Advice on How Best to Travel Safely With Your Pipes

Well the good news is Barry got his pipes a couple of days after he arrived home, writes the Editor. The bad is that one projecting mount was chipped and there were other nicks here and there.

I wondered if the imitation ivory had been deliberately cut to test for the real stuff. The leaflet that tells you they have been into your suitcase has a disclaimer regarding any damage so he is currently reviewing his options.

Meantime reader Joey Flowers has written: ‘For flights in the US, regulations require the airline to allow you to bring ‘small’ instruments into the cabin as a carry-on. They cannot force you to check it as long as there is room. Don’t let them take your bagpipes out of your hands.’

He has sent this useful link to a document from the ‘Federal Register’, an official publication of the US Government.

It basically says that within the US an airline must allow you to take your instrument on board if there is space and they cannot charge you for it. Might be worth printing this out.

Reader Ben Beeson offers some more, very sensible, advice: ‘The Florida flight tale is like many others I have heard, and indeed experienced myself. I hope Barry’s pipes arrived safely at the destination and all is well with them. My lessons learned from my experience include the following:

‘First, know the airline’s musical instrument policy before you travel. You can usually find that on the airline’s website or by calling their customer support telephone number.

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‘Second, it helps to have a good hard case. I realize that most would prefer the typical soft or semi-hard case for convenience, but we are dealing with airlines here, so in the event you have to check your pipes as baggage, a hard case goes a long way to helping prevent bad things from happening.

‘There are hard cases that are approved as carry on bags, and those will fit under the seat or in the overhead in most airline aircraft with no trouble. You just may need to remove the drone tops to fit your pipes in one of these cases.

‘It also helps, in my experience, to check all your other items as baggage, so it is just you and your pipes when boarding time comes. That way it is easier to talk the gate agent into letting you board earlier as discussed next.

‘ …it pays to check in early and to speak with the gate agent when you arrive. Tell the gate agent that you are travelling with an instrument that is fragile…..

‘Third, and perhaps most importantly, it pays to check in early and to speak with the gate agent when you arrive. Tell the gate agent that you are travelling with an instrument that is fragile, small, expensive etc.

‘Ask if you can board early so you can stow your instrument. The goal here is to get them to let you board early so you can properly stow your instrument before the inevitable issues with overbooked flights arise.

‘If needed, pay the extra fee to board early. For the most part this has served me well and I have usually been able to get moved up early enough in the boarding that I did not have any issues finding a safe spot for my pipes.

‘There have been a few occasions where checking on the aircraft type in advance led me to decide to get a hard case because the aircraft was small enough that overhead storage was non-existent — the carry on policy with that carrier was essentially ‘purses and such’ only.

‘I knew that flight meant my pipes were going to get checked as baggage. Mark that hard case as fragile and carrying musical instruments in big letters.

I don’t know if this issue for musicians will ever get really fixed. I hope that someday the International Civil Aviation Organisation will jump on this issue as well. In the meantime, all the best of luck to you all!’

5 thoughts on “Advice on How Best to Travel Safely With Your Pipes

  1. Hmmm. I am sorry to hear of the trouble that happened here. I had just returned to New York from Stockholm recently roundtrip flying with Finnair and took my 1918 Hendersons with me as part of my onboard baggage and not a hoot. In the past 25 years of working or living globally between North America, Europe and Japan I had never had any issues and that’s taking ivory sets as well.

    I make sure to fly reputable carriers like Finnair, All Nippon Airways, Singapore Airlines. I’s never fly with a budget airline or fly on a false economy for the sake of my pipes.

  2. I completely agree with the point about talking to the gate agents early. Personally though I would not try to get on early as it might not be received well… instead I just say while smiling “Looks like a busy flight! I have a valuable and fragile musical instrument that can’t go in the hold… will I be ok?”. That way you build empathy for them being overworked (!), and at that early stage 99% of people will say “of course, don’t worry” and as people naturally enjoy helping provided they can feel it’s their decision. The issue with the last minute confrontation is they feel you’re trying to overrule them! Make sure you then later line up to pass the same agent!

    The other trick, provided you know the plane model is one with normal size overhead compartments, is to always use a very well padded soft case (not a hard case). Most airlines T&Cs/policies state they cannot take woodwind or fragile instruments in the hold unless they are in a hard case. So then as a last resort if you don’t get a good reaction to your early convo above is you say “oh… that could be a problem. I understand [insert airline]’s policy doesn’t allow this to go in the hold, because your insurance doesn’t cover it and you could be left liable for claims against damage of such an expensive instrument… and these instruments tend to crack and be damaged irrevocably in the hold due to temperature changes… so if I can’t put it in the cabin that means I’d have to be disembarked from the flight [look sad and worried!]?? Surely it wouldn’t have to come to that?”.

    Personally if they put it in the hold I would ask to be disembarked and miss the flight as my pipes are too precious… so for me there is no need for a hard case. Those who would just put them in the hold as their last resort probably don’t want to go the soft case route!

  3. When I fly, I take my Acetyl set (aka delrin/polypenco) with alloy mounts. Like George Hannah, I separate the parts and wrap them with towels or tee shirts and they fit in a carry-bag, small enough to place in the overhead locker.

  4. I’ve had bad encounters with airlines here in Australia too. I always take a printout of the airlines policy, stating the accepted dimensions and weight. At the end of the day, if you need to get somewhere and the crew play hardball, then make sure that you disconnect every section in your bagpipe i.e., remove the blow-stick and lower drone sections from the stocks and mid and top sections from the pins, otherwise the risk of cracks occurring increases exponentially; something I learnt the hard way.

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