THE LONG HAUL: Musicians vs. Airlines – What Can We Do?
Photo by Jason Fang / Getty Images
If you want to know what musicians talk about at parties, it’s not usually their favorite lyrics or chord progressions (although sometimes that does happen). It’s not usually about favorite venues or guitar pedals (OK, that does happen a lot). But what simply never fails to come up are travel horror stories, including but not limited to: missing dream gigs due to canceled flights, fighting with airline crew members about bringing instruments on board, and last but not least, getting instruments destroyed in checked baggage. Well, friends, welcome to my party, because I’ve got a story for you.
When I fly for gigs, I usually need to bring my fiddle, banjo, and guitar on board. I know that the flight attendants can’t allow me on with all of these items, so I pack my computer and my essentials into my banjo case and check my guitar along with my suitcase. I’ve been flying this way on Southwest for years and have never had any problems. I use a Hiscox hardshell guitar case, which claims to withstand 1,100 lbs. of weight and is also thermally insulated.
A couple of weeks ago, I took a flight to Glasgow to play at the wonderful Celtic Connections festival. I was excited because I’d recently installed a new pickup system into my beloved Pre-War Guitar Co. guitar, and I was hoping to get a great tone for my solo shows. I tell you this extremely boring fact to explain that I really wanted to bring my guitar rather than beg, borrow, or steal one without knowing what it might sound like.
When I arrived in Scotland, my guitar did not appear with my other luggage. So, I talked to the lovely woman at the baggage counter who informed me that it hadn’t made the connection in Europe, but would be arriving on another flight and that they’d let me know as soon as it was in Glasgow.
I arrived a day before the big gig, and at least I had my clothes, so it wasn’t a huge deal to wait for the next flight from Amsterdam. I thanked her and left with my claim number. There was no sign of my guitar that evening, so the next morning (the day of the show), I called the baggage office to see if there were any updates. They informed me that the guitar had made it to the airport and had been sent with a courier to my hotel (thanks for telling me, lol). I asked when it would arrive, and they said that they didn’t know. I asked if they had a number or contact for the courier and they said no, but that I could check on their website. I checked their website, which said, “If you’re waiting for baggage from the airport, don’t call, we can’t help you.” After feeling extremely reassured by this very helpful information, I decided I better make a plan B for the show.
Luckily, Celtic Connections was able to source a backline guitar, so I went ahead and did a soundcheck with that. It was not the dreamy pickup/microphone blend tone that I was hoping for, but it was fine, and I was happy to know that at least my guitar was somewhere in the country. After soundcheck, I ran back to the hotel to ask if there had been any guitar deliveries. Lo and behold, there was my guitar waiting for me in the lobby, just in time for the show!
I happily ran back over to the venue and begged the sound engineers for a quick check. I pulled out the guitar and just as I put it on to plug it in, I felt a giant crack running along the far side of the guitar’s body. My excitement was quickly quelled as I saw that the guitar was immensely damaged. I was really surprised since there was no visible damage to the case. In fact, I have no idea how someone managed to cause such a bad crack. In my mind (and I’ll never really know), someone must have taken it out, possibly at customs or TSA, and dropped it on the ground for this to occur.
Yes, I have instrument insurance, and luckily the awesome folks at Pre-War have said that it is fixable, but it still feels terrible to see a beloved instrument treated in such a way. I have heard so many stories like this that I really shouldn’t be surprised, but I was surprised at how bad it felt to see my poor guitar like that.
I did send KLM a request to pay for the damage, and I got this response from them:
So, my question is, what can we do about this? Musicians have to fly all the time. We are really good customers for these airlines. And we can’t just pack lighter; these instruments are necessities for our shows. For international flights, there’s no way that most of us can afford to buy extra seats for our guitars. How can we get the airlines to care about our instruments?