Traveling is a hassle no matter how you do it, but trust me, it could be so much worse. You could be traveling with an instrument.
Throughout middle school, I played a cello nearly my size that I lugged back and forth to school, often by school bus. It was unwieldy and obtrusive and could never decide if it wanted to fit in the small cars my parents owned. My sister was smart enough to choose a much smaller string instrument, the viola. When I recently heard she was going to fly to Florida this fall to play on a cruise with her school orchestra, I started to worry. I’d heard horror stories about musicians having to check their instruments and getting them back destroyed, and I just knew that would be my sister.
As it turns out, I don’t have to worry as much as I thought. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) recently issued a final ruling that will put in place new laws requiring airlines to honor musical instruments as legitimate luggage. The laws will go into effect two months after official publication in the Federal Register and look to make travel by plane infinitely more convenient for the thousands of professional musicians and millions of students in the country.
For the past year, the DOT has been working with representatives from the musicians’ union and airlines to create a dialogue about negative shared experiences and how to prevent these problems in the future. Previously, although musicians were not always required to check small instruments like guitars or violins, flight attendants could still remove them from the overhead storage bin to create space—something not allowed for other types of carry-on items. Musicians who did check their instruments risked coming off the plane to instruments severely damaged. Furthermore, many musicians faced personnel who were not understanding and unwilling to help accommodate their needs because the airlines had no specific precedent.
The new requirements by the DOT change everything. Small instruments will now be treated with the same first-come, first-served rule as every other carry-on. Flight attendants will not be allowed to remove them, even if they take up space that could fit several smaller types of carry-ons. Additionally, airlines will no longer be able to charge an extra fee for carry-on instruments. Airlines must accept instruments weighing up to 165 pounds; for a larger instrument such as a tuba, however, a musician will either need to check it or buy a second cabin seat.
Perhaps most importantly, the DOT is requiring uniformity among all airlines. Airlines will be required to train personnel with these new rules and regulations, a task that is well worth the estimated $474,000 it will cost to do so.
It will be interesting to see the effects and amount of success these new regulations will have upon both airlines and travelers. But one thing’s for sure—I feel much better about my sister’s (and her viola’s) Florida travels in the fall.
Did You Know?
There is a category within many musical instruments that includes a contrabass instrument—one that is below the register of the bass clef for that instrument type—and they can get pretty big. A contrabass clarinet is nearly 9 feet long; subcontrabass flutes are even longer!