All posts tagged with AFM

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Flying with Guitars

Ask any musician what is the most challenging part of traveling by air, and they will all say the same thing.

At its worst, it results in situations like this one:

or this:

Screen shot 2014-10-13 at 12.25.36 PM

 

 

 

And breakage is not the only thing that can happen. I have talked with many people who checked their instrument and never saw it again. I think the normal response to that (according to me, so FWIW) would be to want to be able to see your instrument at all times.

But … help is on its way. Sort of.

According to a document from the Transportation Safety Administration (the people who x-ray your baggage and you when you are flying) dated 9/28/12, you may carry on your guitar. Here is a copy of the document. I carry it with me when I fly, in the same envelop with my boarding pass and ID. You can get it at: http://local1000.org/2013/01/download-forms-and-contracts/#.VD1b1CldWiQ

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This document mainly has to do with carrying instruments through the security checkpoint, but in fact, Congress passed a law to allow you to bring your instrument aboard as carry-on baggage. According to John Thomas at Fretboard Journal:

“Section 403 of the legislation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, provides:

“An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage ….”

But at the end of the same article is this:

“Alas, we’ve fallen into a black hole in American jurisprudence. Recall that the law was to go into effect when the FAA promulgated the corresponding regulations. Recall also that Congress commanded the FAA to promulgate those regulations by February 6, 2014. Well, that date has come and gone and the FAA has not even begun the process of drafting the regulations. And, that black hole? There is no legal mechanism by which Congress can force an agency to do its job. As a result, members of Congress have been reduced to pleading, threatening, stamping their feet, and holding their breath until the FAA acts. So far, the FAA has not been impressed.”

In other words, we cannot rely on the law-makers to fix this problem.

 

UPDATE: There is now an agreement in place between the AFM, TSA and the airlines. Here is a copy of the letter:

 

Screen shot 2016-06-11 at 10.05.13 PMYou can find a copy of this letter to download and print at:  http://local1000.org/2013/01/download-forms-and-contracts/#.V1zROyMrIYI

American Federations of Musicians (of which I am a proud member, Local 1000), has been working with TSA to try to adjust the situation so that at the very least, every airline has the same rules. According to Ray Hair, AFM International president, there is progress being made in this, their second meeting with TSA and the Department of Transportation.  All interested parties were represented at these talks, and in his message this month, there was this:

“The major takeaway from our July meeting was a general acknowledgement from DOT and the airline industry that most major and regional airlines have adopted company policies concerning the air transportation of musical instruments, most of which closely mirror the requirements contained in the 2012 law. The DOT is now bringing both sides together to help clarify and negotiate protocol differences, while ensuring that the airlines’ published policies are clear and will be adhered to, so that musicians can rely on them while flying with their instruments.

“We gained tremendous insight and engaged in productive discussions during our July meeting about the obligations of the US airlines toward musical instrument air travel. The need for the dissemination of information about existing policies, protections, commitments, and remedies avilable for musicians from government and industry, prior to the issuance of final administrative rules, was well recognized by every stakeholder.

“As a result, our September meeting would concentrate on the following agreed-upon items, including but not limited to:

  • The creation of a webpage to provide public information on transporting musical instruments.
  • Improved airline communication of musical instrument policies to frontline staff, ticket agents, gate agents, and flight crews.
  • Group review of AFM member survey results concerning instrument air transport.
  • Development of a public document summarizing musical instrument carriage regulations in plain language.
  • New options on how to file air travel service complaints
  • Development of a tip sheet for musicians traveling by air with instruments.”

Despite all this progress, there are a number of people who have come up with solutions for the problems that remain formidable — the flight attendant or the gate agent who has the final word, a concept designed to strike fear into the heart of every traveling guitarist.

At this point, I’d like to insert that I fly Southwest Airlines whenever I can. This is not because I’m affiliated with Southwest in any way. I’m not. But of all the airlines I’ve flown, I can count on Southwest not to give me a hard time about my guitar. I once got aboard a flight with a 9-piece band, all carrying instruments, and me with my guitar. No one batted a single eyelash, nor was there a single murmur. (BTW, if Southwest is not an option for you, the next best choice, running a distant second, is American Airlines. They usually don’t have a problem, but you can’t count on everyone who works for them to follow through. Not affiliated with them either, in case you wondered.)

Lots of people have lots of advice, but the best I found online was from CDBaby’s DIY blog. Their 5 tips included

  • Try to get aboard early. Southwest takes care of this with their “Early Bird Boarding”, which you pay a little extra for when you buy your ticket. If you’re on another airline, try to choose a seat at the back, which allows you to board first after First Class.
  • Ask if your guitar can be stored in the closet up front. If there’s room in it, this is convenient for all concerned, since you won’t have to carry it through the plane, though I always wonder what would happen if someone else took it from the closet before I got back to it when we landed.
  • Have it in a case that could weather the conditions either in the cabin or in the hold. My guitar is in a foam case that fits in the overhead (like the TRIC case that comes with the Seagull guitars – though you can buy them separately. Again, no affiliation.) and will protect it if you have to gate check your guitar – though not from theft.
  • Make sure your guitar is protected against conditions in the hold. Loosen the strings, add a humidifier, wrap the headstock, add some padding, if you can.

And my personal favorite:

  • If the gate agent tags your guitar to be gate checked, and tells you to leave it at the end of the jetway, just cover the tag with your hand, and try to board with it. Pretend ignorance, if you get caught. Flight attendants are too busy to pay attention to that stuff.

Far and away, the best advice I found was, ABOVE ALL, BE POLITE. Ask with a smile. All the airline personnel are people with families, issues, feelings, worries, etc. just like yours. Play nice, kids. Bon voyage.