Shouldn’t airlines have a consistent policy for handling the instruments of professional musicians?
Today they do not. If you are a musician traveling by airplane, you currently don’t know for certain whether you’ll be able to carry on many instruments — or have to risk them with baggage handlers.
This issue was highlighted recently by the plight of one professional musician whose guitar was broken by United Airlines baggage handlers. Musician Dave Carroll put a video up on YouTube memorializing the incident. That video has had over 4.5 million views so far. (Read: YouTube: Where Customers Get the Last Word.)
Recently I spoke with David Hosler, Vice President of Sales for Taylor Guitar. Initially I had contacted him to see whether Taylor Guitar had experienced any increase in sales from being mentioned in that YouTube video. The short answer: Taylor Guitars has no way of knowing. They sell guitars through dealers and not directly to the public.
But when I asked what Taylor Guitars wanted to see come out of the situation, Dave was clear: a uniform policy by the airlines of how musicians’ instruments such as guitars will be treated when they go to the airport. “Right now it’s a crap shoot. Musicians have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to get their instrument from point A to point B,” he said.
The big question guitar musicians face is whether they can get the instrument on the plane as a carry-on.
Putting the instrument in a soft-sided gig bag or packing it as if it’s a carry-on only to find out the airline requires them to check the instrument, makes damage more likely. The situation is risky and unpredictable.
The TSA has issued guidelines allowing string instruments such as guitars to be considered carry-on luggage. But airlines also have their own policies. And not all airline employees uniformly interpret policies. Some airlines personnel are unaware of the TSA’s guidelines or even their own airlines’ policies. A musician may find it’s possible to carry on a guitar on one leg of a flight, but required to check it on the return leg.
At Taylor, 8,000 or 9,000 guitars a year go through their service center. Transport damage from airplanes, shipping services and other forms of transport are the reason behind at least 15% of the repairs, according to Hosler. Taylor has issued their own tips on flying with guitars.
“It’s a lack of leadership by the airlines to handle this consistently. All you need is one to step up to the plate,” said Hosler.
So, I have a question: where’s Richard Branson and his Virgin Airlines when you need him?
Image credit: Taylor Guitars on Flickr, showing Dave Carroll recently being interviewed by the media at the Taylor Guitar Factory.