Taking a plane with a violin

Take a flight with a violin

You need to fly for a concert abroad? And you’re concerned about that long ride for your violin?

You are right to be concerned, because travelling with a musical instrument is often a challenge. If you are a violinist, be aware that the challenge is not that important since a violin is rather small and most of the time can be taken as hand luggage. Conversely, if you are a cellist or double bassist, you’ll go through a greater difficulty…

Getting the violin ready for the trip

Opt for a resistant case

hard violin case

Your violin will be subject to potential vibrations and falls. It must therefore be protected in a resistant violin case and able to bear weight. We prefer rectangular cases that are easier to stow in luggage compartments.

Do not leave any element in free movement inside the case. And insert the rosin, the shoulder rest, the spare strings, etc. in closed pockets.

Get the violin strings loosened

Even if the plane is pressurized, it is better to loosen the strings to avoid an overvoltage, even a breakage. At altitude, strings’ tension can be accentuated and can damage the body of your instrument. This is one of the basic rules when travelling with a stringed instrument and it applies to both violins and guitars.

Get your instrument insured for a trip

This can make you feel safe about your valuable instrument… To insure an instrument for a year is an option. However, make sure your policy covers your instrument not only in all types of transport, but also in all destinations. Very often, insurance companies do not provide coverage for instruments in all countries.

Get the purchase invoice ready

You never know what can happen at customs. It’s better to have the invoice of your instrument to avoid any inconvenience. We have already read articles of musicians that got stuck at the customs because they were unable to prove that the instruments they were carrying belonged to them.

Investing in a humidifier

Aircraft cabins tend to be very dry and therefore poor in terms of humidity. Wood naturally contains a certain degree of humidity that changes in time. These humidity variations make the wood change. You have probably already observed after having rehearsed in backstage, then on stage: under different conditions, your violin has detuned because the wood is not the same… This is related to a probable change of temperature and/or humidity in the air. These changes in matter also apply to the 3Dvarius, which is made of 3D-printed resin. Resin reacts to changes in temperature too. By placing a humidifier in your case, you will maintain a certain humidity level. Remember to remove it on arrival, it may not be needed once you reach the ground.

Humidity is measured with a hydrometer and must be between 40 and 60%.

Do not put your violin or instrument in the hold

do not put violin in hold

This is the first advice we give to any instrumentalist, even if we are aware that sometimes companies leave no other choice.

For safety reasons, it is better to avoid the hold to put any musical instrument in. Everyone knows how baggage that ends up in the hold are handled. They are often thrown from compartment to compartment, they are stacked on top of each other and undergo a lot of vibrations… The hold is the place to avoid!

In addition, after take-off, and at high altitude, temperatures are very low. And even if the hold is pressurized, it is not heated. A violin will therefore undergo significant temperature and humidity changes between take-off and landing. Sudden and significant temperature changes are not recommended for any musical instrument… Sudden changes can cause cracks on the body of your instrument.

However, the hold is the right place to carry ancillary equipment such as effect pedals. At 3Dvarius, we have invested in large roller sports bags with a hard shell. Our effect pedals are protected and stored in these bags. Do not put a padlock on your suitcase under no circumstance. By scanning it, controllers may want to check the contents of your suitcase. It must be said that small and medium boxes with electronic circuits and maybe some cables can only attract attention!

Take your violin in the cabin

As mentioned above, most companies accept small musical instruments as hand luggage. Attention, we’re talking about most of them. Some will simply refuse, and others will ask you to pay an additional fee. This is often the case for low-cost companies.

If you’re travelling with a cello or a double bass, the size of the instrument is often too large. The musician is sometimes asked to book a second seat on which your instrument will be attached.

In the case of a viola, be smart and don’t say it’s a viola but a violin. Quite frankly, people who are not in the music business don’t know the difference between a violin and a viola. The violin is often accepted as hand luggage so play with the words and use the word “violin”. At least you can be sure that the term “viola”, which the operator may not be familiar with, will not attract unwanted attention!

Companies use 2 elements to determine the type of musical instrument that can be taken in the cabin as hand luggage:

  • The dimensions of the case (not of the instrument)
  • The total weight of the case

You will find these items on the airline’s website. Measure the case of your instrument well and make sure everything is OK. Of course, if it exceeds a few centimeters, there shouldn’t be a problem… In any case, we never saw a steward or a hostess grabbing a meter and measuring our violin cases!

How to make sure that your instrument can get boarded in the cabin with you?

Unfortunately, we don’t have a magic potion to make sure that your violin will be able to board the cabin with you… However, here are some tips that we put into practice every time we travel.

Ask about the company before buying a ticket

We never buy a ticket before knowing the airline’s practices about musical instruments. Of course, we compare prices. But before validating any payment, we make sure that no difficulty has been encountered in the past by a violinist.

We read and print the general conditions and the company FAQ about musical instruments. So, in case of problems, we have this item in hand. Maybe you think we’re going too far?

Think again, this document has already saved the day. During a previous trip with Norwegian Airlines, one of the hostesses refused to let us ship because we were carrying violins as hand luggages. By showing her the document proving that the company was allowing violins as hand luggage, she could not say “no”.

And if possible, print them in English and in the language of the country from which you are taking off… Yes, yes, yes… some may pretend not to understand English! 😉

Ask the company for a confirmation

And yes, the FAQ or the terms and conditions may not be enough. So, we also write to the company for further confirmation and an additional proof. We also use the online chat of the company, and make a screenshot of the confirmation… You don’t believe us? Well, again, think again, it has already been useful to us!

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Avoid connections

Each boarding is an extra stress you go through as you may be get the access to the cabin denied because of your instrument. So, pay a few extra dollars and prefer the tranquility of a direct flight!

Avoid low-cost companies

All musicians have heard or read about a low-cost airline that refused to pick up a passenger travelling with a musical instrument… Yes, low-cost companies are the first ones to refuse musical instruments.

We put a special mention to EasyJet with which it is always a pain!
If you opt for Ryanair, they offer an additional option to ship with an instrument (check the maximum size allowed before accepting). We have already used it and had no problem…

You should know that despite everything, get the access to the cabin denied when carrying your instrument also happens with conventional companies. One of our friends had a problem with Air Canada on a long haul…

It’s easier with a long haul

If you are on a long-haul ride, note that it will be easier to take your violin as a hand luggage. Long-haul planes are designed to carry a lot of weight and have slots to store instruments (including the captain’s cabinet).

If you’re on a short-distance flight, the plane will not be suitable, and it will be difficult to find a slot to store your violin, hence the refusal of some stewards and hostesses.

It’s much easier in the U.S.

In the United States, it is not common to be denied boarding with a violin. It’s the land of the guitar and thousands of guitars get on board every day… So for the airlines, a violin is so small that it’s not a big deal!

In Europe, on the other hand, it’s always more complicated… The airlines generally have little respect for musicians, despite the fact that enormous progress has been made over the last few years. Many airlines accept “small” musical instruments. And, many of them have changed their approach on the subject: either because they have got bad press due to tweets from famous instrumentalists, or because they have had to pay back thousands of euros due to damaged instruments that were forcibly transported in the baggage hold.

In September 2019, we had a telephone conversation with a Lufthansa operator who clearly told us:

Our company’s policy is never to transport a musical instrument in the baggage hold, it has cost us a lot of money in the past. Valuable instruments were broken, and the company had to compensate their owners. As a result, we no longer take any risks.

When it’s too early in the morning, fewer people are travelling. And if people in the plane are fewer, there will be more slots for your instrument… It is therefore much easier to board with a violin as a hand luggage.

Report it at the check-in

At check-in, and if the person in front of you seems to be understanding, let him/her know that you are travelling with a violin. That it is a fragile and expensive instrument, and that the hold is a risk that you just can’t take.

Be careful, it’s a double-edged sword. ‘Cause sometimes, the person does not say yes or no, and decides to put a sticker on your luggage. This sticker indicates that it can go in the hold. And if your flight has too much hand luggages, the staff will assume your violin can go in the hold…

Do the boarding on the plane first

Whenever possible, be the first one of the boarding queue: you will have plenty of time to rest once seated on the plane! ‘Cause if you are the first one to board, you will also be the first to put your violin in one of the luggage compartments. And you will be sure to find a place for him to travel with you!

Explain, discuss, but do not give up

If you are within your rights, don’t give up… We were threatened several times to get off the plane, but no way. With all evidences that we can travel with our violins in the cabin, we do not give in! And too bad if the plane gets delayed.

No need to force if it is noted on Internet that musical instruments are refused

Why fight for something that is already lost… If the company refuses musical instruments in the cabin, it’s not worth buying the ticket. Look for another company!

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Where in the cabin can you put your violin?

That’s it, you’re in the cabin and the on-board crew have agreed that you can travel with your instrument! Now it must get sheltered to avoid any inconvenience.

It’s always better to have it close to you

Yes, it may sound silly but it’s better to be able to keep an eye on your violin. A simple example: if someone opens the luggage compartment, it is better to be ready to react in case the person moves the case.

Which compartments to choose?

We always opt for the luggage compartments, if possible the closest ones to our seats. Unless someone offers to put it in the captain’s cabinet (only on long-haul flights). Never ask to have access to it. It’s tempting, but it’s also a stupid way to draw attention to you and your instrument… This can then get you into trouble if the plane is too crowded…

Always lay the box flat

Always lay the box flat so that the instrument is not on the back.

violin in cabin

Our return about airlines that we used in the past

We are doing a lot of business travels around the world for events and performances. Here is our return about many international airlines companies:

  • Air France: Nothing to report (last flight 👉 June 2018)
  • EasyJet: With them, it could be complicated. Sometimes, they are ok, and sometimes, they are not. Print their FAQ to proof that you’re able to flight with your instrument as hand luggage. (last flight without problem 👉 May 2019)
  • Ryanair: You have to pay an extra option to take a violin in the cabin. Careful, you have to respect some measurements (last flight 👉 November 2016)
  • Norwegian Airlines: If it’s a long haul, you won’t have any problem. But, for short haul, it could be really complicated. It is always when the plane is full and when a lot of people want to take their bag as hand luggage. Print their FAQ! (last flight 👉 January 2020)
  • Vueling: Don’t flight with them! You have to pay for an extra seat if you would take your music instrument in the cabin. We never flight with them.
  • Alitalia: Nothing to report (last flight 👉 October 2015)
  • Air Canada: It could be complicated. After long speeches, we always found a way to take our violins in the cabin (last flight 👉 August 2017)
  • KLM: Nothing to report (last flight 👉 November 2015)
  • Finnair: Nothing to report (last flight 👉 October 2016)
  • Austria Airlines: Their website is not clear at all… You have to contact the airline by phone or email. They will create a special authorization. It will be added to your reservation and you’ll be able to flight with your violin as hand luggage. Without this document, we are not sure if you’ll be able to flight with your violin. (last flight 👉 October 2019).
  • Eurowings: Few questions, but it was ok! (last flight 👉 October 2019).
  • Luthansa: Their website is not really clear. But for the moment, we never had a problem with them (last flight 👉 October 2019)
  • Air China: Nothing to report (last flight 👉 October 2019)
  • JetBlue Airways: Nothing to report (last flight 👉 January 2020)
  • United: Nothing to report (last flight 👉 January 2020)
  • TAP Air Portugal: Avoid them. You have to book another seat for your violin (last flight 👉 January 2020)

Photos: Unsplash – Gary Lopater, Goh Rhy Yan, Omar Prestwich