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Monday, March 14, 2011

Flying With Your Gear

It's never been easy to take your gear with you when you flew to a gig, but it's gotten harder today thanks to the stringent requirements of the TSA. That being said, there are some tricks that can make you life a lot easier, and they're here in an excerpt from The Touring Musician's Handbook. By the way, one of them is to lock your cases and luggage with an official TSA lock like shown on the left.

You can read more excerpts from The Touring Musician's Handbook, as well as my other books, on my website.
Musicians have a lot of confusion about flying with gear and well they should. Security is tighter than ever and all of the baggage rules have changed, but it’s still possible to fly with musical instruments as either carry-on or checked baggage. Here are some flying tips to keep your gear safe and the TSA happy.
  • Many airlines will no longer allow a musical instrument in a gig bag to be a carry-on. This is actually a violation of the the agreement between the American Federation of Musicians and the TSA, which states that you can carry one musical instrument on with you providing it fits under the seat or in an overhead bin. Carry a copy of the American Federation of Musicians' correspondence with the TSA that you can download at this site;  Also, check out this article about carrying musical instruments on board at the TSA website ( Make sure that your tour manager is aware of your intention and that the airline is contacted beforehand.
  • All checked baggage must undergo at least one form of screening. Security screeners have the right to forcibly open locked baggage to complete the screening process, so leave your cases unlocked unless you want the locks broken. If a screener opens your checked baggage, they’ll place a notice telling you that they opened it, and will  then close it with a security seal. If you later find that something is missing, the TSA can be held responsible on a case by case basis, which is not much recourse if it’s something that you use every night. It’s always a good idea to be there when the screener opens up the case, if possible. There are now TSA approved locks available that can be easily opened by security screeners with a TSA master key, but appear as a traditional lock to everyone else [see the picture on the left].
TIP: If you can’t be there when a screen checks you baggage, include very clear and understandable written instructions for repacking and handling your instrument in a place where the screener will notice them.
  • If you’re able to carry an instrument on the plane, be careful that you don’t store any prohibited items like scissors or wire clippers in your bag or case. These will be confiscated so they definitely need to be checked. Remember that you can only carry on one musical instrument, one carry-on bag, and one personal item, if they allow a music instrument.
  • If you’re bringing extra batteries, keep them in their original packaging. They pose a very small risk of fire (very, very small) so the TSA prefers that their terminals not be able to touch anything and keeping them in the original packaging is the safest way.
  • Since August of 2006, you can bring limited quantities of liquids, aerosols and gels in your carry-on bag, but you have to observe what they call the 3-1-1 rule. That is, a 3.4 ounce (1000 ml) or less bottle of liquid put into a 1 quart clear plastic bag, and only 1 bag per person put separately into the screening bin. If you have any doubts, put them in checked luggage.
For more about airport security, get it right from the source at

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1 comment:

Rand Bliss said...

Great and informative article Bobby. May I also add it can literally pay to be aware and be prepared for anyone teetering on the borderline between safety and officious paranoia.

I've personally witnessed on more than one occasion how someone wearing a uniform all too easily allowed their head to swell far beyond the size of their hat.

So, unless you do have something to hide, then keeping the end goal in mind while travelling (get there on time, with no inconvenience, etc.) really requires one to tattoo a congenial, cooperative smile on their face while biting one's tongue if things get a tad too condescending. Simply put; do you want a fight, or do you want the flight?

You can complain later after you've arrived, if it'll make any difference;-)


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