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Travelling with an instrument

What you need to know

  • Airline policies on instruments and luggage
  • Tips for how to prepare your instrument
  • Precautions for rare materials
  •  Instrument passports and permits

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.

To check the policy for each airline, use the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) Airline ‘traffic light’ tool. You can also leave feedback to document your experience with each airline. Good news stories as well as bad news stories are welcome.

Dave Webster, Musicians’ Union (MU) National Organiser for Live Performance, says: “We know that on some occasions, ground staff and cabin crew have been less aware of their employers’ policies than they should be. This will hopefully incentivise airlines to up their game and give musicians some peace of mind when booking to travel with their instruments.”

Benoît Machuel, FIM General Secretary says: “We hope that FIM’s ranking tool will help professional musicians to select the companies that best answer their needs when they travel by air to perform abroad. We are grateful to the MU for its contribution to the development of this tool.”

In 2017, Air Canada received the inaugural FIM Airline Award for its favourable policy towards musicians and their instruments.

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  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 a ‘Musical Instrument Certificate’ which, will identify when the instrument was bought, and should include accompanying purchase/transfer documentation and identifying photos of the instrument.

We would advise that if you have any concerns you do contact the UK issuing authority APHA directly (Details on the link). 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 have been working on a handbook for EU musicians to use which is approaching its final stages and will go before the EU commission for approval. We will update this information as necessary. For the latest UK advice see our CITES Update – August 2017.

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)

CITES Update - August 2017 (PDF 17.3 bytes file opens in new window)