Should Musicians Be Allowed to Carry Their Instruments on Planes?

Every day, somebody's got to fly somewhere and entertain the people of the world. When it comes to getting instruments on an airplane, musicians get nervous and sweaty, expecting the worst.

"It sucks for the most part," says L.A. rapper Busdriver. Gear gets tossed around, broken, and lost by baggage handlers and mismanaged by airlines. Just imagine what Joanna Newsom must endure trying to squeeze her harp through a metal detector.

Should musicians be allowed to carry instruments on planes? The American Federation of Musicians thinks Congress needs some official policy changes "so that traveling with an instrument is safer and more reliable." Check out the AMF petition:

"Musicians constantly face difficulty traveling with their instrument. Although AFM won a commitment from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to allow instruments through security checkpoints, policies for carrying instruments on to airplanes still vary wildly from airline to airline.

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The inconsistencies in airline policies make it extremely difficult for musicians to plan their travel and earn a living. Thus AFM fought for language to be included in the Senate version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill (S.1451) that will streamline the airlines' carry-on policies regarding musical instruments. If this bill passes musicians will be able to carry most musical instruments on board and place them in the overhead compartment or in a seat (if a ticket is purchased)... (Read more & sign)

Last year, breaking a guitar cost United Airlines $180 million. Musician Dave Carroll watched from his plane window as his gear was tossed on the tarmac like trash bags. Later he retrieved his smashed $3,500 Taylor at baggage claim and got the shrug from the airline, despite his threat to write three songs about it and put them on Youtube. "United Breaks Guitars" went viral. Then United stock plunged 10 percent and lost the equivalent of 51,429 Taylor guitars. If only they'd let him carry his ax on-board.

"If airlines respected people's valuables at all, this wouldn't be an issue to begin with," says Marshall Moonshine of indie folk band Olin And The Moon . "It would matter less if you knew your things were in good hands, while not in your hands." Indeed, 191,971 mishandled baggage reports were filed by U.S. airlines between January and June 2010 according to the U.S. Department Of Transportation.

One of L.A.'s foremost drummers and producers, Butchy Fuego, has jumped on Facebook and Twitter trying to rally support for the AFM petition. He says, "Musical instruments are often rare and irreplaceable. Some would argue they are an extension of the musicians themselves. I hope airlines are able to recognize the valuable cultural resource of music enough to respect the importance of allowing musicians to keep their instruments within reach." 

Roots rock jongleur James Apollo fears he'll probably lose another guitar when he flies over to Los Angeles this October. His lap steel player carries his instrument in a gun case and never gets stopped by security. He says his bassist can walk-on his electric upright 20% of the time, gate-check it 60% of the time, but it's been broken twice in checked luggage. Having lost three guitars and worked as a baggage handler, Apollo sometimes goes to extreme measures preparing his gear for flight:

 

"The lost scenario is the norm, but there's also the broke scenario," Apollo says. "I've nearly given myself black lung while 'airline-proofing' my cases. This usually involves a mix of steel, fiberglass, caulk, and ingenuity. It also once got the EPA calling on me for hot-boxing a Brooklyn apartment complex with toxic fumes. I was an airline baggage handler before. I know what a fragile sticker means. It's just another thing to be pissed about. 'I'll show you fragile...'"

With the American Federation of Musicians on the case, they'll probably see some fine print amendment. After all, the union has negotiated and hollered about artist issues with the Establishment since 1896. Seems like a complicated issue, though, as airline policies have generally become crazy and ridiculous. Even if musicians earn the right to tuck their instruments in pillowed beds instead of overheard compartments, they'll most likely have to pay dearly for it.

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