You Can’t Take That On The Plane


Window seat. Right on. Great choice. That is, until I looked outside the plane after strapping myself in and saw a simian baggage handler on the tarmac below, hurling my guitar case onto the luggage conveyor with enthusiasm reminiscent of Al Oerter trying his best to throw a discus clear out of the Olympic stadium.

I immediately assumed the facial expression depicted in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” My guitar! My baby! This was my prized possession, the 1964 Epiphone Frontier that had been handed down to me from my dad, and will one day be bequeathed to my daughter Speaker. It was in a standard plywood guitar case, which is meant for transporting the instrument from one drunken hootenanny to the next, not for protecting it from the rigors of air travel.

Fortunately, my beloved Epi fared better than this guy’s guitar, and as soon as I returned home from that trip I bought a cheap acoustic to travel with. The ’64 sounds better every year, but rarely leaves the house now. Lesson learned.

That incident took place ten years ago, and since then there have actually been some changes made to help musicians protect the tools of our livelihood. Section 403 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 states: “An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage.”

PlaneDropGuitar (2)

For the last time, Mr. Wire, your guitar will be just fine. Now please return to your seat!

Most flight attendants and counter personnel seem to be lacking in legislative awareness, however, and I’m still told almost every time I fly, “You can’t bring that on the plane.”
I traveled to the Bay Area last week to play some music at a fund raiser with Shane Clouse for Montana Matters. The Delta agent at the gate looked at my guitar case like it contained fifty pounds of Ebola-infested squid.

“What is that,” she asked, “a cello?”

I resisted the urge to say, “Obviously you’re not a big golfer,” and said, “Close. Guitar.”

“Well, it looks like a cello,” she said. “You can’t bring that on the plane.”

I knew it was coming, and held my ground. My preference is to have the guitar placed into a closet near the cockpit. That way there’s the added bonus of the pilot using it as a flotation device in case of a water landing.

Second choice would be to have them find room for it in the overhead bins, but that would require three other passengers to check their giant-ass, no-business-being-carried-on suitcases that are big enough to hold a full drum kit and two go-go dancers. So I usually end up going with the third choice, which is to gate check it.

That means the guitar will ride in the belly of the plane for that leg of the trip, but a least it won’t be pinballed around several airports on its way to my destination. They strap a hot pink tag on the guitar case, hand me the stub, and slide it into the pile of strollers, car seats, and giant carry-ons owned by people who didn’t want to pay the extra $15 to be allowed on the plane first and grab up all the overhead space.

Of course there’s the extravagant option of buying a ticket for my guitar to ride in the seat next to me, but that would not only double my airfare, but would also require me to make small talk with it, which I hate. “So, where are you headed? Here, have the armrest. Do you live in the Bay Area? Are you a cello?”

Fortunately, the airlines are legally obligated to find a place on the plane for my ax. (Side note: don’t ever call it that while you’re on the plane, by the way. “Got a layover in Salt Lake so I’m gonna break out my ax and practice my chops” is a sure way to find yourself coming to from a taser blast with your head pinned under the knee of a sweaty air marshal, surrounded by passengers who are almost too terrified to snap your photo with their phones that are supposed to be put in “airplane” mode by this point in the flight anyway.)

On this recent trip, I successfully gate checked the guitar both legs of the flight.

“What’s this, a cello?” asked the baggage handler at SLC as he hoisted my guitar up onto the cart with the other gate checked items.

“Do I look like I play the cello?” I asked, pointing to my cowboy hat and rumpled Western shirt. “It’s a guitar. Please be careful with it.”

“Don’t worry,” he sneered, exiting the jetway. “Just hang onto your stub, Yo-Yo Ma.”

Traveling with instruments is an age-old challenge. There are guitar flight cases that will protect your delicate instrument from heat, water, fluctuating air pressure and all kinds of turmoil. You can throw these things down a flight of stairs with your guitar inside and it won’t even go out of tune. These cases cost about $600. Look, I’m a guitarist—I don’t see the problem with putting a $480 set of pickups in a $125 guitar, but in this case (pun intended), six bills is just an expenditure I can’t afford when I’m not constantly flying to gigs. My current favorite acoustic (that I’m willing to take out of the house) is an Epiphone EJ200, recently acquired from craigslist for about $200. It’s big. It’s gaudy. The kid I bought it from had no case, so I popped for a $100 reinforced resin Gator case, which is lighter and stronger than the traditional Tolex-covered plywood. I have other acoustic cases, but the J200 body style is known as “jumbo.” It will not fit into a traditional case because it is roughly the size of a cello.

On the flight home Monday, I was amazed when an enterprising flight attendant took the jumbo case from me as we were boarding, and marched down the aisle to the mid-point of the plane, where she slid a couple of bags out of the way and snugged this monster into the overhead bin like she was pulling a Chrysler New Yorker into a narrow parking space. Pefect fit, no room to spare. It was almost a sexual experience.
While a low murmur of surprise and respect hummed through the line of passengers, I asked her how she knew it would fit.

“My husband has a J200,” she told me. “Airbus 320. It’s the only plane he’ll fly on.”

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


MIM NewsletterLike this blog? Don’t miss another one. Sign up for our E-Newsletter.  It provides you with a list of all the week’s stories/blogs and is delivered to your inbox every Tuesday morning.