Instrument Travel

In 2015, the Recording Academy and its members helped secure important regulations to help musicians travel with instruments. You will find useful information on this page to help you and your instrument travel safely and securely. These rules apply to air travel using any domestic carrier.

Before You Book

  • Make travel plans as far in advance as possible and enroll in your airline’s frequent flier or loyalty program so that you can take advantage of any options for early check-in and priority boarding privileges
  • Know the dimensions of your own instrument, familiarize yourself with the airlines’ carry-on policies, and remember that the sizes of overhead bins vary with different kinds of aircrafts. Remember that the airline is only obligated to accept your intrument if there is enough space for it at the time you board the aircraft. 
  • Let the airline know that you will be traveling with an instrument and which of the three ways you plan to transport the piece. Book the seat directly beside you if you are buying a seat for your instrument. While airlines may not charge more than the seat price for an oversized instrument, there may be a fee for obtaining pre-flight seat assignments.
  • Before you travel, print out this copy of the Final Rule regarding Carriage Of Musical Instruments. Keep it with you for easy reference if you encounter an airline employee who is unfamiliar with the new rules.  

At The Gate

  • Make sure you arrive at the gate early for flights if you plan to carry on your instrument. Overhead storage space is at a premium and is available to all passengers on a first-come, first-serve basis. The airlines are only required to treat a musical instrument like any other piece of carry-on luggage. So, while an airline cannot discriminate against your musical instrument, it has no obligation to prioritize it either.
  • If you are bringing a large instrument as in-cabin cargo, don’t bring bungee cords or your own paraphernalia to strap your instrument into the seat. The flight crew will have appropriate equipment to safely secure the instrument. 
  • Have a copy of the DOT final rule, just in case you encounter a dispute at the boarding gate over how to transport your instrument. Remain calm and ask for a customer service supervisor. Do not challenge or become hostile with the flight crew. Remember to always be polite and respectful.

After You Land

  • If you encountered a serious dispute over transporting your instrument, and a customer service representative was unable to help you, file a complaint with both the Department of Transportation and with the airline.

Click here for the pdf version of the Department of Transportation’s final rule. 

  1. Small instruments as carry-on baggage.
    Your instrument should be packed securely in a carrying case and be small enough to stow in the overhead compartment or under your seat like any other carry-on baggage.  As long as the instrument fits and there is enough space for it at the time you board the plane, the airline must accept it and the airline cannot charge additional fees simply because you have a musical instrument.

  2. Large instruments as in-cabin cargo.
    For an instrument that may be too large to stow in the overhead bin but too valuable or delicate to check with the rest of the baggage, travelers may purchase a second seat to stow the instrument as in-cabin cargo. This is an acceptable option as long as the instrument is in a carrying case and can be safely secured to a standard airline seat.  However, if an airline does not already have a program that provides for the purchase of a separate ticket for cargo, the airline does not have to specifically accommodate a musical instrument.

  3. Large instruments as checked luggage. 
    If an instrument is too large to carry on or occupy its own seat, an airline must accept the instrument as checked baggage as long as it complies with federal size and weight guidelines. Specifically, the sum of the length, width, and height of the instrument (including the case) cannot exceed 150 inches and the weight of the instrument cannot exceed 165 pounds. If the instrument exceeds these measurements, the airline may still accept it but the airline is not required to do so and the instrument may be subject to additional fees.

For additional information, visit the links below:

FAQs Provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation

Full Text of the Final Rule as Printed in the Federal Register