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Travelling with an instrument

What you need to know

Each airline and airport will have a different policy regarding the size and shape of an instrument that can be stored in the overhead bin of an aeroplane or under the seat.

Airlines may also have their own rules about the number of bags you are allowed to take on the aircraft. Seats may have to be purchased for larger instruments, and some airlines have restrictions about the weight/baggage allowance for checked-in hold luggage. 

The MU strongly recommends that you check with your airline that they will allow your instrument in the cabin before you book your tickets.

It is also highly recommended that passengers contact the airline to enquire whether the musical instrument is in addition to, or in place of, the hand baggage allowance.

Please note that:

  • No other item other than the instrument and its accessories should be in the case.
  • No liquids should be placed in the cabin baggage.
  • Musical instruments will need to be screened.

Other tips:

  • Ensure that there are plenty of “Fragile” stickers on the case and that it is clearly labelled with your contact details.
  • Be sure to take oversized instruments to the oversize/fragile baggage area at the airport — do not check it in and allow it to go on the conveyor belt with cases etc. Items deposited at the former will be taken into the hold of the aircraft by hand thereby negating any rough handling. Ask them to bind the case with tape too.
  • If you have an instrument with strings, loosen them a tone or two to allow for change of temperature!

The Union is working hard at European level to bring about some clear, consistent and transparent policies that all airlines can adopt. Please sign the petition that calls on the EU council to take action.

Travelling with instruments made of rare materials?

Do you have Ivory or Brazilian Rosewood, Abalone or other materials built into your instrument?

Are you travelling overseas with your instrument?

If so, there are certain precautions you should take to protect your instrument, especially if travelling to the USA.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has for some time now been concerned with the illegal trade of endangered flora and fauna such as Brazilian Rosewood, African Ivory, Mother of Pearl and Abalone to name but a few. These species have for many years been used in instrument manufacture.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have introduced regulations that allow for instruments with certain endangered species to be seized by authorities when musicians have been entering or leaving the country when working.

This has raised grave concerns for the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and the American League of Orchestras who have been lobbying hard for an exemption for musicians.

Thanks to their efforts, the USFWS issued an amended order making it possible to travel with instruments made, sold or transferred before February 2014.

The key thing here is that while this exemption now exists you still need to be able to prove purchase, transfer details of the instrument and have supporting documentation.

CITES has recommended the use of an ‘Instrument Passport’ which, when drawn up and approved, will identify when the instrument was bought, and should include accompanying purchase/transfer documentation and identifying photos of the instrument.

The MU has discussed this issue with International Federation of Musicians (FIM) and employers across Europe. A joint letter is being drawn up asking that clear concise information from CITES and the US Government be issued as to how musicians can obtain these ‘passports’.

We have also spoken to the AFM and they advise having both a permit from your home country and a permit for the country to which you are travelling. If you are travelling to the US for a single visit, a permit may be obtained here.

The MU contacted the UK authorities over this issue. We have been advised that until such time as the internationally recognised ‘instrument passport’ is available, UK musicians can apply for a CITES permit as an individual or a group here.

The form you require is FED0172.  They have confirmed this form will be recognised by overseas authorities and provide you with the protection you require. However, we would advise that if you have any concerns you do contact them directly. They are best placed to answer any questions you may have.

The Union is working with other international musicians unions and employers on your behalf to try to make this process easier and more transparent for musicians. We will update this information as necessary.

LGBT travel advice.

If you have any concerns, please email dave.webster@theMU.org or kelly.wood@theMU.org.

Related downloads

CITES Advice for Members MIC info 26-1-2017 (PDF 46.24 bytes file opens in new window)

MU Eurostar advice for members - January 2015 (PDF 58 bytes file opens in new window)

Travel Company Policies - European Rail 27-08-2015 (PDF 27.28 bytes file opens in new window)

Travel Company Policies - UK Rail 27-08-2015 (PDF 34.42 bytes file opens in new window)

US Airline Ruling Info Sheet - 06-01-2015 (PDF 27.71 bytes file opens in new window)

CITES Update December 2016 (PDF 260.8 bytes file opens in new window)