November 27, 2015

Why Can’t Airlines Support Professional Musicians Better?

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.)

Dave Carroll, Taylor Guitar Factory

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.

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Anita Campbell - CEO

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of

9 Reactions

  1. Anita,

    Thanks for asking “my” question regarding the sales of Taylor guitars! 😉 (“I wonder about the sales of Taylor guitars nowadays” – July 12.) I think Richard Branson, with his background in the music industry (Virgin music stores), will come up with something.

    One thing that could be a tough to figure out is the safety issue and threat with potential dangerous stuff that could be carried on the plane. But I think you will solve that problem with X-ray scanning and good practices when it comes to profiling the passengers. It would be pretty easy to figure out that the band members of the Sons of Maxwell are good guys and not potential trouble makers… 😉

  2. I read somewhere that there was an airline for transporting animals only. Perhaps the airline would like to expand their business to also cater for musical instruments.

  3. Susan,

    I bet Morris the Cat would enjoy that! Please click on “Martin Lindeskog” Says: if you want to hear his opinion on another viral campaign called “Whack A Kitty”. Music + cats = meow sound track?! 😉

  4. It happens all the time not only to musical instruments but other cargo’s as well. Just be prepared for the risk. At least we still have laws for this kind of policy. Odds of your cargo damaged on an airline are very low.

  5. Hopefully with all of the attention that the YouTube video has gotten, an airline will take advantage of becoming the first one to actually care about musicians and their instruments. It’s discouraging to invest your hard earned money into an instrument, take great care of it and then have it damaged by someone in the blink of an eye. Their livelihood depends on those tools.

  6. Martin,

    I think Morris’s reaction probably sums it what others might think of wack a kitty.


  7. While I agree that airlines should do a better job of handling professional musicians’ instruments, I would appreciate if baggage handlers would universally be more considerate of the luggage they’re heaving around. As I understand it, the Taylor guitar was broken from being mishandled. If they were careful (no special policy needed) this would have been avoided.

  8. “Taylor Guitars has no way of knowing. They sell guitars through dealers and not directly to the public.”

    That’s a knee-slapper. He should have just said “We don’t have the figures in yet” or “it’s too early to conclude a relation between the video and our sales” or something to that effect instead of giving you some BS answer.

    Manufacturers may not sell to public, but they get a pretty good idea from dealers if a product is moving. How else would a manufacturer assess supply and demand?

    But then again, companies get away saying anything.

  9. HI Emon, I think his point was more about not being able to draw a direct correlation between the video and sales at the dealer level. Sales could be due to a lot of things, including marketing push by dealers. So I wouldn’t read too much into that.

    — Anita

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