Travelling tips for musicians or how to secure your musical instrument’s survival

Very soon, I will embark myself on a series of flights, both long and short distance ones, and I caught myself worrying more about how I will bring my instrument along, rather than all the other details. I believe that everyone who travels with his/her own instrument passes through a considerable amount of stress before, during and after a trip, especially those who play larger instruments like cellos, guitars and accordions. Recent news about a destroyed 17th century viola da gamba, reminded me that the issue of travelling with the instruments still remains a much discussed topic.

The first time I travelled by plane with my instrument I was 17, young and naïve. At the time, I did not know anything about extra seats and so I checked in my accordion at the baggage counter and proceeded to board the plane. When I arrived home, I wanted to show the new accordion (it was about 3 months old and my very first professional instrument) to my parents so that they could see what their investment looked like. I proudly unpacked the instrument, which seemed perfectly fine on the outside, and tried playing it… The left keyboard buttons got all pressed at the same time, the bellows was moving in and out very fast, the hissing of the air coming out from the right keyboard… Long story short, it was broken.

Ever since that terrible experience, I bought an extra seat on almost all flights, with two exceptions. The first one was during my Erasmus exchange semester in Helsinki. I found out that British Airways allowed musicians to travel with their instruments as carry-on hand luggage, so I bought a return ticket Helsinki- Venice- Helsinki. The flight to Venice – no problem at all. Now, the return flight. I arrived to the Marco Polo airport in Venice and encountered “heavy resistance” at the check-in counter from a woman, obviously in a bad mood. I was told that my “bag” was too big. After a rather long argument, I tried to propose taking the accordion on the plane without its case, that way it should fit exactly in the dimensions. In order to prove it, I put the instrument inside the metal box they had nearby (for measuring the size of the baggage) and it got in! Unfortunately, for me, it got stuck… and I had a tough time taking it out. At this point, I had no other option; I had to check it in. However, before doing so I rolled it with lots and lots of plastic. Here, take a look:

My accordion got to Finland with only a small scratch in one corner. The second exception was a flight I took from the beautiful island of Sardinia to Milan with Alitalia. I called the contact center to book an extra seat, but the flight was entirely sold-out. On the day of the flight I went to the check-in counter, ready to “put up a fight” for my instrument. The woman took my checked baggage, smiled and wished me a nice flight. I was taken aback by the situation; I couldn’t imagine that it could go like that, based on my previous experiences. One of the most relaxed flights ever!

I got lucky only twice, so it is more probable that problems will kick in. So, wha