The first time I took a flight with my guitar I remember feeling really nervous when being told I had to place it in the aircraft hold for the flight. I had worked all summer to save up for that guitar and it had cost me a pretty penny. I knew it was going to be knocked about on its way along a number of conveyor belts and then piled below everyone’s luggage when driven up to the aircraft on the luggage trailer before being carried in a cold luggage hold (unless an animal is also being transported) for the 3hr flight from Gibraltar to London. The airline wouldn’t allow me to carry it through security up to the aircraft and then have it put in the hold, like parents do with a pushchair, as they said it was a “health and safety risk”. The only comfort I had was that I had bought a hard case for travel. Surely the baggage handlers would pay attention to the massive FRAGILE stickers I had stuck all over the case and surely the airline care about its passenger’s belongings getting from A to B without damage…right?
On my arrival at Gatwick I picked my guitar case up off the reclaim conveyor belt to find it had been totally smashed about. There was a crack in the case, one of the metal feet had been pushed into the case and there was a great big dent on one of the sides which turned the case into a sort of jack-in-the box, as when opening the final clip latch, it sprung open to reveal a soaking wet guitar as a (non-pressurised) instrument polish pump spray had also broken and leaked into the case. I was furious. Forgetting about my suitcase, I headed over to the airline’s information desk to complain. After filling out a whole load of paperwork, I was told I had to call a number to log a claim and then wait for a couple of weeks while they processed the claim…in other words, it was going to take a while to get a new case. Luckily, about 4 weeks later I was told my claim was successful and I was sent a cheque for the value of the case minus 20% depreciation… I had to pay an extra £30 for the new case. I am grateful that my guitar was not damaged (just a little wet) but the whole process was just so inconvenient.
I can’t say the nerves of flying with my guitar have eased with the more flights I’ve taken…it’s just becoming more painful! I have so far had to claim for 3 guitar cases that have been damaged in transit. To be fair to the airlines, they have always compensated me (minus a depreciation rate set by them) but it is so tiring having to undergo this claiming process every time. I haven’t yet had an actual guitar damaged (touch wood) but it’s unsettling thinking that it could just be a matter of time. Once, before takeoff and still on the tarmac, I was sat in a window seat and could see the baggage handlers flinging suitcases on to the conveyor belt that takes the luggage up to the hold. I prayed my guitar wasn’t on that load and to my horror I saw it was at the bottom of the pile about to be flung… I felt like Wayne from Wayne’s World when he turns up to the church to stop Cassandra’s wedding and is banging on the glass panel separating him and the congregation but no-one can hear. I decided to film the loading with my mobile phone just in case it was chucked on to the belt. Indeed it was thrown on there nearly giving me a heart attack! I emailed the baggage handling company when I arrived at my destination and attached the video clip. I received an apology a day later but it didn’t really restore any faith in the handlers. There are fragile stickers all over the thing!
Every time I fly it’s the same old Oscar winning performance (or I’d like to think so) trying to convince the ground staff to let me fly with my guitar in the cabin (which fits perfectly in the overhead locker in its hard case). It usually ends up with me begging! It’s always a big fat NO as they say it could fall out and knock someone on the head. I’ve always found this to be a pretty bizarre reason because, at least when flying into the UK from Gibraltar, there’s always a lot of tourists making the most of the duty free booze and filling their boots with glass bottles of whiskey and vodka. These always stowed in the overhead lockers. I guess the airlines feel a glass bottle won’t hurt anyone if it rolls out and knocks someone on the head. Perhaps the alcohol will disinfect the wound anyway so what does it matter? A non-cylindrical guitar case with no possibility of rolling, now that’s a huge health and safety risk!
I have managed to get my guitar into the cabin with me on only 3 occasions so far:
- Now this 1st one is no word of a lie… I was checking in at Gibraltar airport and Slash (yes the Guns N’ Roses Slash) was checking in for the same flight and travelling with a Gibson hard case which he was being allowed to carry through security with him! I pointed him out to the lady checking me in and she also allowed me to carry the guitar through with me but told me it would be taken off me at the gate. When it was time to board, I kept an eye out for Slash who would be coming out form the business lounge room and queued up a couple of people behind him to look as though I was part of his entourage. Et voila, with the greatest of ease I was on the aircraft with my guitar stowed away in the overhead locker. I even managed to have a bit of a snooze during the flight
- A particular “premium” airline for a very short amount of time had a policy where musical instruments were permitted as hand baggage if the item was guitar-sized or smaller. I decided to pay a little more and book with this airline in order to have a worry free flight. Despite some toing and froing with the ground staff who were not aware of the policy and assured me the cabin crew would ask me to put it in the hold, I didn’t have any problems on board. Unfortunately that policy didn’t last very long and now the guitar needs to go in the hold as checked luggage..
- I bought a seat for my guitar for a flight to Austria…yes that’s right I bought an extra seat for my guitar and had to pay airport tax for the fare just as you would for a living, breathing person! The flight was with a low cost “no frills” airline so wasn’t a ridiculously expensive fare. Anyways, I managed to get some sleep on that flight too!
I’m sure some of you reading this must be thinking that the way I’m writing this is referring to my guitar as though it was a living, breathing person and that I’m either a) mad or b) someone who likes a bit of rant. But, I’m sure some of you, whether you are musicians yourselves or not will understand that an instrument can be not just of a high monetary or artistic value, but of deep sentimental value.
So, apart from me telling you about me getting angry with a few airlines, why am I blogging about this subject? It was like sweet groovin’ music to my ears to learn that the Musicians Union together with the International Federation of Musicians have been lobbying on the issue which saw more than 40,000 people sign a petition to persuade Europe to bring in legislation to clarify rules on the carrying of instruments. There is a new proposal being put before the European Parliament by the EU Commission which might finally solve the problems that musicians face when travelling on planes with their instruments. We can help improve the proposals by emailing our local MEP attaching the FIM document and asking them to support the recommendations. Click here to see the piece on the MU website and show your support!
Here are the FIM recommendations about the proposal – FIM-recommendations-Instruments-on-Planes