Quick Guide to Traveling with a Violin, Viola, Cello, or Bass

Traveling with instruments can be tricky. Every once in awhile it seems there are always a few musicians who make it in the news from an unfortunate encounter. To help avoid confusion or damage, here are some quick tips and tricks to help your travels go smoothly.

For all instruments: It's helpful to check with airline companies before booking tickets to see what policies are in place and if they make any special boarding accommodations for musicians. In most circumstances, airlines allow musical instruments to be carried on if they can safely fit in the overhead compartments or under the seat.

Violin and Viola: For violins and violas, avoid checking your instrument, and store them in the overhead compartment. You can loosen the string tension by a step, but avoid removing the bridge–this may cause the soundpost to fall.

Your case should provide adequate protection, but if you want to be extra safe, you can pad around the instrument with small towels.

Cello: The safest option is to purchase a seat for your instrument. Book a window seat, and avoid emergency exit rows. When you board, ask for an extender for your cello. Some airlines will only charge you for a "child" ticket and also have more specifics on where they would like for your instrument to be buckled in!

If you are not able to purchase a seat for your cello, consider renting an instrument at your destination. If you need to check your instrument, buy or rent a flight trunk for it.

Bass: To fly with a bass, you will need to rent or purchase a flight trunk. However, even with a flight trunk, there is no guarantee that your instrument will arrive safely. The easiest solution may be to rent an instrument at your destination.

With the challenges of flying with a bass, some luthiers are designing instruments with removable necks. This allows the body and neck of the bass to be transported separately.

General reminders: Check-in to your flight as early as you can–often 24 hours before your flight, but sometimes earlier. This ensures that you can board the plane sooner and claim an overhead bin for your violin or viola, or have enough time to strap in your cello.

Remember to stay calm and courteous to the flight attendants and airport staff. While it may be tempting to make demands and wave papers around, people are much more willing to deal with and are more sympathetic to calm and understanding customers. This doesn’t mean you have to give into their requests to check your instrument, just continue to explain and ask to keep your instrument on board.