In this installment of guest blogger Frank Klepacki’s series on music production Frank provides tips for traveling on planes with musical instruments and other equipment. If you missed Frank’s previous post, you can read it here.
“Fly dates” are becoming more common for touring bands due to it not always being practical to be on a tour bus. Traveling by a bus would not serve as efficient if you’re only performing weekends, festivals, and sporadic dates throughout the year that are nowhere near each other.
I encountered a variety of situations while touring by air over the years, and depending on what show I was doing and what instruments I was playing, I learned some valuable lessons:
1. Whenever possible, keep your important electronics with you in a backpack that fits under the airplane seat.
While it may be more convenient to have a pedalboard or a computer that fits in a carry-on bag, you are not guaranteed to be able to bring it on the plane.
For example, let’s say you book a flight and you happen to be one of the last passengers to board. You may be forced to valet-check your carry-on bag at the gate because they supposedly ran out of overhead space before you set foot to board. Now your belongings are subject to getting damaged by careless baggage handlers, even if you tell them it’s fragile. They’ll choose to randomly sort through the bag, unplug all your cables and mess up everything you had organized neatly. There is no consideration on their part, so prepare for the worst.
Also, there are some planes that a carry-on bag won’t even fit on. If you happen to get your stuff onto a normal jet, and then have a connecting flight in another city, your next trip may be on a smaller jet with overhead bins that aren’t built to handle the specific size of your carry-on bag. So again, you’ll be forced to check it at the gate and run the risk of careless handling as well.
SwissGear makes nice, quality backpacks that you can fill up with a 17″ laptop, along with various items (pedals, mixers, accessories) in several other compartments. While holding everything you could possibly need, these backpacks still fit under an airplane seat.
2. Invest in a higher quality, protective guitar gig bag that you can carry on.
Even though it is, in fact, the law for airlines to allow musicians to carry on their guitars, once again you may still be subject to some drama.
If you get it on board and put it in the overhead space, other passengers will try to cram their bags into it or try to force their stuff into position on or around the guitar. You may not be paying attention, but even if you are, and you tell them it won’t work, they will still try. So having a good quality protective gig bag will help prevent your guitar from getting dinged, cracked, or scratched by the average person who doesn’t understand that they can’t fit their bag on your guitar after trying five times to force things into position.
Another issue is that a flight attendant who may happen to be in a bad mood can also give you a hard time. Even though it’s the law and you may have the printout to show them the proof of this, they may not care, and decide to try and force you to check your guitar. If this happens, it’s never a good idea to get into an argument. Keep your composure, ask questions nicely, and ask them to help you try to find any solution you can to prevent checking your guitar. Ask if you can leave it in their care, in a closet on the plane, or, as a last resort, ask to speak with the pilot, as they usually have final say in these kinds of matters. If at the end of all that they still give you no choice but to check it, it may come down to you saying that you will not board the flight because you can’t risk damage to the tools you use to make your living, and if the law won’t be acknowledged by the flight’s crew, you will go and ask a manager to be rerouted.
Another way to generally avoid having to gate-check is to pay a few extra bucks to advance your boarding group number. If you can be within the first few boarding groups, you have a much better chance of not needing to gate-check. The last boarding groups almost always get stuck with having to do that.
Reunion Blues makes high-quality gig bags for better protection while touring/traveling.
3. If checking cases, invest in waterproof flight cases.
When you need to check a large guitar or electronics case that is not able to be carried on, make sure it’s waterproof. Let’s say you checked your bags and you’re now at the gate ready to board. The baggage handlers are at the plane and just about to start loading it. Then, big forks of lightning strike close by and it begins to rain. The airline personnel regulations require them to stop what they are doing and leave the area immediately. Now the bags are all sitting outside the plane getting soaked. If you don’t have waterproof cases, your electronics and guitar are now waterlogged and ruined. Not to mention, in addition to your wardrobe if it’s in a standard cloth-based bag. But your instruments and gear are your livelihood, so it is most important to ensure they don’t get damaged this way.
For electronics, Pelican cases are great in that you can conform the foam inside to fit snug around your gear so that it won’t budge when being moved around.
For guitars, the SKB iSeries guitar cases are great cases to use while flying that are waterproof.
Frank Klepacki is an award-winning composer for video games and television, including Command & Conquer, Star Wars: Empire at War, and MMA sports programs such as Ultimate Fighting Championship and Inside MMA. He is an audio director, recording artist, touring performer, and producer. For more info, visit www.frankklepacki.com
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Which of Klepacki’s tips for airline touring is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!