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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This has been discussed here and on other forums before but I returned from the US yesterday with a relatively expensive (the ExNihilo SGLP that I posted about recently as a NGD) guitar by air, and I thought it might be worth sharing my experience here in case it's useful for anyone else.

So, a bit of background; you can skip this section if it's not of interest. We have a family home in Florida. I travel between Ottawa and Florida at least twice a year. I always fly. And it usually involves a transfer in either Toronto or Philly. I have flown with my Ministar travel guitar before, no issues. It is folds up and breaks down into a little rectangular bag & it looks like I have a pool cue bag with me. You'd never know it's a guitar and it's small. I've never been questioned about it and always carried it on with me as a personal item.

Now, I had not yet traveled with an electric in a full sized case. A quick Google turned up a number of horror stories. Don Ross had his Beneteau destroyed by an airline. Brian Adams had a valuable vintage guitar damaged (actually defaced) by an airline. Joe Bonamassa buys a separate seat for his Burst. Of course, the famous 'United Breaks Guitars' video shows up in every search too.

Fact: there is legislation now in North America that allows you to carry on a music instrument. There are some qualifications in the rules that allow the flight attendants to stow it with the gate checked items if the cabin overheads are full though. It's definitely not a good idea to check a guitar with regular baggage in any event. Gate checking is a compromise, carrying on is ideal.

What I did:

Packed the guitar as though I was shipping it. I loosened the strings, wrapped the headstock, and cut a sheath out of bubble wrap to keep the strings from slapping on the fretboard. I also removed the pickup selector switch tip.

When I got to the airport, I told the lady at check-in that I'd gate check the guitar. She gave me a special tag, I also got a 'fragile sticker' that I attached to my case handle. No one asked any questions at security. I have young kids, so when they pre-boarded the flight, I got on with my family. The first attendant on the plane greeted me and asked if I wanted to gate check my guitar. I said no & asked if he'd put it in his closet. He told me the aircraft didn't have a closet (WestJet - every seat counts to them). I told him then that I would just put it in the overhead as it was the only carry on I had. He said 'sure', as long as it fits. And it did.
In Toronto, I switched to a Q400 (Dash 8), a smaller plane, like the kind Porter flies. I just walked on and put it in the overhead again. No questions.

TLDR: I was worried about bringing my guitar on a two hop flight from US to Canada. I was easily able to carry it on and stow it in the overhead bin safely above my head. No damage, no worries.

Post script: my son's checked suitcase was opened and inspected by customs. When we returned home we found that the zipper was broken. It hadn't been locked, which would have forced them to break it. It's that while we carefully packed his stuff, customs rummaged through it and then forced the suitcase closed with all his stuff on one side putting unnecessary stress on the zipper. It's very annoying, he's eight and all he had were clothes and stuffed animals in there.

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Thanks for that. Informative.
It seems like the take-home message is that everything CAN work smoothly, so long as this, that, and the other happen. Some of those things are high probability, and some less. It's the absence of certainty that sticks out, though.

Would I be wrong in suggesting that, since one would only find out that there was no room in the overhead for a guitar somewhat late in the game, moving it to checked-in baggage would likely result in it being on top of other things, rather than sitting underneath 800lbs of something else? Know that I ask this not having flown since 2009 and not ever having brought a guitar (or anything else fragile, for that matter) on an airplane.
 

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very informative, thanks for the post, Humongous!!

did you have to do any paperwork for rosewood?
 

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I would think your reasonable approach also had something to do with the ease of getting the okay to put it in the overhead.
 
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks for that. Informative.
It seems like the take-home message is that everything CAN work smoothly, so long as this, that, and the other happen. Some of those things are high probability, and some less. It's the absence of certainty that sticks out, though.

Would I be wrong in suggesting that, since one would only find out that there was no room in the overhead for a guitar somewhat late in the game, moving it to checked-in baggage would likely result in it being on top of other things, rather than sitting underneath 800lbs of something else? Know that I ask this not having flown since 2009 and not ever having brought a guitar (or anything else fragile, for that matter) on an airplane.
No, if it didn't fit in the overhead, they'd gate check it. That usually means that they put it in a little hatch trunk below the cockpit with the strollers and wheelchairs rather than the normal cargo hold. The biggest thing is that baggage handlers aren't putting it on their cart, and conveyors. It's not best outcome, but still better than checked baggage. And I'm sure it's more common than we realize. I saw a guy in Atlanta walk on with an acoustic last year. I asked him what he had in the case and it was a Martin, so I assumed it wasn't a beater guitar to him.
 

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No, if it didn't fit in the overhead, they'd gate check it. That usually means that they put it in a little hatch trunk below the cockpit with the strollers and wheelchairs rather than the normal cargo hold. The biggest thing is that baggage handlers aren't putting it on their cart, and conveyors. It's not best outcome, but still better than checked baggage. And I'm sure it's more common than we realize. I saw a guy in Atlanta walk on with an acoustic last year. I asked him what he had in the case and it was a Martin, so I assumed it wasn't a beater guitar to him.
Aha. The category of gate-check is a new one on me. How large does an aircraft have to be to have gate-check??
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Aha. The category of gate-check is a new one on me. How large does an aircraft have to be to have gate-check??
I only learned about the 'gate check' when I had kids. If you have a stroller, you walk it right to the plane door when boarding and they take it ther, and return it to you at the plane's door when you disembark upon landing. I presume it's available on all commercial flights. The smallest aircraft that I fly with any regularity are Dash-8's (Q400) & it's available with Porter & West Jet and presumably whatever Air Canada's discount and regional flights are called these days.

Where did US Customs put the guitar during your anal cavity search?
I only had to deal with Canadian Customs. They didn't ask any questions this time but typically I find US Customs better to deal with.
 

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All the forum posts about the new CITES changes are just a bunch of fearful guitarists who don't know any better and scare others. Customs agents don't care if you're traveling with a guitar.
 

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Regarding the broken zipper on your son's suitcase:

It's the traveller's responsibility to make his baggage accessible to customs. When referred for examination, you technically need to immediately open your suitcase for examination as soon as you lay it on the examination bench, and then close it and secure it yourself when the examination is finished. If the officer just went ahead and ripped it shut before you could do it, he was not following proper procedure. But this often occurs when lineups are long and pressure to move people through occurs.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Regarding the broken zipper on your son's suitcase:

It's the traveller's responsibility to make his baggage accessible to customs. When referred for examination, you technically need to immediately open your suitcase for examination as soon as you lay it on the examination bench, and then close it and secure it yourself when the examination is finished. If the officer just went ahead and ripped it shut before you could do it, he was not following proper procedure. But this often occurs when lineups are long and pressure to move people through occurs.
They didn't search the bag in our presence. It was checked. They must have taken it off the conveyor belt, screwed with it and tossed it back on the conveyor for the baggage corral. The only reason we knew is that they put a card in the suitcase saying it had been searched. Most likely at Pearson, which is one of the worst airports on earth to travel through.
 

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They didn't search the bag in our presence. It was checked. They must have taken it off the conveyor belt, screwed with it and tossed it back on the conveyor for the baggage corral. The only reason we knew is that they put a card in the suitcase saying it had been searched. Most likely at Pearson, which is one of the worst airports on earth to travel through.
If that is the case you should have reported the bag damage when you picked it up. At one time airports had contracted shops that fixed bags that were broken through no fault of the traveller. I'm not sure whether they still do, but it wouldn't hurt to have inquired.
 

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I've done that a few times as well. I've bought one of those soft hardshell cases:




Going through the same steps as the OP (loosening the strings, putting something between the strings and the frets...). These cases fit in all the bins from the planes I've flown, with Air Canada, Swiss Air, Lufthansa, Air France and Air Transat.
 
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