Rules are clarified for flying with instruments

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View while in flight (MPR photo/Luke Taylor)

This week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a final rule to implement section 304 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 regarding the carriage of musical instruments as carry-on or checked baggage on commercial passenger flights. The rule was published on Dec. 29, 2014, and signed by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony R. Foxx; the rules go effective 60 days from that date.

According to the background information in the publication, Section 403 of the act already requires U.S. air carriers to accept musical instruments on flights as either checked or carry-on baggage, but acknowledges that musicians were encountering inconsistency while traveling. Members of the string ensemble Time for Three, for example, have experienced difficulties, as documented by violinist Nick Kendall and by bassist Ranaan Meyer. Other musicians, meanwhile, have brought instruments on board and have even performed while in flight.

To address all this, in July 2014, the DOT convened a “Flying with Musical Instruments” meeting to give airline representatives, musicians and government officials a way to share ideas about how to resolve challenges. The new ruling came out of those sessions.

Highlights of the new ruling include:

  • “… carriers must allow a passenger to carry into the cabin and stow a small musical instrument, such as a violin or guitar, in a suitable baggage compartment, such as the overhead bin or udner the seats in accordance with FAA safety regulations.”
  • “For some musical instruments that are too large to fit in the cabin stowage areas … it is sometimes possible to secure them to a seat as ‘seat baggage’ or ‘cargo in passenger cabin’ … FAA safety regulations do not mandate that a carrier must allow in their carry-on baggage programs the stowage of a large carry-on item on a passenger seat … We do, however, encourage these carriers to consider modifying their programs to allow the stowage of large musical instruments at passenger seats, provided that all safety requirements are met.”
  • “When assigning a seat that will be used to transport a musical instrument as cargo in the passenger cabin, carriers must not assign a seat where the instrument may obscure other passengers’ view of safety signs that are required to remain visible.”
  • “With respect to the cost to a passenger to transport a musical instrument on a passenger seat … carriers cannot charge the passenger more than the price of a ticket for the additional seat … However, this does not preclude carriers from charging standard ancillary service fees.”
  • “… this rule requires carriers to accept musical instruments in the cargo compartment as checked baggage if those instruments comply with the size and weight limitations … we conclude that carriers may impose the same checked-baggage charges that apply to other checked baggage of that size and weight.”
  • “The rule would require most covered carriers with specific policies about transportation of musical instruments to modify these policies to comply with the rule requirements; update written, electronic, and phone guidance provided to customers; and ensure that gate agents, flight crews, and baggage handlers are aware of these requirements.”

The DOT publication also provides tips to musicians who are travelling with instruments; in particular, it encourages musicians who are hoping to travel with a carry-on instrument to arrive early for flights or even to pay for priority boarding on flights — especially since carry-on and on-board cargo space is offered on a first come, first-served basis.

Among the benefits of the new ruling, the DOT document states:

Beneficiaries of the rule would include professional and amateur musicians who travel with instruments, particularly large instruments that may be subject to more restrictive transportation limits under current carrier policies. Increased ability of these musicians to travel with their instruments could also potentially benefit owners and employees of establishments hosting musical events and people who attend events at which these musicians would be more likely to be able to play.

It also lists amateur musicians — particularly school musicians and music teachers — among the beneficiaries, as many school bands occasionally travel.

Airlines may experience some costs due to training staff people and updating printed and online documentation about the policies; the DOT document estimates those total industry costs to be “about $732,000.”

In response to the new DOT publication, the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM), AFL-CIO, issued this statement on Dec. 31, 2014:

“We applaud the efforts of Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and our AFM allies in Congress for the new administrative ruling on the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012,” states AFM International President Ray Hair. “For many years, AFM members have been subject to very arbitrary and contradictory size and weight requirements imposed by each airline for musical instruments that are carried on board the airplane or checked as baggage. Airlines will now follow a consistent policy for all musicians traveling with instruments.”

What are your thoughts on the new rules? Will they affect you? If you travel with an instrument, do you expect air travel to change for you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

4 thoughts on “Rules are clarified for flying with instruments”

  1. i tried to purchase a ticket for my cello a few years ago, and was told it wouldn’t work because the seatbelt sign would not be visible to passengers. The only option given was to ship it as baggage, which is not acceptable for a fragile string instrument. I ended up driving. This supposed rule change would not have improved my situation at all. Too bad.

  2. What about frequent flyer miles? How is the instrument identified when ticket reservations are made? What sort of security issues are involved re. TSA inspections? Could an instrument like a cello fit in the area of a seat in first class when the human passenger is small?

  3. we will still be paying more than “media” has to pay when checking gear. Their fees are way less than musicians have to pay. I’ve been lucky enough to have curbside checkin people put us under media and i couldn’t believe how much cheaper it was.

    not sure why they get to pay so much less but would be nice if we could too.

  4. i wish they would just charge bands what they charge media. Their fees are so much less than the rest of us and can make a huge difference on a band’s bottom line when you’re traveling with a lot of gear and luggage on fly dates.

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