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Travel Tips for Flying With Your Cello

Updated on August 6, 2016

There are a lot of good reasons to play the cello, and one or more of them convinced you that cello was the instrument for you. While you’re now enjoying the perks of playing such a beautiful instrument, there are some things about playing the cello that can be challenging. Flying with your cello is one of those things.

Unlike a violin or a viola that can be treated as carry-on luggage, your cello doesn’t fit under your seat or in the overhead bin. Because of the space limitations in the cabin, you have two options for bringing your cello on the plane with you:


Check Your Cello as Baggage

If you are like many cellists, the idea of checking your cello as baggage is not a very appealing option. There are a number of dangers that instruments face when traveling as checked baggage. These dangers include rough treatment from time-conscious baggage handlers, the unpressurized environment of the baggage area, and the severe temperature changes that your cello would experience under the plane. If your cello is expensive, or an older instrument, or if it has sentimental value to you, the idea of leaving it exposed to these dangers as checked baggage can feel unacceptable. While many cellists do check their instrument as baggage and do not experience problems, you may not want to take that risk.

Carry Your Cello on as "Cabin Seat Baggage"

Your second option is to purchase a ticket for your cello and carry it onto the plane with you. “Cabin Seat Baggage” is the term that airlines use to describe this situation.

General Rules for Cabin Seat Baggage

If you are going to be buying a ticket for your cello on your next flight, here are some things that you should be aware of before making a reservation:

Many airlines require your cello to be in a hard-shell case.

Even if your airline does not require this, it is always a good idea to travel with your cello in a hard-shell case. A lightweight hardshell such as a carbon fiber cello case can make it convenient to carry on the plane, while still providing protection against damage during travel.

Every airline has different policies on how cabin seat baggage is handled.

Most of these policies are pretty standard across the industry, but it is always a good idea to check with your specific airline to make sure that you clearly understand their policies about musical instruments and how those policies might affect you.

Your flight may be operated by a partner airline.

If you buy your ticket from Airline A, but a specific flight segment is operated by partner Airline B, then the rules about your cabin seat baggage will be determined by Airline B. Make sure that you know which airlines are operating your flights, and make sure to understand the policies of all airlines involved.

Your cello will not be accepted as cabin seat baggage on all flights.

Due to the seating configuration on some models of airplane, you will find that there are some flights that you will not be allowed to book your cello to fly on. Be prepared to accept a second-choice itinerary if you need to.

Your cello is usually required to occupy a window seat.

I recently heard a Royal Dutch Airlines flight attendant explain to a passenger why musical instruments are required to occupy window seats. In the event of an emergency, safety regulations require that all passengers have access to the aisle, to be able to reach the emergency exits. On airlines where the cello does not have to be in the window seat, it cannot be in between any passenger and the aisle.

Your cello has to be secured in its seat using a seat belt.

Because many cello cases are shaped in a way that seat belts do not fit around them easily, seat belt extenders are often required. Check with your airline in advance to make sure that there will be extenders available on your flight.

Cabin Seat Baggage is usually required to fly on the front row of its section.

A cello in the seat behind you makes it difficult to recline. To avoid this problem, airlines typically require that musical instruments have tickets for seats on the first row behind a bulkhead (and never in an emergency exit row). Most airlines also require that you be in the seat next to your cello. Therefore, it is generally a good idea to book your flight well in advance, to make sure that suitable seats are available.

Your cello cannot block anybody’s view of seat belt, no smoking, or emergency exit signs.

Airline-specific Information

In addition to these generally uniform policies, here are some useful things to know about specific airlines:

Allegiant Air:

  • Must be in a row directly behind a floor-to-ceiling bulkhead.

Alaska Air

  • You pay a 6.25% cargo tax in addition to full adult fare.
  • You only get one carry-on item in addition to your cello--you cannot bring a second carry-on using the cello’s ticket.
  • However, you can check an item of baggage on the cello’s ticket.
  • Your cello’s ticket can also earn you frequent flyer miles.

American Airlines:

  • On some types of aircraft, you must purchase a First Class seat for your cello.
  • American Airlines specifies that cellos over 100 inches long will not be accepted as cabin seat baggage. I don’t think that this is a problem that you will ever run into, considering that full-size cellos are only approximately 50 inches long. But if you have a 9/4-size cello, be aware that you may not be able to take it on the plane.
  • Your cello’s ticket does not get a carry-on item allowance, nor are you allowed to check bags on your cello’s ticket.

Delta Airlines:

  • Tickets cellos at full adult fare.
  • Recommends (but does not require) that you sit next to your cello.

Frontier Airlines:

  • No carry-on or checked baggage allowance for the cello’s ticket.
  • Extra fees apply if your cello has to be placed in a “stretch” seat. Check with your ticketing agent to make sure that your cello’s dimensions fit a regular seat.
  • Maximum case dimensions are 57” x 17.84” x 9.3”
  • The passenger has to carry the instrument--airline employees are not allowed to.

Hawaiian Airlines:

  • Strings must be loosened prior to transporting (a good idea anyway, but Hawaiian requires it).
  • Cello’s ticket gets a carry-on item.
  • Cello’s ticket gets the same baggage allowance as a regular ticket.
  • Cello’s ticket gets same frequent flyer miles as a regular ticket.
  • Cello’s ticket gets the same meals as a regular ticket (so if you’re going to be extra hungry on your trip, make sure to use Hawaiian Airlines!).

JetBlue

  • The case cannot have any sharp edges.
  • Cannot weigh more than 165 pounds--leave your leaden cello at home.
  • You have to pre-board with your cello, have a crew member secure it in its seat, allow all other passengers to disembark before you take your cello off the plane.
  • JetBlue’s policy includes a clause that should be of concern to you if you are considering flying on JetBlue: “Any crewmember in the process of securing the article is empowered to decide when the article cannot be properly secured because of its shape or size and whether the weight is greater than can be easily handled.” In theory, this should not be a problem, as long as your instrument clearly meets the weight and size requirements listed in JetBlue’s official policy. But if you are going to spend several hundred dollars on a ticket for your cello, you want to be sure that the cello is actually going to be able to fly with you. With JetBlue’s policy explicitly allowing any crewmember to arbitrarily decide not to accept the instrument for flight, you may want to be very cautious about booking a ticket for your cello with JetBlue.

SouthWest Airlines:

  • Cellos can fly for the Child’s Fare. Child’s Fares can be found only by calling SouthWest--they are not available online.

Spirit Airlines:

  • Cello flies for regular ticket price plus sales tax. No additional fees.
  • Must be in a case.

United Airlines:

  • Must be approved by a United agent before you purchase the ticket.
  • Must be in the seat next to the owner.
  • Must be reserved in advance.

Bon Voyage

Rest easy knowing that you have made all the preparations needed to make sure your cello gets to your destination safely. Enjoy your trip!

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