Being a traveling musician is tough. Crossing borders, sleeping on floors, and getting your gear to the show are all commomn obstacles musicians tackle long before they hit the stage, but thanks to a new ruling, many musicians will now have one less travel hurdle to clear. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a final rule last week that requires all U.S. airlines to accept guitars as carry-on baggage on commercial passenger flights. The ruling, which goes into effect in two months, also stipulates that customers won’t have to pay extra charges to carry-on their guitars.
Dave Carroll, 46, is a singer and song writer who watched in horror as United Airline workers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport threw his guitar around the tarmac. When he arrived at his destination, he was devastated to find his $3,500 Taylor guitar broken and unplayable. He informed various employees, but couldn’t find one who seemed to care. “This new rule is a game changer for musicians around the world,” said Carroll, who had only checked his bag because of the difficulties associated with carrying it on. “When we travel with our instruments. we need them to do our work. It’s part of our craft. It’s a tool, but it’s almost more of an extension of our body than just a tool.”
Carroll jumped through various customer service hoops for nine months seeking compensation for his guitar, but United said that because his claim was filed more than twenty-four hours after the flight, he was out of luck. So, Carroll decided to write and record three songs about his customer service nightmare. The music video for “United Break Guitars,” which details Carroll’s experience, quickly went viral in 2009, racking up fourteen million views along the way. As he said, “I just told them, ‘If I was a lawyer I would sue you, but I’m not a lawyer so I’m going to do this instead.”
The new rule doesn’t give priority to musical instruments, though, so if a portly tourist in a Hawaiian shirt fills up the last overhead cabin before you board the plane, then you will still be forced to check your guitar. You may end up having to run the risk of some idiot breaking its neck, but the rule does give you a fighting chance. Bigger instruments will still need to be checked (unless you’re a member of the one percent and want to buy an additional seat for them). That might be a decent option if you play first-chair tuba in a world-renowned orchestra, but for most musicians on a budget. the option of buying another seat isn’t going to help.
Sometimes the checked instruments don’t get damaged, they get lost, which can often be just as terrible. Punk musician John Eppard, 52, was forced to check his guitar and amp while flying from New York to San Francisco. Eppard ended up in San Francisco, while the guitar and amp landed safely…in Hawaii.
“As the woman at the baggage claim apologized to me I told her, “No problem, just give me a ticket to Hawaii and I’ll go get them,’” Eppard joked.
Eppard didn’t get his ticket to Hawaii, but he did receive his amp and guitar the next day after the airline had tracked down the lost luggage and put it back on a plane to San Francisco. This one-day delay wasn’t too much of an issue for Eppard (and is far from the worst lost luggage story out there), but given that most musicians don’t build extra time into their touring schedules to track down equipment, even a small delay can be critical. “Any reduction of stress, like now being able to carry on my guitar. is greatly appreciated and encourages me to fly more often,” Eppard said.
After the whole fiasco. Carroll became a speaker, traveling to business conventions to talk about customer service. On one of those trips, United Airlines lost his luggage.