A big part of my life is travel, and having to lug a trombone on airlines can often be far from easy. Travelling with your instrument can be a stressful experience, not knowing what staff you will get at the airline checkin. Sometimes you get a sympathetic employee who is having a great day and cant do enough for you, and other times its like you have personally offended them by bringing a funny shaped case to the airport.
So, I thought I would give you some tips that I have learnt for travel that might help you the next time you are heading to the airport with your instrument in tow.
If you are a cornet/trumpet player, you have no need for this blog, you are blessed with an instrument that has no issues getting on a plane - my only advice for you is to read the tip on travelling with oils/accessories etc.
Ok first up - the most important part about travelling with your instrument is keeping it safe - many cases do not have suitable protection on the exterior or interior. Arriving at an airport for band contest, you will see a plethora of badly packed instruments arriving on the conveyer belt. Some are cracked, scratched, some even have major damage. Most cases that your instruments come in are not designed for travelling in the cargo of the plane. If you want to travel with your instrument under the plane, you need to invest in a sturdy hard case that will protect your instrument as best it can.
At all costs, try not to let your instrument go in the cargo of the plane. It doesn’t matter how great you think an airline is, the baggage staff will throw those cases like they are rubbish into a tip. If you are putting your instrument under the plane, then pack it as though the baggage staff are going to use it for a caber tossing tournament. Your hard case for travelling should be, at the very least, carbon fibre and sturdy as an All Blacks front row. Don’t just assume that the case it arrived in is going to last the rigours of travel - it wont.
The exterior is one thing, the interior is another. Make sure your instrument is not floating around the inside of your case. I have many cloths in my case that I pack around the bell. Don’t have mouthpieces or miscellaneous bottles floating around the case, this will cause dents. Treat your instrument like it’s your grandmas favourite tea pot - pack around it and make sure it is safe inside the case.
If you are taking your instrument on as hand luggage (recommended) then here are a few rules that I use to make sure I don’t have any problems with airlines.
1 - Book your tickets with an airline that you know are friendly to musicians. Air New Zealand are very good about instruments (in my experiences). They will try and do what they can to accomodate you, and very rarely have I had a problem. Other airlines (wont name them but one of them rhymes with Get-Far) dont like you carrying cases on at all, and will make you check them in.
2 - When checking in, try and leave your instrument with someone else while you check in. If they see it at check-in they will often say it needs to be checked. By the time you get to the plane, the staff just want you on board and to leave on time, so they are less likely to kick up a stink.
3 - Put all your oils/mouthpieces/miscellaneous stuff into your suitcase. Airline staff love finding that tiny amount of banned substance in your valve oil, and then confiscate it. It’s not worth the hassle, just put everything in your suitcase and you will have no problems.
4 - Try and get on the plane early - Getting on the plane early helps you get a spot for your instrument and others can pack their stuff around your instrument.
5 - If you can, use a shoulder strap for your instrument and make sure its on the opposite shoulder to the person that is checking your boarding pass. Keep the case away from their view, and you wont have any issues.
6 - If you get stopped and asked about it, make sure you tell them that you fly frequently and have never had a problem with this before. Tell them you are a professional musician and this is your livelihood. A little white lie is sometimes the difference between having to stop off at the repairer on the way to the gig.
7 - If you can avoid using a gig bag for travel, this is advised. If you get told you have to check the instrument in, you may as well not bother getting it at the other end - it will just be a crumpled mess of metal.
Some good sites to look up travel cases are:
Marcus Bonna Cases - http://www.mbcases.com.br/en/product-category/brass/ - good sturdy cases for most brass instruments
Edwards Trombone Cases - good carbon fibre cases - www.dillonmusic.com/edwards-3k-carbon-fiber-case-for-tenor-trombone.html
Hickeys - Lots of hard cases available here. The Eastman series is very good too. www.hickeys.com/music/brass/trombone/accessories/cases/all_tenor_trombone_cases_and_bags.php
Take care of your instrument when you travel, its worth it!