Flying with Musical Instruments: Airline Carry On Policies

Flying with Musical Instruments: Airline Carry On Policies

 

If flying with a musical instrument, do airlines allow it as a carry-on? This was important recently to one of my Award Booking clients, who needed to fly with a guitar and, understandably, wasn't willing to check it and risk damage. Here's what you should know about flying with a musical instrument aboard United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

United Airlines

United Free Carry-On Allowance: 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels. So if your musical instrument fits within these dimensions, it can be your free carry-on item.

May Be Able to Carry On Guitars for Free, Space Permitting: For guitars or similar instruments that overall would fit within the carry-on dimensions except for the arm of the instrument, you may be able to nevertheless take it onboard with you IF there is space in the overhead compartment. This obviously depends on your instrument, the plane type/overhead bin type and available space, depending on other passengers and when you board.

Cabin Seat Baggage Ticket for Larger Musical Instruments: For larger musical instruments or if you want to be guaranteed space, you'll need to buy a seat for the musical instrument (or book an award ticket for it) at the same price as you'd pay (or MileagePlus miles you'd redeem) for a regular ticket. The instrument must be in a seat next to you, so you can't, for example, book yourself into business class and your instrument in coach. You'll need to call United to book a seat for your musical instrument, the extra seat can't be booked online.

All that said, United Airlines is probably not most musicians' first choice when it comes to flying with their musical instrument, ever since Dave Carroll endured a broken Taylor guitar and frustration getting compensated, leading to his hit song “United Breaks Guitars.”

 

American Airlines

American Airlines Free Carry-On Allowance: Total dimensions cannot exceed 45 inches (114 centimeters) when adding length + width + height. So if your musical instrument fits within these dimensions, it can be your free carry-on item.

Guitar Exception: Guitars that are over 45 inches / 114 cm in total dimensions can be carried onboard as your only carry-on item if there is room available to safely stow it in an overhead bin or approved stowage location in the cabin. Please ask at the check-in desk on the day of departure. All musical instruments must be carried in a hard-sided case.

Cabin Seat Baggage Ticket for Larger Musical Instruments: For larger musical instruments or if you want to be guaranteed space, you'll need to buy a seat for the musical instrument (or book an award ticket for it) at the same price as you'd pay (or AAdvantage miles you'd redeem) for a regular ticket. As with United, the instrument must be in a seat next to you, and a window bulkhead seat must be available for the instrument, with you in the adjoining seat.

 

Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines Free Carry-On Allowance: Total dimensions cannot exceed 45 inches (114 centimeters) when adding length + width + height. It also must be able to fit within the carry-on baggage check sizers near the check-in counters, which are approximately 22″ x 14″ x 9″ or 56 x 35 x  23 cm). So if your musical instrument fits within these dimensions, it can be your free carry-on item.

Cabin Seat Baggage Ticket for Larger Musical Instruments: For larger musical instruments or if you want to be guaranteed space, you'll need to buy a seat for the musical instrument (or book an award ticket for it) at the same price as you'd pay (or SkyMiles you'd redeem) for a regular ticket. It must be for a seat with a physical bulkhead or divider in front of the compartment, preferably with you sitting in the adjoining seat, but in any case with you seated in the same cabin (so again, no seating yourself in business class and your instrument in economy class). Your instrument cannot exceed 100 lbs.


Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines Free Carry-On Allowance: Dimensions cannot exceed 10″ x 17″ x 24″ So if your musical instrument fits within these dimensions, it can be your free carry-on item.

Cabin Seat Baggage Ticket for Larger Musical Instruments: For larger musical instruments or if you want to be guaranteed space, you'll need to buy a seat for the musical instrument (or book an award ticket for it) at the same price as you'd pay (or Mileage Plan you'd redeem) for a regular ticket. On most Alaska Airlines flights, it's only possible to accommodate large musical instruments in the first class cabin, so you're most likely looking at two first class tickets. And forget the Alaska Companion Award, since the Alaska Visa Companion Ticket No Longer Applies to First Class, only to Economy.

That said, I remember seeing a report on Flyertalk of a case where a cello was in first class and its owner was in economy, so you may get lucky and have an exception made.

If you've had to transport a musical instrument, which airline did you fly, and were you able to carry it on free or did you have to pay for an additional seat?

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