Those of you who have been following my blog are aware that I’ve been planning on a trip to Nashville to co-write, perform, and see shows at the NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) Tin Pan South. It’s billed as the biggest festival of songwriters in the world. There are 2 “songwriter-in-the-round” shows a night, at each of ten venues, for 5 nights. I’m finally on my way to Nashville on a Southwest flight from Portland to Nashville.
I’m reading the Southwest in-flight magazine about Taylor Hicks, (remember him) the winner of American Idol. I kind of liked him on “Idol” and hadn’t heard much about him recently. Turns out he has taken residency at some Las Vegas casino/concert venue. Also, last year, Taylor and his Taylor guitar played in the “Taylor at 35” series, where artists performed with their Taylor guitars at 35,000 feet aboard Southwest. Whew- that’s a lot of Taylors in one paragraph!
I lean over to my wife and show her the article and tell her I should stand up in the airplane and perform with my Taylor. The guy sitting in the seat next to my wife perks up, leans over, and asks if I have a Taylor guitar. Of course, he owns a Taylor, too. We start talking shop about Taylors and I ask my wife if she’ll trade places with him so we can hear each other better (just kidding). Turns out, he’s on his way to Tin Pan South, also.
So, now dear reader, you’re probably thinking I’m going to get in-depth about all the performers coming to Tin Pan South. Or, maybe talk about Taylors… But, I’m not. I’ll cover that in future blogs- AFTER seeing the shows. Today, I want to talk about how to get a guitar safely on a plane.
I’ve been struggling with airlines as long as I can remember. Here’s the situation: you try to carry-on the love of your life into the plane (your guitar, not your wife ☺). You want to put it in the overhead compartment, or at least a closet, because you’ve heard horror stories of guitars getting destroyed if, God forbid, they get thrown into baggage. Your guitar is a one-of-a-kind and you want to defend it from destruction.
Check out the YouTube video, United Breaks Guitars. http://www.davecarrollmusic.com/music/ubg/song1/
Problem is, some airlines don’t get it. They think a fine musical instrument is some mass-produced unbreakable item, like a bowling ball.
One time I had a short connection time and I was the last one to get on a US Air flight in Atlanta. The guy at the gate told me to give him my guitar and he would check it into baggage. I said I wasn’t getting on the flight if I couldn’t carry it on. He said he wasn’t letting me on the plane with the guitar. “So, make up your mind, buddy. Are you on the plane or off?”
I caved, but prayed for the safety of my baby the entire flight. It survived.
Another time, a different airlines told me my guitar would probably have to be checked. I said I wasn’t going to do that. They told me I could wait and see if there was room on the flight, but don’t get my hopes up. I waited until I saw the pilot, introduced myself to him, and basically threw myself at his mercy. Fortunately, he was sympathetic and when I told him it was one-of-a-kind guitar, he even asked to see the guitar. He ended up putting the guitar in his personal closet!
If all else failed, I often used to flash a copy of a letter from the FAA (Federal Aviation Association) to the AFM (American Federation on Musicians), saying it supported bringing musical instruments aboard. But, that didn’t work after 9/11.
So, I put together a dozen steps for protecting your instrument on airplanes. First a disclaimer: Be sure to discuss any of these techniques with your doctor before trying them, as they could lead to a lot of blah, blah, blahs (fill in the blanks with a bunch of bad stuff) or even death of your guitar.
1. PUT THE GUITAR BEHIND YOU when checking in your other baggage, and maybe they won’t notice/mention it.
2. GET THERE EARLY. Do whatever you can to get in line early, so there’s still room in the overhead compartment.
3. ON THE OTHER HAND. When boarding, use the opposite hand from the one you’re handing them the ticket with.
4. NEVER ASK. Always assume you can carry it on.
5. GET A CARBON FIBER GUITAR like a Rain Song or a Composite Acoustic, now made by Peavey. These things are practically indestructible.
6. GET A TRAVEL GUITAR. There’s even one called Voyage Air, where the neck folds into the body! http://www.voyageairguitar.com/
7. BRING THE BABY. They might turn down your jumbo body guitar, but you may be able to slide a Baby Taylor or the equivalent from another manufacturer onboard. Also, under this category, if you’re traveling with small children, you can usually pre-board and sneak the guitar on with the kiddos.
8. PLAY NICE. Usually being super-nice to everyone works.
9. CASE THE JOINT. A flight case will set you back an arm and a leg, but if you insist on flying with your pre-war Martin, this may be a good option.
10. BRING THE BEATER. Maybe you don’t really need to schlep that pre-war Martin after all, unless it’s an extremely special gig or recording session. Can you say Takamine?
11. DIG YOUR HEELS. Refuse to get on the plane without your beloved. This doesn’t always work, though. See above.
12. HOP A TRAIN. Not really an option, usually. But, perhaps driving should be considered when the gig isn’t too far away.
BTW: I ended up being able to safely stow my guitar in the overhead compartment on all 3 legs of my flight to Nashville.
Hope I’ve been of some help for the next time you fly with your prized possession!
© Ron Shaffer 2014