Traveling with Instruments
That’s fine, and it’s fairly common, because it is in the same category as a purse or camera bag (but you should still try to consolidate everything into the smallest possible number of items). Here’s an additional good reminder: if while in Europe you purchase souvenirs that “must” be hand-carried (because they’re fragile, sentimental, easily-lost, etc.), make sure you have a plan for the return trip. A carry-on, clarinet and a bag of souvenirs might be a difficult load.
Small instruments (Flutes, Piccolos, Oboes & Clarinets) will be put into your carry-on, carried on as a small item, or packed inside your suitcase for the flight. In Europe, you’ll keep you instrument in your hotel room and will be responsible for bringing it to and from concert venues.
Medium sized instruments (Violins, Violas, Trumpets, Alto Saxophones and Bassoons) will be packed 2-4 instruments together in a cardboard box with bubble wrap for the flight overseas. The boxes are tagged & checked at the baggage area and put under the plane. You can choose to carry one of these instruments as your carry-on, but if it doesn’t fit in the overhead bin (too big or bins are filled) it may end up being put under the plane by itself.
“Larger” instruments are individually tagged & checked at the baggage area and put under the plane.
Once in Europe, medium and large instruments will be transported in a securely locked trailer that is towed behind one of the coaches. You will not need to carry these instruments to your hotel room.
1) Inspect your instrument case. It should be a hard case with a zipper or good latches that work and stay shut. If you think there might be an issue with that, purchase a luggage strap to keep the case closed. DO NOT plan on using a key to lock the latches. During security check at the airport, the latches will be broken open. Also, Murphy’s Law states that you’ll leave you key in the hotel room during a concert night.
2)If you feel you must lock your case – get a TSA approved lock. Locks and luggage straps are available at most places that sell luggage.
3) Make sure your instrument fits snugly in its case and does not shift or bump around. Vibrations on the plane and in the trailer have caused instruments to disassemble themselves! If needed, add some extra padding – (bubble wrap, towel, t-shirt) to prevent the instrument from moving around in the case.
4) If you have an expensive wooden instrument, consider purchasing “Dampit” to keep humidity stable during the flight.
5) If you have only a soft case, purchase a hard case or see if you can borrow or rent a hard case. If that’s not an option, make sure your instrument has plenty of padding protection – it will get bumped around on the plane and in the trailer. You use a soft case at your own risk.
6) Not all hard cases are equal – in 2013 we brought 3 cellos overseas, and one had a case that was somewhat flexible. The neck on that cello broke on the way over to Europe, and AGAIN on the return flight home.
7) ALL instruments get opened up by security at the airport. If your instrument gets packed in a special way, take a picture of the correctly packed instrument, print it and put it inside the case for the security agent to see. Also marking “TOP” or “THIS SIDE UP” or “OPEN THIS SIDE” on the outside of the case may help insure that your case is opened correctly.
All instrument cases will be opened and x-rayed at the airport. This is usually done out of your sight so a few precautions are advisable:
1) Do not lock the case. If they cannot open the lock, they will break it. If you must lock it, use only a TSA approved lock.
2) If the instrument needs to go in the case a specific way – take a photo and print it on an large piece of paper with the words INSTRUMENT PACKING and leave it in the case so that the TSA Agent can see it.
3) Percussionists- make sure you have a drum key with you. – one year we had to disassemble a drumset bass drum so that security could see inside the drum!
If you have a music stand that fits in your instrument case and will not damage your instrument, you can bring it.
Otherwise, you will need a Hamilton KB400N or something similar. (See photo on the left. Any color music stand is fine.)
It should separate into 2 sections and fold up compactly. It will need to fit in your suitcase on the airplane, and in our rolling cases while on tour. When folded up, the bottom part of the stand must be less than 26″ and the top must be less than 20″
DO NOT bring a stand with a solid/non-collapsing desk (the part that holds the music) or one with thick tubes. It will take up too much space, may not fit in our case or your suitcase, and you will be responsible for schlepping it around yourself.
Before you arrive at ESU, Label the top and bottom of your stand with your name.
Many suitcases and ALL instruments are opened up by security at the airport. If the case is locked, and you are not using a TSA approved lock, they will break the lock, and possibly your suitcase/instrument case.
If you are locking it because you are afraid it might open, use a luggage strap instead.