Musical Instruments on Planes: Any Strings Attached?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on December 05, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Are musical instruments allowed as carry-on items on airplanes?

Whether you chanced upon a nifty banjo during your travels or dug up that dusty violin from your childhood, you, like many other musically inclined jet-setters, may be wondering if your instrument will be allowed in the overhead compartment -- especially since many instruments exceed the posted dimensions for carry-on luggage.

As expected, special rules exist for traveling with musical instruments -- but it is possible to bring them on board without having to pay extra fees.

TSA Policy on Musical Instruments

According to TSA's official screening policy, you may carry one musical instrument in addition to one carry-on and one personal item through the screening checkpoint.

Security officers must X-ray or physically screen your instrument before it can be taken on-board. So don't try to pull a fast one on the Feds and try to stash your "magical music meds" in your guitar.

Of particular concern to folks with fancy fiddles, rest assured: "Security officers will handle musical instruments very carefully and will allow you to be as involved as possible in any physical screening," according to TSA policy.

If TSA agents can't clear the instrument through the security checkpoint as a carry-on item, you'll have to transport it as checked baggage instead ... and hope it doesn't get lost or damaged.

FAA Modernization and Reform Act Allows Instruments as Carry-Ons

In general, airlines have discretion whether or not to allow musical instruments as an additional carry-on item. But Section 403 of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 is changing that.

Under the Act, airlines must allow passengers to "carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin," space permitting.

Best of all, airlines won't be able to "charge you a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage." The FAA technically has until February 2014 to implement the Act.

The catch is that there needs to be sufficient space in the overhead bins to accommodate your musical instrument. Getting your piccolo on-board shouldn't be an issue. Your Uberorgan, on the other hand...

Speaking of Uberorgans, you can bring large instruments on-board without having to fork over an extra fee if it's: covered in a case (so it won't injure others), doesn't exceed 165 pounds, can be stowed safely, and literally has a purchased seat of its own. (Sidenote: How sad would it be to see a guitar "sitting" in First Class while you rot in Economy?)

It's a shame Earth Harps are over 165 pounds.

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