So here I am, third day on the cruise. Today, we are tendering in Mykonos, Greece. It doesn’t look like I will be able to get off today; had a long day of training, and the rhythm section is supposed to maybe have a rehearsal (yeah, the musicians here are just as unorganized as anywhere else).
Before I start on my experiences so far, I figure it would be best to talk about traveling with your instrument.
I am a multi-instrumentalist, so I have had experiences with a few different instruments. On this trip, I brought two electric basses and my euphonium — with almost no hitches. If I was inexperienced, I can pretty much guarantee that my euphonium would be sitting in the corner of my cabin right now, completely unusable.
First and foremost, it’s important that you NEVER ask an airline worker what’s best – just do it. Look like you know what you’re doing, and keep a professional look about you. When asked, just speak in a calm, polite tone (and I can’t stress that enough) that you fly on a regular basis due to the nature of your job as a musician, and you are sure it will fit. Say something like “this is a 747, right? Yeah, it will fit.” NEVER get angry or testy. That’s all they need to either not let you on the plane, arrest you, or worse: to doom your baby to an early grave.
On the first leg of my trip, I flew aboard a Canadair CRJ. If you’re a musician, steer clear of this plane at all costs! Most smaller planes still have a standard overhead size. Not this one. Before the stewardess saw me, I had to think quick, since she was trying to find anyone with a bag that was at least half the size of mine, and forcing them to gate check it. I remember a suggestion from some of my friends from UNT and took action. I grabbed a blanket, and put as much of the horn under the seat in front of me. It still stuck out a good 20 inches or so, so I straddled my feet on either side, and put a blanket on my lap. By this time, the stewardess was going around and checking stuff like this out, and marking on a notepad. My heart was racing. The funny thing isn’t that she didn’t notice it. The funny thing is she completely skipped our row by accident! Someone up in the sky was on my side that day.
This is a good suggestion when other ideas don’t work. Only don’t try this with a trombone, it’s too long and you might bend the horn trying to make it fit between the two seats.
As for specific instruments that I know about:
Trumpets: Should have no problem. Dual cases seem to be fine, but for you cats that want to come and work on your classical chops, it’s best to not try to bring a quad case. Alto sax cases are right at the same size, so they should be fine too.
Trombones: This one is still up in the air by many trombonists. I’ve heard horror stories of players having to gate check their horn in its gig bag just before they boarded, only to get on the plane in just enough time to see a baggage worker literally throw it from the tarmac into the baggage hold. There were no survivors.If you really want to take the trombone on the plane, which we would all MUCH rather do, there are a few things:If you want to take it in a gig bag, you gotta be tall. I’m 6’6”, so I can get away with this. What you do is have it on your back with the strap, but make sure it’s parallel to your body; that way, it hides its true length.
If you want to use your standard hard case, you can always ask a stewardess to put it in the first class closet. Especially in the summer, and if you’re from Florida like me, there won’t be much use of the closet, anyway. Even so, the horn would go on the floor, while the coats are hung up. I’ve done this once, and they were very nice about it. I have friends that use it on more than one occasion. But don’t count on it. All you need is one airline worker to be in a bad mood, and you’re screwed.
Some bass trombonists use an SKB brand ATA rated golf club bag flight case. I’m not sure which model for this, but Dougla Yeo doesn’t seem to like it. He also has a trick for checking your horn in its standard hard case.
Euphonium: I play a Willson 2900s model. It has an 11 inch bell. The reason I’m telling you this, is because most openings in overhead compartments are 12 inches. I don’t think a 2950 will work with its 11¾ inch bell, because after you add a gig bag, there’s much more than 12 inches. Who likes to play a 2950, anyway? Corny eupher joking aside, aside from tuba, the euphonium has probably one of the most widely varied standardized look and dimensions, so I don’t know about many other brands. I know the Besson models work too. Steven Mead has never checked his horn.
Tuba: Get a flight case. No way around it. Pay oversize. No way around it.
Violins/violas: Should be fine, as long as you don’t have one worker in a bad mood. Airlines have been known to make players of incredibly expensive ones check them. There were no survivors.
Cello: You are still allowed to buy an extra seat for this instrument. Don’t check it.
Double bass: My best suggestion is to secure a good instrument at your destination before you even leave your hometown. But, if you need to take yours, this will be trouble. You used to be able to buy a seat for it, but airlines have stopped allowing this since 9/11. You’re going to have to buy a trunk. No way around it. Pay oversize. No way around it. Call David Gage, he sells refurbished cases that are a little cheaper.
Electric basses and guitars: If you only bring one, or two with a dual gig bag, there’s a decent chance you can get it on the plane with you. There’s a little trick that I got from Vic Wooten’s site. I think it was Steve Bailey that said it, but, like I said, no internet to back it up. But here’s the suggestion: on most gig bags nowadays, there is a handle at the area where the neck meets the body. Hold the instrument there, and tuck the neck under your arm. If you don’t have a handle, either get a new case, or hold that area TIGHT. Practice this one in the mirror. You can actually make it look like a briefcase! Make sure the axe is on the opposite end of the ticket agent, so there’s less of a chance to be caught. Again, if it doesn’t fit in the overhead, you can sneak it into the first class closet probably. Some players suggest taking the neck off the body and reattaching it when you get to your destination, but I think this is absolutely a bad idea.
If you choose to take two, there was a suggestion from one of the readers of this blog that I now use, and it’s absolutely great. After I found that post, I researched exactly what I need. It’s the SKB ATA golf case 1649W. You can fit two basses in there with clothes for padding. I even put my M-Audio Keystation 49e between the basses. As for guitars, you could probably do the 4814W or something, but I don’t know. All I know is it made it here, and the basses and keyboard were unscathed. There were 3 survivors, four counting the euphonium.I couldn’t gate check the case, because it was too big to go through the ATA x-ray machine. But whenever you get a checked instrument back, look it over ASAP.
Another important thing is, if you plan to go somewhere you’re not used to, plan accordingly. I brought two extra sets of strings, my spare upright strings for the bass on the ship, and a full bottle of valve oil, slide grease, and rosin. The guys say they think there’s a music store in Naples, but they’re not sure. I brought tools to do quick work on my instruments, but make sure you declare it to an officer if it has a blade, and explain why you brought a blade onto the ship. The extra weight is worth being prepared.