Guitar on a Plane ~ Flying with a Guitar

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Guitar on airplane and through airport security
Flying with a Guitar
by Laurel Smith

Tips for carrying a Guitar onto an Airplane
and getting a guitar through security

Taking a Guitar on a Plane
Can you carry a guitar on board a plane? The answer is -- yes you can -- at least in theory.  It really depends on the airline, how crowded the flight is, and where you are seated.

Will a guitar fit in the overhead bins?  Yes it will! 

I recently took a cross-country flight with my guitar in tow. There are several things you can do to increase your likeliness of getting to carry it aboard vs. being forced to check it with luggage. 

First, check your airline's carry on bag policy.
Do a search for your airline's name and "luggage policy". Print a copy of it to bring with you in case any employees insist that you can't carry it on. Most airlines have a policy about carrying instruments on board. Basically, the policy is that if it fits, they are willing to let you try, but if it doesn't, you have to check it.

Your goal is to carry it on with you, but accept that you may have to check it, and if that happens, your goal is to do the the Gate Check at the very least!  This is is where you carry it all the way through the airport until just before you step on the plane.  You leave it outside your plane with all the baby strollers.  Then they hand carry it and load it underneath for your flight and pull it off first as you step off the plane.  Here are some things you can do to help make that happen:

Skip the Counter
Skip the counter baggage check area entirely by checking in for your flight from home and printing your own boarding passes.  If you don't, and you check in at the airport, you increase the likelihood that the counter employee will make you check your guitar with everyone else's luggage.  You want to avoid this if at all possible unless you like paying extra bag fees and having your instrument crushed by tons of other bags. If you prefer this route, then you must have a hard case for your instrument.  If you have other luggage to check, check it at the curb. Stay away from the counter.

Aiport Security
TSA allows you to bring a guitar through security. It fits through the x-ray machine.  On my recent trip from San Francisco,  I had no problem.  Although on my return flight, they singled out my guitar for an additional baggage screening.  It was probably easier to "randomly" choose this bag for the chemical detection screening than a suitcase stuffed with clothes since it's easy to easy to open and inspect.  Anyway, you get to stand there while they open it to take a look.  I took my guitar through security at a San Francisco with no problem, and through my local smaller airport security.  I have heard of airports or airlines where they limit your hand carried luggage through security to one bag, and your guitar counts. However, so far I have found that most count your guitar as a "personal item" and still let you have one (small) bag like I had.

Travel Light. Very light!
Guitar in an airport. Carrying a guitar on a plane.Either check all of your other baggage, or travel very light!  I had one small pull bag and nothing else. Not even a purse.  I highly recommend a travel vest I love that is made by ScottEVest.  It has lots of pockets for all of my small stuff and left me completely hands free, except for the guitar. My pull-bag was not a regular sized rollerbag - it was actually a backpack with wheels.

I wore my guitar on my back with the neck pointing down so I would not look intrusive with my carry-on bag AND a guitar while I walked through the final boarding gate in order to avoid before forced to check it. At one point, as I boarded a very small plane, the flight attendant looked at my guitar and remarked, "I don't know where you think you're going to put that!"  If that happens to you too, then just smile and ask nicely that you'd like to try to see if it will fit. (Mine fit easily.)

Board first and Sit in the back! 
They load the plane back to front,so you'll board first when there is still lots of room left in the overhead bins.  If you have the ability to choose your seats when you book your tickets, choose seats as far back as you can get.  Slip the guitar into the first empty bin you see as you get on. If they fill up you'll have no choice but to gate check it, so scoring some overhead space is critical.

Guitar in the overhead bin of an airplaneWill it fit?
I carried on my acoustic guitar in a soft gig bag, and rode four different planes. The smallest plane I rode only had three seats across for passengers and overhead bins on only one side of the plane. It still managed to fit quite nicely. 

Help your Traveling Neighbors
Put your other carry-on under your seat to leave room for your fellow passengers. Help them load their around your guitar. A smaller backpack will still easily fit in front of the neck of your guitar.  Help someone put a nice soft bag there before some one else shoves a giant rollerboard suitcase onto it and breaks the neck of your guitar. 

Final note:   Flying with a guitar Is easier than flying with children!
As a mother who loves her children very much, I still have to admit that caring a guitar on a plane was much easier than carrying my three little kids on board, at least when they were younger.   Although.... if the kids fit in the overhead bin for the duration of the flight, that might have been another story! 

Good luck carrying your guitar on board your flight!  

Would you like to hear me sing a song for you?  Please subscribe to my Guitar4Girls Youtube Channel where I have posted some easy songs to play for guitar beginners that are fun for women to sing.

Don't miss all the Printable Car Games and more travel advice at


--Laurel (Road Trip Mom)

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