Tricks for Getting your Violin On a Plane

Are you like me? Do you constantly get told by snippety airline employees: “Ma’am, you’ll have to check that”. Yes? Well here are a few ways to get around the tribulations of Travel With Violin Case.

It is of utmost importance to have a case with backpack straps. If you are a rather tall and unthin* person like me, you should be able to hide it easily by having the violin down your back so no one sees it. 

Yes, there is a violin in this picture

Be sure to have your straps lengthened so the case is below your shoulders!

Don’t do this

 

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45 thoughts on “Tricks for Getting your Violin On a Plane

  1. This is a good thing to know. However I would like to state that during one trip I did basically everything here, including the worst-case scenario (not exactly but it was basically the same) and the flight attendant still forced me to check my violin. I was very uneasy the entire flight and basically had “anxiety attacks” (not really, but you know what I mean) the whole way.

  2. This is brilliant, Lara. Thanks for the tips. I have had to do the “Super Incredibly Worst Case Scenario” once in my life. I did it out of sheer panic assuming I would be met with hostility from passengers but was blown away when a business man in first class quickly and calmly checked his carry on and insisted I use the space. He was horrified that the airline would consider forcing me to check my violin and said “All my things can be replaced, your violin is a one-of-a-kind treasure”. I think he was pleased to be able to help. Now I tell myself that sometimes people just need to be given the chance to help you.

    • If there’s no space inside the plane for one’s cello,
      or I cannot/or do not want to afford a second seat,
      or the company will not provide a ticket for my cello, then I fly with my cello in my Cellaire case. See my agency web site for more information accessed via http://www.vcellomusic.com.

      Regards,
      Barbara Hedlund

  3. Excellent post! In Canada it’s a lot easier, luckily, but I toured with a small ensemble once who couldn’t afford a ticket for the cello. We got it on the plane by getting an “special boarding card” for a “bass violin” whilst holding a large violin case (actual cello not in sight). The boarding card was switched onto the cello (in a soft case prior) to showing up at the gate and somehow it got onboard and fit into an overhead compartment. It was an extremely stressful tour, as each flight we didn’t know if we’d all successfully get on, although we did in the end! Luckily it was short.

  4. I’ve actually flown Southwest many times with my oblong case (I even carry it in my hand rather than on my back as the strap is broken) and I’ve been pretty lucky to never have a single issue flying with it so far! Knock on wood!

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  6. Insurance will not even allow mine in overhead (not that I would wish a soft side in there anyway with all the pushing; crushing and shoving); so I buy seat in first class as there is much room (especially overseas to the states); or if in business I buy two seats.

  7. I have successfully put my instrument in the coat closet at the front of the plane near the entrance. There’s a little closet which is more than big enough to hold a tenor sax in addition to the other coats that are there. It never gets mentioned, I think it is usually just for the crew. But it holds an instrument safely in the cabin and I get to pick it up myself on the way out.

  8. I’ve actually never had a problem in Europe and I tour constantly. I have had trouble in the U.S. but it has always worked out. You mention avoiding SAS, but that is the main airline where I live and they have never given me trouble. I even very often bring a double violin case. KLM stewardesses are particularly attentive and usually notice I have an instrument and offer to put my case in a closet or strap it into an empty seat. All your tips are great. One thing to add is that you need to be confident and look like you know what you’re doing and assume that it’s right (which it actually is – violins are allowed). Another tactic which I haven’t needed to use for a while is to assure the check-in agent that it fits in the overhead and that you are happy to gate check it if it doesn’t (which of course you won’t do, but it pacifies them). But the main thing is….don’t let them see it in the first place, either at check-in or in the waiting/boarding area.

  9. ‘shaped’ case is better than rectangular…
    never say ‘viola’, always say ‘violin’…
    When available, I always request a cabin baggage tag for my instrument, to show it’s been approved for the cabin…

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  16. Lara, how do you keep an eye on your precious violin when it goes through the x-ray conveyor belt? What if you are delayed by a long line or the body scanner? How do you prevent an airport person from opening up your violin and touching it? What if they mishandle it roughly and cause damage? I’m always worried that they will use an explosive test swab on someone’s nice violin and ruin the finish or varnish! Do you lock up your violin to prevent strangers from opening up the case? Do you ask for a private screening? You are a celebrity after all! :)

  17. I have another suggestion. Try to put your violin in an another case that makes it look like a carryon piece of luggage.

  18. I fly with a french horn, and I have always said if they get nasty and insist it is checked (in a case that is not built to be thrown with suitcases!) i will simply remove my horn and give them the empty case. Wrap my horn in a jacket and keep it on the plane with me :) Just another “worst Case scenario” option!

  19. Delta is now officialy allowing instruments up to the size of a guitar, I had the problem that the gitar did not fit in the overhead and the delta crew helped me to find a nice place for the guitar!

  20. I tour with an acoustic guitar fairly regularly, and I have had terrible luck with airlines. It used to be that they would provide a small closet space for moderate-sized instruments, but this had not been the case for several years. Last year I flew from California to Washington DC for a few shows, and Delta not only made me check my instrument, but they lost it on the way out AND on the way back. They were completely unapologetic and even hostile when I became upset. I managed to get them to deliver the guitar to my house a few days after I returned to California, and they simply left it in my driveway. It was also obvious that they had rummaged through the case. The entire experience with them was appalling. Any advice out there for guitar players?

  21. Singapore Air forced half of my school orchestra to check in violins/violas. Like the cellos, we half loosened pegs to and gently stuffed hankies, knit wool hats, soft gloves into open areas to minimize shifting. When carrying instruments on board, use SHAPED cases, and best not to stuff music in music pockets. Objective: lowest possible profile!
    Thanks for the article!

  22. I’ve also found that the storage compartment at the front of the plane for crew luggage is a good option. Usually if you’re nice to the flight attendant and explain that it’s a fragile musical instrument they’re more than happy to store it there. One time the flight attendant was so excited about having a french horn on board that he tried to convince me to play it for him!

    I’m also not above batting my eyes at a gate agent if it looks like a flight’s going to be extremely full and I think I can get a head start onto the plane…

  23. Can I simply say what a relief to uncover somebody that truly knows what they’re talking about on the internet. You certainly realize how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More people have to check this out and understand this side of your story. I can’t believe you are not more popular since you most certainly have the gift.

  24. Very good advice! I have found that if you can hide the violin on your back as you describe until you get to the stewards inside, you are home free. They are “yes people” and they will find a way to make it work for you.

  25. Very thoughtful! Thank you. I have recently found out that the music union has issued a policy that airlines may not refuse instrumentalists (especially violinists!) the right to carry their case on board! Next time, just mention this!

  26. I usually just talk to the gate agent before boarding even starts. I make sure to mention that it’s irreplaceable, very valuable (hinting that it’s worth more than they make in a year, cause it is), and I’ve never once had trouble fitting in the overhead. They’re usually pretty nice, and they used to even let me pre-board, although they haven’t since they realized they could charge people for that privilege. I find they’re way less pissy about it when you’re not trying to be sneaky! Even so, you’re totally right about keeping a low profile when you’re getting on. I’ve had an overzealous flight attendant try to put a gate-check tag on my instrument WHILE IT WAS ON MY BACK. She snuck up behind me while I was in line and tried to do it. Seriously. Like I wouldn’t see her crouching there? Gah.

    And I love the speech idea. I’ve never had to do it, but I’ve thought about it several times. Hilarious and probably practical suggestions on what to say.

  27. Asking questions are genuinely nice thing if you are not understanding anything completely, however this paragraph provides good understanding yet.

  28. Did you have to loosen your strings alittle bit before you get on the plane because of pressure changes?

  29. Lara, I performed with you with the former San Jose Symphony, soon after 9/11, and, as I recall, you were forced to remove your strings on your flight. I guess they thought you might strangle someone with them! During your performance the next day your strings slipped during a cadenza because of this. You handled it BEAUTIFULLY, but it has always remained my worst nightmare scenario!

  30. I’ve never had a problem with Southwest–in fact, I was once nearly the last person on the flight, and the flight attendant looked at me, said, “That’s a violin. You’re not going to want to check that,” and very helpfully found a spot for it in the cabin. My number one rule is never, ever call attention to myself. This most definitely includes approaching gate agents, which I never do. I do the backpack straps (I am tall) and always try to get a seat in the back.

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