Flying with a guitar isn’t as simple as it used to be. The dynamics and expenses of airplane travel have changed significantly, making it more challenging to keep your guitar safe and nearby during flights. Here are seven tips to help you navigate the complexities of flying with a guitar, with insights from international clinician, producer, and session player Jeff McErlain.

1. Loosen Your Guitar Strings

Temperature and pressure changes during flights can strain your guitar enough to snap its neck. Always loosen your strings before flying with a guitar to prevent this. Taut guitar strings have over 300 lbs of tension, which can work against you in flight.

Why Loosening Strings is Crucial

When you fly with a guitar, the cabin’s changing temperature and pressure can affect the tension on your instrument. Loosening the strings reduces the risk of damage to the neck and body. Whether your guitar ends up in the overhead bin or the cargo hold, this simple step can save you from expensive repairs.

2. Provide Extra Padding

Guitars are fragile, and airline employees may not handle them gently. Stuff t-shirts, socks, or hotel towels into your guitar case to provide extra padding and support, especially around the headstock and neck. This minimizes movement and cushions blows from drops and throws.

The Best Materials for Padding

When padding your guitar case, focus on soft yet firm materials that can absorb shocks. Old t-shirts, socks, and hotel towels are perfect. They are easily available and provide the necessary cushioning. Ensure the headstock and neck are well-padded, as these areas are most vulnerable to breaks during travel.

3. Know Airline Policies

Some airlines are more guitar-friendly than others. Here are a few that allow guitars as carry-ons: American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta, and Southwest Airlines (conditional basis).

Check airline websites and call ahead to confirm their policies on flying with a guitar. Knowing the type of aircraft you’ll be flying can also help you decide how to pack your guitar.

Understanding Airline Regulations

Each airline has its own rules regarding musical instruments. Some may allow guitars as part of your carry-on allowance, while others might require them to be checked. It’s crucial to check these regulations before booking your flight. Calling the airline and speaking directly to a representative can provide additional clarity and ensure there are no surprises at the gate.

4. Consider a Travel Guitar

Travel guitars offer flexibility and convenience. Here are a few options:

Traveler Guitar ($299+)

The Speedster model is highly rated and great for vacations.
travel guitar

Voyage-Air Travel Guitars ($399+)

These foldable guitars fit into a backpack and are perfect for gigs.

Benefits of a Travel Guitar

Travel guitars are designed to be compact and durable, making them ideal for flights. They often come with reinforced necks and bodies to withstand the rigors of travel. Brands like Traveler Guitar and Voyage-Air offer high-quality options that provide excellent sound and playability despite their smaller size.

5. Ship Your Guitar

If flying with a guitar isn’t an option, consider shipping it. Shipping within the continental U.S. costs around $25 with insurance, which is highly recommended.

How to Ship Your Guitar Safely

When shipping your guitar, use a sturdy, well-padded case. Pack it securely to prevent any movement inside the case. Use a reliable shipping service that offers tracking and insurance. This ensures that your guitar arrives safely and that you’re covered in case of any damage or loss.

6. Invest in a Good Guitar Case

A sturdy guitar case can save your instrument from damage. Here are some options:

Top Recommendation: Gator Cases

guitar travel case
Gator Cases‘ TSA approved guitar travel cases stand out as the best choice for musicians on the go. These cases offer unparalleled protection with their rugged, impact-resistant outer shell and thick padding, ensuring your guitar remains safe from bumps and drops. The TSA-approved locking system provides security and peace of mind, allowing hassle-free travel through airport security. With ergonomic handles and wheels for easy transport, Gator Cases combine durability, security, and convenience, making them the ultimate solution for flying with a guitar.

Choosing the Right Guitar Case

Investing in a high-quality guitar case is essential for protecting your instrument during flights. Hard cases offer the best protection, while gig bags are more convenient for carry-on. Look for cases with reinforced edges, strong latches, and ample padding. Brands like SKB and are known for their durability and reliability.

7. Be Polite and Persistent

No matter how well you prepare, unforeseen situations can arise. If your guitar is irreplaceable, consider not traveling with it. In any case, always be polite and stand your ground. Sometimes, simply asking nicely or strategically lying about prior approval can help you keep your guitar safe.

Tips for Dealing with Airline Staff

When negotiating with airline staff, politeness is key. Explain the value and importance of your guitar and ask if there’s a safe place to store it. If you’re met with resistance, stay calm and persistent. Sometimes, mentioning prior approval or offering alternatives, like placing the guitar in a coat closet, can help.


Flying with a guitar can be nerve-wracking, but with these tips, you can ensure your instrument stays safe. From loosening strings and providing extra padding to knowing airline policies and investing in a good case, these strategies will help you protect your guitar during air travel.

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