Travelin’ Man

I flew to Florida to pick this beauty up over the weekend. It borders on mint and has all the features you want. It is unusual in that it has the big neck of a late 63 and the Mickey Mouse ears of an early 63. One PAF, One patent. I didn't want this riding in the baggage compartment for three hours.

I actually like to get on airplanes and go places. I  don’t mind airports and airport food and even airport modes of transport-monorails, moving sidewalks, shuttle buses, you know. The crowds don’t bother me much nor do the long lines at the security gate. But traveling with a guitar, especially a valuable one, can be a little nerve wracking. Yesterday I flew to Tallahassee, Florida to pick up a very nice ’63 ES-335. I didn’t know it was going to be nice-that’s why I went in person to get it. This is typical when I buy from someone who doesn’t play and isn’t used to taking a guitar apart to tell me about pickup stickers and pot codes. So, I go myself knowing that I may be turning around and going home empty handed and a few hundred bucks poorer. Call it the cost of doing business. Fortunately, the seller (and his son) met me at the airport with the guitar and it turned out to be everything I had hoped. They were very nice folks and I enjoyed meeting them and was happy to be able to purchase the guitar from them. They even invited me to lunch which I had to turn down since I was flying right back to Connecticut. Here’s where it gets tricky. Now I have to go home with a very expensive guitar on an airline with a set of corporate rules about baggage.  Every flight is different because each airline has  a different set if rules and different levels of enforcement. On some,  apparently, it’s up to the flight crew whether your guitar gets on board or rides in the cargo hold. Some airlines are really good about allowing you on the plane with your guitar, some will allow it only if there is room (after everybody else has gotten on with their oversized luggage) and some require nothing less than threats and intimidation-“you want your gorillas in baggage to handle a $15000 guitar?” or “Are you willing to take responsibility for my livelihood?” or worse. The last time I flew with a guitar, I was on United and I called ahead to make sure the guitar got on the plane. they assured me it would be fine and then they refused. Yesterday it was Delta. The flight was in four parts-the first 2 legs weren’t a problem because I didn’t have a guitar with me yet. The return flight didn’t begin well. The flight attendant told me that if it didn’t fit in the overhead, then it couldn’t go on the plane. “Are you sure? I do this all the time…” “Those are the rules, he said, there’s nothing I can do.” “Is that a Delta policy?” “Yes, it is.” I started to go into my pitch about gorillas and insurance and responsibility when another crew member (I think it was the co-pilot) said that he would personally put it in the cargo hold himself and secure it. He assured me that it wouldn’t be too cold or get knocked around. He told me he was a player and he understood my concern. It was only a half hour flight and the guitar was bubble wrapped in the case, so I wasn’t that worried. I pointed out that there were empty seats and that other airlines just let me strap it in. “Sorry, sir, said the flight attendant, that’s against regulations.” So, my newest acquisition went into the hold. So, I got to Atlanta and the guitar was fine but the next leg was almost 3 hours and I really wasn’t comfortable with it going with the cargo. This flight was also Delta and the woman at the gate said the flight crew will decide whether it goes on the plane. I figured, “great—regulations again.” I got on the plane first and brought the guitar with me. The flight attendant in charge couldn’t have been nicer (or prettier). She told me that they take care of musicians and their instruments all the time and one way or another, we’d get the guitar on the plane. So much for regulations. The flight wasn’t full and the guitar got its own seat-right next to me (it was an ideal seat mate-it didn’t strike up a conversation, nor did it snore). So, the next time you’re flying with your guitar and you don’t want to check it, don’t let the petty bureaucrat who’s exercising his little teeny bit of power in his little teeny fiefdom tell you what the “regulations” are. Look them up in advance and print them out. Don’t ask if you can bring the guitar on at the check in desk. They will tell you that you can’t. Bring it through security and to the gate. Get on the plane with it (and get on early) and see if you can fit it in the overhead bin. If it doesn’t fit, ask the flight attendant for help. Be nice. If that doesn’t work, be nice again. If that doesn’t work, then being nice isn’t going to do it. You may have to gate check it which is better than letting the baggage handlers at it. When you gate check, the guitar is put in the cargo hold but doesn’t go to the baggage carousel at the end of the flight (usually-find out for sure before you give it up at the gate). Finally, if they let you put the guitar on the plane, even if it’s n the regulations, be grateful. Thank them profusely. Being a flight attendant seems like a pretty tough job. Let them know you appreciate their help.

8 Responses to “Travelin’ Man”

  1. rob says:

    That’s a great story and it takes me back into the ’60’s when I flew from PHL to LAX with the 1951 Telecaster and a Fender Deluxe made a few years later that my father had handed down to me. I checked them in and they flew just fine in the cargo hold of the Boeing 707, my favorite airliner of all time, and I watched the handlers in LA gingerly put them on the tram for transport back to the baggage claim. Flying was so easy back then. In fact, my usual routine was to go to the lavatory as soon as the plane reached cruising altitude and smoke a small joint. Then put in the earbuds and groove on “Eight Miles High”. Wish I still had that guitar and amp.

  2. RAB says:

    Gorgeous 335 Charlie, worth the trip!

  3. Markus says:

    Most of the airlines in Europe have a policy, usually you have to purchase a seat for the guitar if you don’t want to check it and they promise you the tax back later (most airlines have taken the budget business model with online checking etc.). That makes it only €20-30 if you book in advance – assuming you ever get the tax back that is. I’m still battling one airline trying to get back what they promised me!

    Nice guitar Charlie, worth the extra stress in this case!

  4. OK Guitars says:

    I offered to buy a seat for the first short hop of the flight-Tallahasse to Atlanta-35 minutes wheels up to touchdown. They wanted $440. Seemed a little steep to me.

  5. Markus says:

    crikey, you’re not wrong there

  6. rob says:

    I just read on MSN about a professional musician flying with his 1965 ES 335 in what looked like its original case. The airline refused to let him carry it aboard insisting that it be checked in. Of course the case got caught up in the luggage elevator and there’s a photo of the munched case (with guitar inside). The airline claims $2,000 damage to the guitar. Reminds me of the tag line from the old radio commercial they made us practice incessantly in broadcasting school. “Delta is ready when you are.”

  7. Tat says:

    I tried to bring a 1959 ES335 Dot (original case) onboard Denver to Newark,NJ back in the 90’s. I made a scene bc I had been allowed to put it in the 1st class closet etc. previously and I was good and baked (Colorado lol); the ignorant masses thought I was a nut. But the guitar was worth more than most of their houses, to me especially. They assured me that they would gate check it along with a human liver harvested for donation being flown to NY for Mickey Mantle or someone. Well I arrive in Newark and here comes the liver, there it goes, and there they go! Where’s my ’59 Bobby Weir special!!! Alas it finally made its way out after 20 minutes; only 1 traveler noticed it was a vintage gem hence sympathized with me. Everyone else was too busy fighting for Pizza Hut coupons. I had luggage, phones etc attempted to be stolen by TSA at Newark, NJ more recently; they almost arrested me when I tried to follow the sound of my ringing phone into the pocket of one of their “security experts’ lol. They busted the ring several months later.

  8. cgelber says:

    It’s generally pretty easy to get a guitar onto a plane-vintage or not. The key is BE NICE. Beg, plead, cajole, tell them its how you make your living and you’re just trying to do your job and if the guitar gets trashed in cargo, you will be living out of dumpsters. I’ve traveled with dozens of guitars (usually one at a time and only once had to check my guitar). I bring along bubble wrap so I can give it a fighting chance in the hold. The only time I had to check a guitar was on a 16 seater that simply had no room. I loaded the guitar into the cargo hold myself with the help of a very nice cargo handler (who happened to be a player). No harm done.

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