10 Essential Tips for Flying with a Guitar – Everything you need to know!

This article will cover two different options for flying with a guitar.

  1. Bringing the Guitar on the Plane as carry-on luggage in the cabin
  2. Putting the guitar in the checked luggage under the plane

Bringing the guitar on the plane as a carry-on bag

Bringing a guitar on flights these days is pretty common.  There are a few things you need to consider when doing this.

Guitar Protection

Make sure you invest in a quality gig bag. There’s a number of reasons why this is good practice anytime you are about to board a flight.

If the flight is full, you may actually have no option to check your guitar under with the rest of the luggage.  If you have a bolt on neck guitar you might be okay but if you’re traveling with an Archtop or Acoustic guitar do not skimp on a gig bag.

The Guitar Might Get Checked Anyway!

One flight I was traveling from Orlando, FL to San Francisco, CA and while I boarded the flight with the guitar it eventually ended up getting “checked” under the cabin.  This was a very nerve-racking experience because it was a brand new Fender Mexican Stratocaster in just a simple gig bag.  The reason the guitar was checked was the flight was totally full and I had nowhere to store the guitar.

Guitar as carry-on luggage

Flying with a guitar – Everything you need to know.

10 Essential Tips for Flying with a Guitar in a gig bag.

1 – Make sure you board as quickly as you can.

If you are running late or get on in the last boarding call odds are all the overhead bins will be full and “squeezing” the guitar it is not always a viable option.  This is more of an issue with an acoustic which is clearly less robust than a bolt-on neck guitar.

2 – Make sure the guitar doesn’t get squashed

You’d be pretty surprised how ignorant a lot of people are when it comes to the treatment of instruments.  I once boarded early and put my Stratocaster in the overhead compartment.  Don’t be shocked to see someone with a wheel on suitcase try and squeeze their bag on top of your guitar.  This exact same situation happened to me and I quickly asked them to stop while I moved “my instrument” out of the way.  Once their bag was in I shuffled the guitar around the bag.

3 – The Suit Jacket Compartment

The majority of major airlines have a wardrobe dedicated to hanging up suits and jackets.  Not many people are aware of this either.  I usually ask the staff on the plane as soon as I am walking into the aircraft to see if they have one. This is the easiest place to store the guitar. whether or not I can store the guitar.  If they are unable to do this then find your seat and claim a spot asap.

4 – Remove all Guitar Tools Prior to Boarding

If you have a string winder, string cutters, screwdrivers, or any other tools put them in your checked luggage prior to boarding.  Some guitarist has had that stuff removed and thrown out prior to boarding so make sure you check it and leave out. This will save the potential headache.

5 – Check your Gig Bag for Hooks

Some gig bags come included with big metal clips that can be used to hang the guitar up on a speaker or wherever you need to hang it. While these features are very helpful, some airlines may not allow you to travel with this.

You can usually find these on the underside of the gig bag in a pouch located up near the headstock side.  This is more common on electric guitar gig bags than on acoustic ones.

6 – Losen the strings slightly

I have flown many times with guitars in the carry-on luggage and I always just loosen the strings a turn or two just to be sure.  Bolt-on neck guitars are usually pretty indestructible but I usually just wind a couple of turns off of the guitar tuners.

7 – Additional Padding

Another really handy tip is if you are wearing a jacket or something you plan on taking off then shove it in the overhead bin with the guitar.  If you are flying without a gig bag (heaven forbid!) then this is probably a really smart thing to do and if it was me, I would wrap it around the neck and headstock.

8 – Call Ahead

Call your airline and make sure they will allow guitars to be carried on the flight.  As I mentioned earlier if the flight is full, you might have no other option than to check it under the cabin.  This is where having a quality gig bag at the very least is non-negotiable in my view.

9 – Ship it with FedEx or DHL Ahead of Time

This option works a treat if you are going to stay with a friend, for example.  If you are staying at a hotel or something similar then this option might not be the best way to ensure safe delivery.  This is the best option if you plan ahead of time because you can organize a proper box and some bubble wrap.

This will no doubt cost more than bringing it with you but at least you have one less thing to worry about carrying.

10 – Dedicated Travel Guitars

If you’re an acoustic player there’s actually great travel guitars available from Journey Instruments.  These acoustic guitars actually have an attachable neck as well as a carry bag that is designed for travel on flights.  I own one of these guitars and they are great.  Check them out on Amazon here.

What is the Best Gig Bag?

If you are looking for a quality gig back check out my post here.

Flying with a Guitar - What you need to know

Checking Your Guitar in a Gig Back or Hard Case

Should I lock the Guitar Case?

Do not lock the case unless you like the TSA breaking the locks off the cases. I made this mistake with my G&G Fender USA Tweed Case and the locks were broken without hesitation or compensation.  Make sure you do not lock the case.   I tried to follow up this with the airline and also my travel insurance and got nowhere.

The only exception to this rule is if you have TSA approved locks (if you are flying in the USA) and they can be opened with a key.  When you purchase the correct hard case locking it is not even required because the latches will keep the guitar safe.

TSA Approved Locks on a Gig Bag

TSA Approved Locks on a Gig Bag

Is checking the Guitar a safe and reliable option?

In my experience, checking a guitar isn’t an issue these days (on the most part).  We’ve all seen some horror stories and photos online but I have traveled overseas a number of times with guitars and never had an issue.

It all comes down to the guitar type and case you use.

Additional Bags?

If you check your guitar it counts as a bag.  If you have a one bag limit before you have to pay more get ready to spend between $25-$60 for additional baggage. Double check the additional checked bag fees before you fly or as you book the ticket or you might get an unpleasant surprise.  All airlines I have flown with have this charge for checked items.

Case Weight

The heavier the electric guitar case is, the more it could cost you if it is above the weight limits specified by your airline.  There’s nothing worse than spending hours walking with a heavy case either.  If you want to find out about which cases are the best for flying check out my article regarding that.

How Safe is Checking an Electric Guitar in a Gig Bag?

So far so good. I have made it through multiple airlines with different guitars over a 15 year period. I have never had any of my guitars damaged in checked luggage even in a gig bag.

Poor Quality Gig Bag and Keeping Luggage Down

On an international flight from the USA to Australia, I took my guitar apart.  One advantage to bolt on neck guitars is their durability.  The Classic Vibe Telecaster arrived safe and sound at my destination.

If you are traveling with an acoustic guitar or something like a Gibson ES-335 or Gibson Les Paul then this is not an option.

How I packed a guitar in My Suitcase

I wrap the neck in a few tops or jeans just to ensure it is safe.  If your only option is a poor quality gig bag this is a great option. This worked a treat flying from Orlando to Melbourne Australia one trip.   Make sure you pack a screwdriver to rebolt the neck back on when you get to your destination.  Keep the screwdriver in the checked bag as well.

Pack a guitar in a suitcase

I took the strings and neck off and put my guitar in my suitcase 😀

Electric Guitar in a suitcase

My guitar is shown above packed in my suitcase.  I have the gig back folded in half and the neck placed in the suitcase.

Loosen the Strings

Due to the temperature difference in the checked luggage, it’s worth loosening the strings a few turns. This is an essential tip for flying with a guitar.

Should You Buy Travel Insurance for Your Guitar?

You should just buy insurance in general.  Most travel insurance companies have a limit to how much they will cover in terms of damage or loss.  The maximum cover to items like cameras, computers, guitars, and other personal items will vary.

If you are planning on checking an expensive guitar under the cabin get insurance prior to your flight.  This is a bit of a no-brainer but a lot of people figure “it’ll be okay” until it isn’t okay.  Each company has its own pricing, terms, and conditions so make sure you do a little research before buying insurance.

If you have to spend a few extra dollars for a piece of mind then do it.  There’s a famous saying “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel. I hope you found these 10 tips for flying with a guitar helpful.  If you did please leave a comment or share the post with your friends.