Can You Bring a Guitar on a Plane?

Yes, the Transportation Security Administration allows you to take a guitar or any smaller musical instruments on a plane. However, whether you can bring guitars as carry-ons or on international flights varies by airline. 

For some musicians, leaving your favorite guitar at home during a trip can be unthinkable. But, luckily, you can take your guitar with you on a flight as well as keep it safe. 

Can You Bring a Guitar as a Carry-On?

All airlines are different, so you may not always be able to bring a musical instrument as carry-on baggage. However, since musical instruments are delicate and can easily break if you place them in checked baggage, you can usually take one instrument with you as a carry-on. 

Yet, you should always check with your airline beforehand to ensure they allow musical instruments as carry-on bags. You also need to measure your guitar and its case to make sure it does not exceed the dimensions for a carry-on musical instrument. 

It is also a good idea to board the plane early when you bring your guitar as a carry-on bag to reduce the risk of it getting checked. Similarly, you may want to get to the airport early in case you run into issues trying to bring your guitar on the plane. 

Measuring Your Guitar Case for Use as a Carry-On

If your air service allows you to bring your guitar on a plane with you, most airlines will have rules about how big the instrument can be. They make these carry-on regulations because your guitar or other musical instrument must be able to fit in the overhead bins. 

If the guitar can not fit in the overhead compartments, it can be a danger to other passengers if there is an emergency. Thus, you’ll need to know the guitar’s dimensions if you bring it as a carry-on bag. 

To find the dimensions, you need to measure your case’s length, width, and height. 

And when you measure, make sure you take the longest measurements. So, for instance, when calculating the width, measure across the broadest part of the case or gig bag. 

Then, if you need to know the case’s linear inches to bring it as a carry-on, you should add the length, width, and height together. 

So, if your width is 15 inches, your length is 40 inches, and your depth is 5 inches, you need to add those three numbers together. You will then get 60, meaning your case is 60 linear inches. 

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Can You Bring a Guitar as Checked Baggage?

Yes, you can bring a guitar as checked baggage, but you need to be careful about how you pack it. Use heavy-duty cases instead of gig bags to reduce the risk of damage, especially to the fragile guitar neck. 

How Do I Make Sure My Guitar is Stowed Safely in Checked Baggage?

Unfortunately, you can never be sure that your guitar is safe in the air carrier once it is out of your sight. But, there are certain precautions you can take to prevent damage to your guitar. 

For one, you should invest in a sturdy travel guitar case. 

You can use the big heavy-duty cases that musicians often take on tours, but these aren’t necessary to store your guitar properly. Plus, they can be huge and heavy, meaning you may need to pay an oversized luggage fee. 

Thus, it’s best to use a sturdy case made of hard plastic with TSA-approved locks

You can also use soft or squishy objects like clothes or bubble wrap to protect the instrument by giving it extra padding. You should place these cushiony items inside extra space in the case, so the guitar doesn’t move around too much. 

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Will I Ever Have to Put My Guitar in Checked Luggage When Bringing it as a Carry-On?

Yes, although for many of those flying with a guitar, their worst fear is having to put it into checked luggage, it could happen. 

One reason you may have to gate-check your guitar is if the plane runs out of storage space. Unfortunately, this event is out of your control, so you may end up having to gate-check that expensive custom guitar to make more space on the plane. 

The second reason is that you did not follow the stipulations for carry-on luggage correctly, so there isn’t sufficient space for you to carry on your guitar. Thus, if your guitar is too big, flight attendants may not allow you to bring it into the flight deck. 

However, if you’re lucky, a flight attendant might be able to put small instruments in the coat closet or in other approved storage locations in the passenger deck if they do not fit in the bin. 

But, if your guitar does get gate-checked, sometimes they will put a green tag on the case so you can pick it up at the jet bridge instead of the luggage carousel. Avoiding baggage claim means there is less chance of someone stealing your guitar. 

Purchasing an Additional Seat for a Guitar

If you have a really lovely guitar, you will want to avoid injury at all costs, so putting your guitar in the overhead bin space may make you nervous. Thus, if you have the money, you might want to buy a separate ticket to ensure your guitar doesn’t get checked or placed in a storage closet. 

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What if the Baggage Handlers Break My Guitar? 

If baggage handlers break or damage your guitar, you should report the incident immediately. You should also insist that the airline fill out a form and provide you with a copy to ensure they have a record of the incident. 

Rules for Different Airlines

Here are some rules to remember when traveling with a guitar on these popular airlines: 

American Airlines 

  • If you buy an additional ticket, the guitar must be in the seat next to you. 
  • If you do not buy an extra seat, the guitar must fit in the overhead cabin. 
  • The instrument must be in a hard-shell case to make a damage claim. 

Delta Airlines 

  • If you bring instruments as carry-on items, they must fit in the overhead bin. 
  • If checked, the guitar can not exceed 150 linear inches, which gives you plenty of space even for full-size guitars. 

Southwest Airlines 

  • You can bring your guitar on board if there is space in the overhead bin. 
  • Oversized baggage is 165 pounds. Items larger than this weight can not go on the plane. 

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You can bring your guitar with you on your flight, but you need to be careful about how you store it. 

For guitars that cost a lot of money or carry a lot of sentimental value, especially, you should probably avoid putting them in with checked bags. Instead, bring them as a carry-on or buy an extra seat.