A Survey - survival rate of guitars in gig bags placed in an airplane's cargo hold

bohemewarblerbohemewarbler St. Louis, MO✭✭✭✭ Jordan Wencek No.26, Altamira M01D-12 fret
edited April 2015 in Welcome Posts: 243
As a lot of us Gypsy Jazz Jammers prepare to take our guitars on airplanes to Django in June or Festival Django Reinhardt de Samois or points beyond, many of us will be taking our guitars in gig bags because they fit in the overhead compartment and are easy to lug around once we get to our destination. But has anyone ever had the experience of having your guitar secured in its gig bag but, god forbid, placed in the cargo hold? If so, did it survive or not? If it survived, what do you think saved it?

There have been threads on how best to smooth the way so that your guitar will have the best chance of getting in the overhead compartment, but I haven't seen any threads that discuss the odds of survival when they are rejected and placed in the cargo hold.


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  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,161
    Ya as i told u privately, it s unlikely rhat anything will happen.. That said, it still happens, and has happened to me and many musicians i know ... And then certain airljnes make sure u have a didficult time reaching them to explain the situation...

    That is precisely what i dont like about the airline jndustry. Their policies regarding instruments are often poorly written and the employees themselves are often not aware of the ones that guarantee musicians safety...

    Sebastien giniaux is at my place right now and we were talking about it, he generaly only travels with cheap guitars, and only brings a good one for special situatuons
  • Al WatskyAl Watsky New JerseyVirtuoso
    edited April 2015 Posts: 440
    I've traveled most often with solid bodies and sometimes small arch tops.
    It has always been less stressful for me to ship them under the plane as baggage.Thats what I prefer, especially if someone else was picking up the tab.
    When I was flying with an arch top I always carried it in a form fitting flight case. I did a couple of tours with that guitar and would just carry it through security and board the plane case in hand. I would say 75% of the time I would greet the steward as I was boarding and ask, " is there room in a closet for this?", showing them the case. Very often the answer was yes. They would stow it in a closet in first class , end of story. The rest of the time I would be asked to gate check, which is actually still pretty risky, but is often thought to be preferable because it is said to avoid the conveyor belts which are dangerous. Any way. I still prefer the flight case option.
    If you can afford the extra baggage charge its the way to go. There are problems with that too though. Remember it will be handled as oversize so remember to go to oversize baggage upon arrival . Also be prepared for delays. Sometimes you get there before the guitar. If your checking items you must have immediately upon arrival, say if your playing a gig,make sure to check in early so they can process your baggage. Cutting it close will make the odds much higher of you having delayed luggage.
    You must remember to loosen the strings when you check the guitar. Its also not a bad Idea to remove the bridge and put it in a case pocket if possible. The elevated bridge on a GJ guitar or arch top is the most common site of impact damage and crushing damage . You can ovoid many problems by removing the bridge and wrapping it in a few paper towels. You can leave the strings on but be sure to put something between the tailpiece and the top of the guitar to prevent abrasions and compression marks.
    Another wrinkle is that you can never check a soft case if there are connecting flights. Thats just crazy, the plane to plane transfer happens very quickly and thats when accidents happen. If you know you are arriving in country and transferring to a regional flight you can be assured that your guitar in a gig bag will create yet another potential for difficulties as you are often unable to take a commuter flight with a case no matter how small, as no normal guitar will fit in the overheads.
    Back in the day my instructor at conservatory traveled with his classical guitar quite a bit. He had a flight case , which in those days was a huge Mark Leaf case , he checked that but carried a gig bag with the neck folded down into the body section on board as his hand luggage. That way when he arrived he transferred the guitar to the gig bag . In those days you could store luggage in lockers in most airports. Yet another reason to be nostalgic for the not so distant past as security concerns have all but eliminated rental storage at airports and bus stations world wide.
  • bohemewarblerbohemewarbler St. Louis, MO✭✭✭✭ Jordan Wencek No.26, Altamira M01D-12 fret
    Posts: 243
    One of the reasons I put this question on the forum is to try to determine the actual risk of damage when traveling by air with a guitar in a gig bag because the guitar was refused while trying to board. People often talk of the horrors of airlines as if there are a bunch of sadistic airline people out there who can’t wait to pounce on a musician’s guitar case. But I’m wondering if it’s mostly one of those horrors in which everyone thinks it will happen to them even though it’s a safe bet that it won’t. So what is the real risk of NOT getting your guitar (when secured in a gig bag) onto the plane, provided you’re an educated guitar-in-hand traveler?

    I think Al Watsky has made me, and I’m sure others on the forum, more educated about this issue by pointing out some of tips to prepare your guitar for air travel and the difficulties one might face when dealing with connecting flights, especially when it’s connecting to a smaller commuter plane that might have a policy of excluding musical instruments on their flights. So it’s important to be educated.

    I also appreciate that Denis can speak from actual experience on this issue since has had his guitar damaged and knows of others who have. But was it because the guitars were refused while trying to board? How many on this forum have actually had their guitar refused at boarding with their guitars in gig bags needing to go in the cargo hold and how did they hold up?

    I am just trying to sort out the actual risk from the exaggerated risk because I’ll be traveling with a guitar to Samois. If the risk is something similar to getting mauled by a bear in Yellowstone, I’m willing to take the risk and enjoy the hike. Before one begins, one needs to know the actual risk and how to avoid the risks when they are real. I must say that I like Sebastien Giniaux’s advice: take a cheaper “traveler” guitar that won’t break your bank or your heart if the worse comes to happen.

    One other thing I’ve heard: it helps to call the airlines ahead of time and let them know you’re planning on bringing a guitar in a soft case gig bag on your flight. They’ll put it into their notes. And don’t be late!

    Thanks to everyone for your input. I’ll make myself educated about the traveling I plan on doing this summer.
  • AmundLauritzenAmundLauritzen ✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 236
    This is what gives me a headache in regards to getting out there and jamming with people, because in most cases, that means travelling with plane, even here in Norway seeing that the jam session happens far away from where I live, as in other side of the country.

    I'm quite simply scared of taking the guitar with me on the plane, because there is one airline company in Norway which is particularly notorious for being difficult to deal with, really pedantic about stuff and merciless even though in some cases, quite simply, there is no actual problem.
    That company treats its employees like dirt and pay lousy wages, so it's understandable that they don't want to upset them by "taking liberties"...

    And then, travelling internationally, what if they refuse me to bring the guitar and I paid for hotel or other accomodation?
    Then all that money is just wasted.

  • wimwim ChicagoModerator Barault #503 replica
    Posts: 1,455
    I've flown many times with a gig bag and only had issue once on a small turboprop plane. Only about 18 seats on the plane, I mean tiny like an an aisle seat was also a window seat. The crew said there's no space for that you have to put it under, and literally this little plane had no overhead lockers.

    I said I can't check this guitar it's a one in a million, if it's trashed I can't replace this thing no matter what. Fortunately the pilot was a guitarist himself and understood the situation, he personally made sure it was OK. He actually suspended it with some bungee cord somewhere after all the other baggage was loaded up, it was bizarre .. but the guitar was fine. This was Air Canada.

    The funny thing is I had another flight once on just the same kind of plane, also Air Canada, and when I was boarding with the gig bag the pilot just said to me, hey you can just hold that guitar between your legs in the cabin ok no problem. So whatever the "official" rules are it seems it's just luck of the draw whether you get easy going crew or an annoying stickler ..

    I have never had a problem on a jet, btw. They've always had room in the overhead lockers (but watch out for other douchebag passengers who might chuck their bags on top of your guitar). I wish there was a way to check what kind of aircraft is flying when you're booking the flight to make sure you get one with big enough lockers ... Emmett???
  • bohemewarblerbohemewarbler St. Louis, MO✭✭✭✭ Jordan Wencek No.26, Altamira M01D-12 fret
    Posts: 243
    Thanks Wim for being specific about your own experience. Based on what you said, your guitar was never placed in the cargo hold after you intended to take it with you while boarding the plane. There are apparently a lot of musicians who are scared when it comes to flying with their guitars, but how many of us really need to be scared if we educate ourselves.

    When I have booked flights, the type of plane I'll be flying on is indicated on the ticket reservation's confirmation. Then you can do a google search of that plane via SeatGuru for a general description. For example, from Chicago to Montreal, I'll be flying on a much smaller plane than the overseas plane. On this leg, I'll especially need to make sure I call ahead to let them know I'll be carrying my guitar in a gig bag, and I need to make sure I'm earlier enough to get talk to the people at the boarding desk and get in as early as I can to be seated.

    Here is what the Seat Guru wrote regarding the "77W" which is a Boeing 777-300ER .

    "Overall, this is a relatively narrow aircraft with limited overhead and under seat storage. Passengers will often be required to check-in suitcases at the aircraft door which can then be retrieved immediately upon landing. The aircraft is noisiest at the rear and seats towards the front of the cabin are recommended."
  • Al WatskyAl Watsky New JerseyVirtuoso
    Posts: 440
    Used to be Air France would list the plane type on the itinerary , you can sometimes look it up on the airline website by flight number.
    I've never been refused entry when I flew with a gig bag because when I use a gig bag its a Telecaster or Steinberger. Both small enough to get on board all the time. In fact when I ran into John Scofield in Berlin a couple of years ago I asked him why he was using a Telecaster in stead of his usual AS200. He said the Tele "was a handy travel guitar." Fair enough. What do you do if you are an acoustic guitarist ? Take your chances or get a flight case I suppose.
    I have had great luck flying with my guitars. For the most part the airline staff was kind and courteous . Well except that time they tried to keep me off the plane even though management had bought a seat for it, Listed as Mr. Guitar. In the end it was OK.
    The times I have been refused I was carrying in a Calton case. So all was well.
    Flying is a PIA !
  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    Posts: 355
    I have yet to see a gig bag that will resist the crush load of having a standard suitcase dropped on top of it. And that is one of the likeliest scenarios for a guitar in the baggage section of an aircraft. Gate-checking is nowhere near as hazardous as the standard bag-handling system, but it still means exposing the instrument to dropping and getting stuff piled on top of it. I would never, ever take a gig-bagged guitar onto a plane--even now when I can use FF miles to upgrade to first class (which gets one a much better shot at, say, closet space), I put my instruments in cases with the best chance of surviving accidents short of being run over by a truck. (I wonder if even a Calton or Hoffee would protect against that.) And, as has been pointed out already, any trip with plane changes means multiple handlings for checked bags, and very few regional/feeder aircraft (even CR-Js) can accomodate anything the size of a guitar in the cabin, so gate-checking might be the best option, and that means no gig bag.

    For my annual workshop trip, I pack a decent gig bag in my checked luggage and use that instead of the sturdy but very large SuperCase to lug the guitar around for a week. It means flying with a suitcase one size larger than I would otherwise need, but since that bag has to be checked anyway (spare strings and clippers and such being banned from carry-ons), it's a small inconvenience.
  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,161
    in the end it really depends on the staff.. vancouver international airport , air canada is the worst... i flew many times into vancouver with a gig bag on board no problem... flying out of vancouver on the other hand has ALWAYS been problematic, and it's the same fuckin guy with the glasses that will not change his stance.

    i freaked out the one time i had a gig bag with me.. flying in to vancouver, no problem, flying out, they insisted it had to be checked in.... but i got lucky, the guitar survived

    like i said, odds are quite low that u'll have problems, but it still happens, and the fact that u are at the mercy of the staff is what pisses me off. certain airlines make u sign forms saying they are in no way responsible for anything that might happen to checked instruments, it's so scary...
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