Attention airborne musicians: Are flight crews or an airline forcing you to check your axe? Instead of burning and fiddling a sad song on the world’s smallest violin, know your legal options under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Section 41724. After of lobbying by the union, the American Federation of Musicians, President Obama sent a valentine to performers, signing on Feb. 14, 2012, a 145-page law in which airlines are told that they “shall permit a passenger to carry a…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, if…[the instrument] can be stowed safely…and [if] there is pace for such stowage at the time the passenger boards the aircraft.”
Under this legislation, guitar-sized instruments (or smaller) can be go on an aircraft at no extra charge. Instruments larger than a guitar can be allowed on board if owners buy a seat for that tuba, cello or whatever the precious musical cargo might be. Many have praised this law, calling it “great news for professional musicians throughout the U.S. and Canada.” The legislation has won applause for assisting traveling musicians in protecting their means of livelihood and art and bringing an end to the “confusion over musical instruments as carry-on baggage,” though troubling incidents continue to crop up, affecting artists such as performer Wu Man.
Although airlines must be in compliance with the legislation by this coming Valentine’s Day (2-14-14), musical vagabonds are encouraged to show up and board their flights early to ensure they find storage space for their instruments. They also may wish to print out and carry a copy of the law to show doubting airline personnel.
Lest litigators reading this post think, nah, this isn’t an issue at law worth more than a glance, consider that concert quality instruments can be valued in the treble register — such as violinist Joshua Bell’s prize, the $4 million 1713 GibsonStrad.
Wu, a performer familiar to Los Angeles audiences, received unpleasant online attention this summer when her instrument, a pipa (an Asian cousin of the western guitar) wouldn’t fit in a bin and a flight attendant stashed it in on onboard coat closet — where it was damaged. And Paul Katz, a member of the now defunct but still legendary Cleveland Quartet, not only has posted about his travel travails but also the nightmares encountered by fellow cellists — in the air and even on rails!