Musicians should embrace carry-on baggage fees

People are outraged over an airline’s announcement that its cheapest fares will no longer cover carry-on baggage. (This isn’t the first time that airlines have charged fees for carry-on bags.)

My experience flying with musical instruments as carry-ons has been stressful at best. This passage from an economics textbook rings true to me:

photo, Bradley Gordon

The battle begins in the gate where air travelers elbow their way to the front of the line to board the aircraft as soon as possible in order to grab an overhead bin. Once on the aircraft, the real fight begins. Some passengers with seats in the rear of the plane toss their bags into the front compartments to be sure they get a spot. People with oversized bags cram them into the narrow bins, pushing the bags, coats, and hats of passengers with correctly sized luggage into the corners. People ask for help from the flight attendants but their pleas are ignored. The flight attendants say they are too short staffed to handle passenger disagreements concerning bags. Losers are left standing with their “homeless” bags. …

Are people just selfish and rude? Most economists say no, they are just responding to the absence of market incentives. The overhead bins are a commons. It’s Dodge City. Nobody “owns” the space in the overhead bins. People can’t trust strangers to act with cooperation or courtesy. The result is “warfare.”

Things could be different. Creating an overhead bin market would bring out the best of people. Here is how. Most of today’s airlines charge people extra to check a bag and offer the overhead bins for “free.” It should be just the reverse.

Nobody likes paying more. But a carry-on fee is a small percentage of an airline ticket. And for most musicians it’s a small price to pay for better access (maybe even guaranteed access!) to the overhead storage. Is it worth the price of a box of reeds or two to know my saxophone will arrive in one piece? Or the price of a pound or two of cane to ensure that my bassoon reaches its destination? I think so.

Sorry, but you still can’t bring your reed knives on US flights

There has been some buzz (no pun intended) among US reed players about an announcement from the infamous Transportation Security Administration that some knives will be allowed in carry-on luggage starting next month. But make no mistake—your reed knife will still need to go in your checked bag or it will be confiscated at a … Read more

This week in airline travel with musical instruments

Photo, caruba

A couple of blog posts related to airline travel with musical instruments have caught my eye so far this week:

Saxophonist Greg Vail had a bad experience checking his horn. Yes, he did check it—sent it to be stowed in the airplane’s cargo hold rather than carrying it on himself. But it wasn’t the baggage handlers who caused a problem. It was security inspectors who opened the strong custom flight case, damaged the key clamps, broke some reeds, and couldn’t get everything packed up properly again.

I know I need to carry this case because they have done this before, but the real question is why?? I feel like these goofballs would riffle thru my medicine cabinet given the chance just because they are noisy and idiots, but I digress.

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Petition: Ask the U.S. Congress to support better air travel for musicians

instrument cases
Photo, nobleviola

The American Federation of Musicians, the world’s largest organization promoting the interests of professional musicians, has put its support behind the U.S. Senate’s version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill (S.1451). This bill seeks to overhaul many aspects of air travel, and the official summary includes this text:

(Sec. 713)

Requires an air carrier to permit an air passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument on a passenger aircraft without charge if it can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft or under a passenger seat. Sets forth requirements for the carriage of musical instruments as checked baggage or as occupants of a purchased seat.

The AFM is calling for “all musicians” to sign a petition in support of including the relevant text from the Senate version in the final version of the bill. You can sign the petition at the AFM’s website.

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More on airline travel with musical instruments

Since my post earlier this week about air travel with instruments, two of my favorite woodwind bloggers have also addressed the subject, both inspired by the “United Breaks Guitars” video phenomenon. Helen at Bassic Sax shares a bad experience flying with a tenor saxophone. Patty at oboeinsight shares the United Breaks Guitars video, and, rightly, … Read more

Airline travel with musical instruments

airplaneDuring the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to do some traveling with my instruments, on a number of airlines and through quite a few airports. Here are a few thoughts on getting instruments safely and smoothly to your destination.

Going through airport security

  • In most cases, your plan should be to carry your instrument(s) onto the plane with you. That means taking the instrument through airport security, and sending it on the conveyor belt through the x-ray scanner. In my experience, security personnel are generally very good about recognizing musical instruments as such, and sending them on through without raising an eyebrow.
  • Security personnel may, however, wish to open instrument cases for closer inspection. In my experience, inspectors are uniformly courteous and respectful about this, and usually notify me before they begin. Earlier this week I had a security officer let me know that he needed to open my oboe case, which I had sent  through the x-ray within a larger carry-on bag. I asked politely if he would let me open the case for him, and he was more than happy to allow this. I recommend taking this approach, since security personnel may not know which side is “up.” If you open the case yourself, you won’t have to worry about instrument parts rolling out onto the airport floor.
  • I also like to lock any carry-on instruments cases that can be locked, and, of course, make sure I keep the keys handy. This ensures that security personnel can’t open the case without me while I’m still trying to get my shoes back on. Besides, airports and planes can be crowded, and I like to be sure that my cases won’t pop open if jostled or bumped.

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