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If you enjoy playing the guitar and are about to go on a prolonger trip abroad, you might be wondering if you can take your instrument along with you. Similarly, you might be wondering what flying with a guitar is like if you need to perform in a city far from where you live.
Luckily, getting a guitar on a plane is fairly easy.
In this article, I take a look at what some of the best guitar cases for air travel are, at how to pack your guitar for a flight, as well as what the rules are like when it comes to flying with an instrument.
Best Acoustic Guitar Cases for Air Travel
Let’s start by taking a look at what I believe are the two best flight cases for acoustic guitars.
If you can, I recommend getting the one made by SKB – a leading hard case maker for all sorts of fragile equipment. However, if you are on a budget, the Gator Cases one should work well too.
Top Pick: SKB Acoustic Guitar Case
If you need a tough, well-designed guitar case that can stand up to the knocks and bumps of air travel, look no further than the SKB Acoustic Guitar Case.
Molded from polypropylene copolymer resin, this case is gasket-sealed, waterproof, and dust-proof. The patented trigger release mechanism and hinge ensure the case stays closed when you shut it, even during rough handling.
The automatic ambient pressure equalization valve protects your guitar from changes in air pressure during flights.
The case is available in various sizes and configurations to suit all kinds of guitars, so check for the one that suits your requirements before ordering.
Things I Like About This Product: The case’s cushion grip handles are comfortable and built extra tough to be able to withstand a beating. The latch system comes with TSA-approved locks and there are four reinforced locking loops to use with external locks. The whole case is built to military standards, so it will handle all weather conditions and rough usage while keeping your guitar safe.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Buying This Product: The case weighs around 22 pounds, so keep your airline’s baggage guidelines in mind and know that you will definitely need to check it in.
Runner-Up: Gator Cases Molded Flight Case
The GTSA series molded flight sases from Gator come in various shapes that can accommodate classical, dreadnought, electric, Les Paul and other styles. As such, make sure to check that the one you order will fit your guitar.
This case is made from military-grade polyethylene plastic and is specially designed to keep guitars safe during air travel. The interior features a protective soft poly-foam to hold the guitar in place. The neck cradle supports the neck of the guitar and prevents damage.
The case has an easy to open latches with TSA-approved locks, a useful feature considering guitar cases tend to undergo more scrutiny than other baggage. The latch has a protective housing to keep it safe from impact. The case comes with 2 keys, so in case you lose one, you will have a backup.
There’s no need to keep an additional bag for your accessories since the case has a storage compartment for things like pedals, cables, guitar straps, picks, and so on.
Things I Like About This Product: The best part about this case is its durability and the way it protects its contents even when handled roughly by airport baggage handlers. It offers plenty of space for accessories, and the molded interior provides appropriate support for your guitar, preventing it from moving around during transit.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Buying This Product: The case is designed for heavy-duty protection, so it is quite bulky and heavy, meaning it will need to be checked in for air travel.
Best Electric Guitar Case for Air Travel: Fender Deluxe Molder
The Fender Deluxe Stratocaster Guitar Case is designed to fit most Stratocaster or Telecaster guitars, while also protecting them during travel.
This highly rugged case features a military-grade polyethylene outer shell, a center hatch with TSA-approved locks, and a comfortable, injection-molded handle.
The plush interior protective foam lining is specially engineered and shaped for maximum protection of your instrument, guaranteed by the well-known Fender brand. The large interior center pocket can hold accessories like picks, cables, and guitar straps. It also stabilizes the guitar’s neck during transport.
Things I Like About This Product: This is a well-designed case that doesn’t sacrifice useful features for protection. It uses advanced materials that make it rugged and durable, while the embossed Fender logo gives the case an air of exclusivity.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Buying This Product: One issue with the case’s design is that you need to lift out the guitar to open the internal storage compartment. Aside from this minor issue, this is a great case for a Stratocaster or Telecaster guitar.
Best Semi-Acoustic Guitar Case for Air Travel: Gator Cases Molded Flight Case for 335 Semi-Hollow
This Gator GTSA series Molded Flight Case is designed for semi-hollow style guitars or Gibson 335s. Like the other cases in this series, it has a polyethylene outer shell, an injection molded carry handle, and a plush foam nest to hold the guitar in place.
The case also features an extended neck cradle, TSA-approved locking latch, and an accessory storage compartment.
Things I Like About This Product: The case offers excellent travel protection for semi-hollow guitars, while also being comfortable and convenient to carry around.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Buying This Product: Make sure to check that your guitar style will fit in this case before ordering.
Best Bass Guitar Case for Air Travel: SKB 44 Guitar Case
The SKB 44 Precision and Jazz Bass Guitar case is suitable for transporting your bass guitar safely either by road or by air.
Featuring a fiberglass reinforced trigger release latching system, 3 TSA-approved locks, a cushioned rubber handle, and a heavy-duty construction, this case is both secure and tough.
The fitted interior is lined with deluxe plush protection and has a full-length neck support to gently cradle your guitar and minimize movement during transit.
Things I Like About This Product: This is a well-balanced case that is easy to carry. It comes with bumpers on the edges that provide extra protection. The accessories compartment holds a few small items such as straps or picks.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Buying This Product: This case weighs around 11.5 pounds, so it is lighter than some other heavy-duty cases, but it is still considerably heavy.
In the past, it used to be a hit-or-miss when it came to carrying guitars (and other instruments) onboard flights. However, a few years back, the Federal Aviation Administration passed a rule saying that:
An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage, if …
(A) the instrument can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin or under a passenger seat, in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the administrator; and
(B) there is space for such stowage at the time the passenger boards the aircraft.
Because of that, at least in the United States, you can generally travel with your guitar as a carry-on. It, however, depends on whether space for it is available or not. That space is provided on a first come first served basis.
To secure yourself space, you might want to either call your airline ahead of your departure or make sure you will be among the first ones to board.
The second option, if you want to be certain you can carry your guitar onboard is to purchase an extra seat for it. Depending on the route you fly and on the value of your guitar, that might or might not make sense.
For example, while you wouldn’t want to buy a 300 dollar ticket for a 50 dollar guitar, that would make perfect sense for a 5,000 dollar guitar.
Finally, you can simply check your guitar in. While slightly riskier than the above, as long as you put it in a proper case – like one of those made by SKB, you should be fine. You might also need to check your guitar in if you are flying on a smaller aircraft.
How to Pack a Guitar for a Flight
If you are planning to carry your guitar into the cabin, then just putting it in your regular guitar bag and heading to the airport might sound like an easy option.
While that can certainly work, it doesn’t take into account the possibility of having to check your guitar in and of the atmospheric conditions inside the aircraft. To help prepare for those, I recommend using a dedicated guitar flight case like this one made by SKB.
I also recommend packing your guitar as though you will have to check it in – just in case you will actually have to do so.
The steps you should take to pack your guitar for air travel include:
- Detune your guitar: To avoid the strings snapping with the air pressure change, loosen them before packing your guitar for a flight.
- Protect the frets: Place a piece of cardboard or clothing between the strings and the frets to prevent the frets from getting damaged due to friction.
- Wrap the guitar: Put clothes, towels, or even bubble wrap around the guitar to protect it even further. Make sure fragile spots like the guitar’s neck are well supported.
- Lock the case: Use a TSA-approved lock to secure your case from both unintentionally opening as well as from potentially having your guitar or other equipment stolen.
- Attach a name tag to the case: While your guitar will most likely arrive at your destination without any issues, make sure to have a name tag on your case just in case it gets lost along the way.
While the above should give you a rough idea of what to do before you head to the airport with your guitar, below is a video that should give you some more “inspiration.”
Traveling with a Guitar on Major Airlines
Are you flying with one of the major US airlines or some of the other large global airlines? If so, you might be able to find the rules for traveling with guitars on your airline as well as a link to the appropriate page on the airline’s website in the list below.
Otherwise, search for “[your airline] guitar” on Google.
Also, keep in mind that these rules might change over time.
Thanks to the FAA rule, you can carry your guitar on an American Airlines flight on a first come, first served basis.
You can also check your guitar in using your standard baggage allowance. No oversized baggage fees apply to musical instruments (you will still need to watch the weight of your guitar bag and the rest of your belongings, though).
Delta Air Lines
With Delta Air Lines, you can carry your guitar on if it will fit into the overhead compartment. Otherwise, you can book a seat next to your seat to put the guitar on. This seat will need to be a bulkhead seat – i.e. it cannot be a seat with another passenger seat directly in front of it.
Alternatively, you can simply pack your guitar in a suitable hard case and check it in.
Not being a US-based airline, Lufthansa is not required to follow the FAA rules about musical instruments. While it allows those that fit its regular carry-on requirements inside the cabin, it only allows larger instruments if they have an extra seat booked.
As such – even though you might be lucky and be allowed onboard with your guitar without an extra seat – you should be prepared to check it in.
If you are traveling with a guitar on Ryanair, you will either need to purchase an extra seat for your guitar or pay a musical instrument fee and check your guitar in.
In case you decide to go with the first method, you will need to book a seat with the last name “ITEM SEAT” and first name “EXTRA,” i.e. “EXTRA ITEM SEAT” for your guitar. If you want to check it in instead, the fee is 55 EUR (55 GBP) if pre-booked or 65 EUR (65 GBP) if paid at the airport.
Being based in the United States, Spirit Airlines has to follow the FAA rules. As such, you will be able to carry your guitar on – as long as it fits in the overhead bin – on a first come, first served basis.
Alternatively, you can check it in by paying the standard baggage fees.
United Airlines allows guitars in the cabin on a space available basis – as long as they fit in the overhead compartment. It also allows for booking of cabin-seat bags – i.e. extra seats for your baggage, a guitar in this case.
You can also, of course, simply check your guitar in.
All US-based airlines and many foreign airlines allow for a guitar to be carried onboard as long as it fits in the overhead bin and as long as there’s space for it. The airlines also allow – if you want to be sure your guitar will be accepted onboard – booking of an extra seat for your instrument.
All of these airlines – as well as those that don’t allow guitars onboard – will allow you to check your guitar in.
Regardless of which is the case, you should follow some of the tips mentioned earlier related to packing a guitar for air travel. You should also get a suitable guitar flight case like this one made by SKB or this one made by Fender.