Lets face it, air travel in the 21st century can be a total nightmare. Airlines change their rules every other day, add fees every way they can, and make it almost impossible to travel with your own gear. It’s really frustrating! There’s only so much you can do about it, but here are a few tips that can make your life a little less stressful.
Having an elite status on one of the sky groups (which means flying a lot on the same airline) makes a huge difference, and the higher your status, the better you’ll travel. You’re not going to pay extra for baggage, so that can save you some money, and you are also allowed more weight per bag. My pedalboard weighs 54 pounds—four pounds over the limit—and if I didn’t have an elite status, I would have to pay up to $200 in overweight fees in each direction! Elite status also allows you to board the plane first, which gives you a better chance of finding a place to put your guitar. Boarding late often means you have to check your guitar in with baggage, which sucks if it’s in a gig bag. On international flights you most likely won’t have a problem because the aircraft are bigger, but on domestic flights or short hops in smaller planes you can definitely run into problems.
Traveling with a guitar is a real crapshoot, but the best solution I’ve found is to go to the gate with your guitar in the smallest hard-shell case you can find, and if they don’t allow you on the plane with it, check it in. At least that ensures your guitar goes on the right flight. Another option is to get a good flight case and check the guitar in with your baggage. But you might get charged for an extra bag, and there are also risks that the guitar may be damaged during travel. TSA people don’t give a damn if it says "fragile" on the case, and airlines aren’t responsible if your instrument is damaged or lost. That's why it's very important to insure the guitar you’re traveling with, and don’t travel with a real expensive instrument!
It’s not practical to fly with an amplifier, of course, and rental amps are often a problem because you never know what you’ll get. I always ask for two, that way you have the option to choose the best one or play through both of them. Also, try to get a model that sounds consistent and is widely available—for me, that means a Vox AC30 or a Fender Blues DeVille.
Weight has become a big problem while traveling with gear, so you need to plan your pedalboard to be less than 50 pounds in order to avoid overweight charges. Traveling with your Echoplex, Uni-Vibe or any other big pedals isn’t an option nowadays, but fortunately there are a lot of great pedals that are small and light and will do the job. Travel with gear that is built well and easily replaceable—you don’t want to be on the road and have one of your main pedals go down and have to play the rest of the tour without it!
Remember, no matter what airline you travel on, you are at the total mercy of the people who work for them. They’re the ones who can help you out or give you hell, so just prepare yourself as well as you can, relax, get into a Zen mode, and hope for the best. Fun times! —Oz Noy