mentioned it in passing and I referred her to this thread and also hooked her up with a rolling duffel bag type suitcase I had to loan her, it is roomy enough to fit the viola case and all the clothes for the trip stuffed around it, it has a hard bottom with wheels and a tow handle for the airport walkways. I checked it to and fro to China with no problems - the return trip had a uhr in a case which gave me the idea.

Reese

I would also want to make sure that the instrument is well-protected inside a good suspension case, since I've heard of major damage to instruments occurring by impacting the insides of a case, even when the case was undamaged. Apart from gross incompetency by the baggage handlers, the thing that would concern me the most is the TSA staff opening the luggage and repacking it badly... I think I would do about anything I could to avoid this situation if it was my instrument.

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I fly with instruments quite often. The only time I had an issue was one rather upset delta flight attendant who told me "This is not a 747" on a trip to dallas from salt lake. That only time I had to put on a pink tag and have it put in the cargo hold. Luckily I didn't have anything with me special during that time.

I once left a digital thermometer in the case with a cheapy violin just to see how cold the cargo hold would get with the instrument in the case. I was suprised to see the low temperature was 36 degrees! Can we say crack repairs later? (and only on a 3 hour flight)

I have a double violin case that I normally travel with now. Have not had an issue on any other airline but in the situation that i'm required to planeside check the case, the instruments will be going on the plane with me and in my lap.

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I once left a digital thermometer in the case with a cheapy violin just to see how cold the cargo hold would get with the instrument in the case. I was suprised to see the low temperature was 36 degrees! Can we say crack repairs later? (and only on a 3 hour flight)

I have a double violin case that I normally travel with now. Have not had an issue on any other airline but in the situation that i'm required to planeside check the case, the instruments will be going on the plane with me and in my lap.

I'm surprised the max low wasn't much colder. Airlines fly at about the height of Mt Everest, about 30,000 feet, and Everest has an average temp in the warmest month, July, of -2 degrees F, according to this one website. So, the airlines must be warming the cargo area, too.

Concerning taking the fiddle out of the case and flying with it on one's lap, that's a good reason to have a fiddle in a bag in the case. Some enterprising case accessories maker would do well to make a case blanket that, in addition to just lying on top of the fiddle when fiddle's in the case, is built like a pouch that you can insert the fiddle into just in case you have to abandon the case to check-in.

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Here's an idea for abandoning, if you absolutely have no choice, an unallowed, full size case to cargo compartment and carrying the fiddle on, caseless, on the plane: Pack the fiddle in the case in a good quality, well fitting silk bag, and use a satin (probably synthetic) viola bag in the case as the case blanket laid over the fiddle. If you do have to give up the case to the cargo compartment, insert silk bag covered violin into viola bag, and carry double wrapped fiddle onto plane. It should be no problem inserting the already bagged violin into the larger viola bag.

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