Travelling with Stringed Instruments

Travelling with a stringed instrument on an airplane

  • Get to your seat early. Airlines will now allow you to take a smaller instrument, such as a violin or guitar, on board as carry-on baggage, so long as there’s room for said instrument in the overhead storage racks or under your seat at the time of boarding. Storage is provided on a “first come, first serve” basis.
  • Store away your instrument asap. You cannot be asked to remove your instrument from the plane once it has already been safely stored on board.
  • Don’t pay any more money. The airline should not charge any fees for bringing an instrument on board as carry-on baggage other than any standard carry-on fee charged by the carrier.
Preparing your stringed instrument for a flight
  • Your instrument should be in a good quality hard case. No explanation needed here!
  • Remove all other items from the case. Don’t give security a reason to search your case, they may not be as gentle as you’d like and you could end up with a few extra scratches or a dropped instrument.  Also objects can come loose and rattle around while you are in the air.
  • Your instrument should fit snuggly in its case.  Gently pad any little gaps with soft fabric, socks and towels are perfect.  However, don’t add too much extra pressure that could cause harm, but enough to prevent the instrument from moving around.
  • You do not need loosen the strings of your instrument for flight. In spite of a fairly common travel myth, stringed instruments are designed to withstand string tension. As long as your bass guitar isn’t strapped to the wing of the airliner, your instrument is being transported in a pressurized, reasonably climate-controlled environment. If this were not the case, people would be unable to travel with their pets.

Watch out for humidity

Accepting that knocks, bangs and general physical abuse create the most trauma for musical instruments. Stringed instruments have an even greater, unseen enemy HUMIDITY or lack of it, to be precise. Plywood instruments are generally more stable, but the solid woods which most professional quality instruments are made from, respond remarkably quickly to changes in humidity. All timber acts like a sponge, sucking in moisture when humidity levels are high and effortlessly releasing it when humidity levels drop. It is this release of moisture from the wood that creates the greatest danger and, if not checked, will result in the wood shrinking and cracks appearing at points of highest stress.

Air temperature is not your real enemy – humidity is!

Straight forward physics tells us that warm air carries more moisture (therefore higher humidity) than cold air, but the world’s weather systems are much more complex than that. Two of the driest places on earth are, the Sahara Desert and the middle of the Antarctic – opposite ends of the temperature spectrum but, for different reasons, incredibly instrument crackingly dry.

The middle of large land masses tend to be dryer than coastal regions.

If you are traveling across continents, check the relative humidity.

If your instrument has been stable for a while in a relatively dry climate (i.e. less than 45% relative humidity) and you travel to an area of high humidity, the instrument will swell a little but should hold together. If your instrument has been stable for a while in a higher humidity climate (i.e. above 50% relative humidity) and you travel to a dryer area, it will release moisture, it will shrink and you do stand a chance of it cracking.

How can you stop your valuable instrument giving out it’s very valuable moisture content?

There are a number of proprietary humidifiers available which either sit inside the instrument or inside the case. These are simply small sponges in a variety of forms held in different types of casings, designed to release moisture in a controlled fashion, thereby keeping the relative humidity higher in the immediate environment around your instrument.

Hiscox cases are excellent value for money and for a lightweight case give superb protection…

…however we do not guarantee that they are airtight. There is not a lightweight, carryable case on the market that guarantees to be airtight, it can be done but the cost is very high. The armed forces of the world do use high spec airtight cases to protect electronic equipment in battlefield situations. The cost? in the region of £1000 for a rectangular box!