Polyphonic.org has an informative new post from Eric Beers, contract administrator for the Symphonic Services Division of the American Federation of Musicians. Flying with the bass (or any musical instrument) has grown increasingly more difficult with each year after 9/11. In 1997 and 1998 I flew about seven or eight times a year with my instrument. Sometimes I had to pay an excess baggage fee, but I never had to open it up.
The first time I ever had to open up my bass trunk was in the summer of 2000 in Japan. I remember being incredibly annoyed at airline worker poking around my expensive bass, although the workers in the Tokyo airport were very careful with it. I haven’t flown for many years (on purpose) with my bass, but I would assume that having to open up the case is becoming more common.
Airline difficulties that bass players have faced for years are now starting to affect all musicians:
The post 9/11 world has brought about many changes in air travel. Such changes were to be expected; however, with these modifications have come conditions that are sometimes unpredictable, inconsistent, and often quite frustrating. The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) has worked with the appropriate entities to improve conditions for all musicians when traveling with their instruments.
The initial problems musicians encountered were with security personnel who routinely denied passengers with instruments access through security checkpoints. Meetings between the AFM and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) produced a policy change that virtually eliminated these problems. Unfortunately, individual airlines are not subject to TSA policy, and problems continue with airline personnel.
Read the complete post here.
The fact that other musicians are starting to become more affected by arbitrary, conflicting, and illogical airline baggage policies may actually help bass players. Bassists who regularly fly know that whether or not you will get on the plane with your instrument often depends on the mood of the airline personnel you are dealing with. Rules for traveling with instruments vary from airline to airline and are often vague. Delta Airlines is commonly considered the most difficult and unreasonable, and Southwest is considered one of the best. I have flown with both of these airlines and not had a problem with either of them. In 1998 Delta charged me $50 each way and Southwest charged me $40. A colleague of mine in the IRIS Chamber Orchestra was recently charged $160 each way to fly from Boston to Memphis (that is more than the cost of his ticket).
Hopefully this situation will improve. For me, Chicago’s central location in the U.S. makes driving to other cities more practical. Living in Boston, Miami, or Seattle make many locations in the country impractical to reach by car. The fact that this problem has now started to affect other instrumentalists will hopefully bring about some standardization in the airline industry’s musical instrument policy. Charge me more if you have to–just don’t keep me off the plane.