Flying with a guitar is one of the most tedious things a player can do. You are always wondering if they are going to hassle you; if they are going to take the guitar away from you and throw it into baggage under the plane; if they are going to break it; and finally, if you are like me, you just don’t enjoy the confrontation. So here’s what I do to make it easier:
1. I carry it in a Martin padded guitar gig bag as hard shell cases are simply too large to get by the gate keepers and probably won’t fit in the overhead of most planes anyway. My gig bagt is smaller than a hard shell case; it is very well padded; and it says Martin on the outside in gold letters, so they know it’s a real instrument and that you are probably professional—I have actually had some pilots personally take charge and put the guitar in their safe place for me—just because it said Martin on the case); they fit in every overhead but the Puddle Jumpers, which I never fly knowingly. ( I have been caught on a few, but the flight attendants, who are almost always more accommodating than the people taking your ticket before you board, have always taken the guitar and put it in their personal closet).
2. I don’t wear the guitar on my back sticking up like a red flag for the ticket takers to react to. I keep it low profile and as I walk up to the ticket taker, I hold the ticket in my hand towards them and the guitar by the end of the neck area of the guitar and I keep it close to my body so it doesn’t stand out as a long bulky object, but part of my profile. Not sneaky, but definitely not sticking out over your head by a foot.
3. I never argue with them. If they say they want to gate check it, I take the gate check and then I hide it under my hand as I hold the handle of the guitar and I walk onto the plane and I look at no one. Just walk to my seat. If an attendant does stop me, I first tell them that it fits readily into the overhead. If they object to that I point out that while it is gate checked, if they could put it somewhere safe, I would be grateful. No one has ever turned me down, probably because I am respectful and courteous and patient. Not confrontational and rude. The more flies with honey rule.
4. I always get a seat in the back of the plane because most airlines with a shred of common sense, board the planes from the rear, so you get on first, when there is plenty of room in the overheads. It is difficult to argue with an attendant if all the overheads are full and then you show up with a guitar. Make it easy on them by getting on early. Some airlines even offer an early board for ten bucks more, and I have done that, but usually if you book early enough you can get a seat in the back and you are covered.
5. I never make a fuss, or call any attention to myself in the boarding area or in the line. And I’m always polite. I have had some attendants that had some wild hair up their whatevers and I always ask them pleasantly if I might speak to a supervisor before we commit my guitar to baggage hell. They always comply because they have to.
6. Finally, I get off the plane amongst the last so I don’t inconvenience any other passengers with my bulky carry on guitar.
Try these things and if none of them work, then you have to accept the risk of having your guitar go under the plane and be handled by people that handle thousands of bags a day and don’t discriminate unless they are particularly sensitive and aware,…or they are guitar players.
You can just get a big hard shell case and take your chances but I have had several guitars broken by handling system, so I just don’t do it any more.
Good luck, and don’t forget. Be polite and pleasant…no matter what. It will take you further.