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Flying with a Double Bass?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Tripletmom, Feb 7, 2017.

  1. Tripletmom


    Nov 4, 2016
    Our high school bassist daughter has been invited to audition for the pre-college program at Colburn at the end of the month. She wants to take her double bass with her. I've read a little bit about this - and I've heard that some airlines even let you bring it on board.

    So - what airlines allow basses? (I've read that's it best to call it a cello....). Her instructor has one of those hard cases. Is it best to check it or take it onboard? Is it best to book a non-stop? And the most important question - which airlines are best???
    Adam Booker likes this.
  2. Adam Booker

    Adam Booker Supporting Member

    May 3, 2007
    Boone, NC
    Endorsing Artist: D'Addario Strings, Remic Microphones
    Winoman likes this.
  3. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I found this old thread...

    Flying with bass tips

    Advice about bringing a bass into the cabin (i.e., buying a ticket for it to ride in its own seat) is probably from when planes had bigger seats and more head and leg room. I have Rufus Reid's The Evolving Bassist from 1982, and he shows pictures of loading a bass into a plane. It's shown upside down in a passenger seat, but I can't imagine that working today, and especially not in the smaller regional jets.

    I suggest that you should line up the possibility of a rental anyway, just in case the plan to fly the bass breaks down for any reason.

    Wish your daughter the best of luck at her audition!
    Tom Lane likes this.
  4. Tripletmom


    Nov 4, 2016
    Thanks all! I had read the article that you linked to - but just noticed the link the how to search for each airlines specifications. I checked Spirit and it says that it can be taken on board as long as it can be secured with a seatbelt. Anyone ever try to do that? The thought of a bass in it's own seat kind of cracks me up.....but I'm sure our daughter would feel better if it's not checked. The cost of a seat on Spirit is really cheap (it's the not best airline....but cheap is cheap....:)
  5. Mgaisbacher

    Mgaisbacher Supporting Member

    Oct 18, 2012
    Nashville, TN
    I know people who have flown with their bass in a seat on southwest. You just need to get the front row which has more space.
  6. In "The Evolving Bassist," Rufus Reid has a long description illustrated with photographs of him and his bass on a plane; this is from the 60's.
    He recommends that you rest the bass upside down, because the neck is the strongest component.
    I used a hard case and flew with my bass; it was in the luggage compartment. The handlers cracked the case but didn't damage the bass. You cannot put one of those cases in a seat.
    Whisper: Driving would be easier.
  7. JW_Manhattan

    JW_Manhattan Banned

    Feb 8, 2017

    You're going to L.A. Rent a bass!

    The absolute, enormous headache of flying a double bass would be ridiculous and EXPENSIVE. You will NOT be able to carry a Double Bass onto a jet plane - NO WAY. The airlines have issues with Violins!. They don't even like Bass Guitars! The stress of moving it around LAX would be absurd!!! A flight case makes the instrument twice as large. And the wheels usually suck.

    The best you could do is fly it in an approved flight case in and out of Air Cargo - hundreds of dollars - assuming you even have one (they are thousands of dollars). Then you need to pick it up and drive an hour+ to downtown L.A. Then pack it up and back to Air Cargo. You might be able to fly in and out of Burbank - preferable. But the same deal... Air Cargo.

    Southwest is probably your best option.

    But just RENT! Or, borrow. If you are auditioning at Colburn (Peter Lloyd), they might even be able to have a bass you can borrow.

    Check out L.A. Bass Works.

    Where are you coming from? Just Drive!
    lurk likes this.
  8. This is a bit more pessimistic than necessary. I've flown with my bass dozens of times. It's a hassle, but it's absolutely possible.

    These days, pretty much everybody checks their basses in hard shell flight cases. It may still be possible to put the bass in a seat, especially in first class, but that's risky and expensive. Every airline employee you pass from check-in to boarding will have the authority to refuse your seating request, even if the extra ticket is paid in full and authorized in advance by the airline. Even after you've boarded, the pilot still has the right to remove you and your bass from the plane. This has happened to people I know on several occasions. And without a flight case, you would have no other option than to cancel your trip. That's especially bad if you're on the returning flight.

    Air Cargo is probably overkill, and usually impossible without first becoming a "known shipper" with the airline. That's a lot of paperwork for a service which is generally more expensive than simply checking the instrument. The advantage to air cargo is that's usually less stressful. They don't make a big deal about weight and size restrictions, because they're used to shipping much larger items. And they're usually friendlier and easier to work with than a stressed out desk agent. But you a pay a premium for the service (several hundred dollars each way), and it's not always guaranteed to be delivered on the same flight you're taking, or even on the same day. Air Cargo is generally the last resort if I can't otherwise check the instrument, and that's only if I have contacts with "known shipper" status. This is partly why I arrive several hours early to check in with a bass; if I am refused, it will probably take another one or two hours to get myself out to the air cargo desk (usually located a 10-15 minute drive away from the departures desk) and fill out the shipping paperwork.

    If driving is an option, that will ALWAYS be the best choice. If not, get a hard shell flight case to check the instrument as luggage. Check the weight and dimensions carefully, and then look for ticket options. DO NOT buy tickets until you've read the airline's baggage policies on their website (search for "airline name" + "musical instruments" or "oversize baggage") and then confirmed those policies by phone. Your two big questions to answer will be "What are the weight and size restrictions?" and "What does it cost?". Once you've reserved your tickets, speak with an airline rep on the phone and ask them to put a note in your travel itinerary that you will have a double bass to be checked as baggage, along with a clarification of their own policies for the desk agent.

    The biggest issue I normally encounter is a stressed-out desk agent who doesn't know his company's policy regarding instruments. He's afraid of accepting something he shouldn't, or charging the wrong amount. You can avoid this if there's a clear note in your travel itinerary from another airline employee telling him what to do and what to charge. It also saves you from any sticker shock. Most airlines have a fixed price for checking double basses, but an unaware desk agent will try to charge for "oversize" and "overweight", which will often push the cost significantly higher than the company's fixed price.
    Winoman, damonsmith and Tom Lane like this.
  9. JW_Manhattan

    JW_Manhattan Banned

    Feb 8, 2017
    Pessimistic OR Realistic?

    Flying a Double Bass, is the U.S., is difficult - at best. The stress and effort is further bolstered by the Rules & Regulations, Unhelpful Airport Employees, and Inept Airlines Staff. Getting it into a taxi at curbside? C'mon!!!

    Why bother? If one was going to Bumphuck, IA - maybe, if the plane is large enough. But L.A? RENT, or borrow.

    Post videos and pics if you attempt this.

    p.s., Bring your bow. Unless you are coming from outside the U.S. and it's even possibly made from endangered or banned woods, ivory, etc. Border Guards will seize it.

  10. JeffKissell

    JeffKissell Supporting Member

    Nov 21, 2004
    Soquel, CA
    I think the best solution is to start by contacting the school that she's been invited to and see what her options are on site. They may have a nice bass to use or have a recommendation to rent a bass.

    Airlines do not let you buy a seat for double bass anymore, it will have to be checked... so the money spent on oversize fees could rent a pretty nice bass for an audition. Flying with a double bass for the first time is pretty stressful especially in this context and adding that stress to the audition seems like something to avoid if possible.

    I agree driving is best if at all possible (plus - road trip!!)
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2017
  11. JW_Manhattan

    JW_Manhattan Banned

    Feb 8, 2017
    No, Pretty much EVERYONE rents.
    Nope. Just pay as you would flying ANY large object
    You won't be able to "just check it it"
    NOT in Los Angeles. Separate facility FAR from the passenger terminals - which are night mare
  12. JeffKissell

    JeffKissell Supporting Member

    Nov 21, 2004
    Soquel, CA
    While this has been my experience too and I agree with you, in this case the OP has no experience (that we know of) traveling with a bass.

    I have to say my first time flying with a double bass wasn't easy or cheap.

    A couple of years ago I watched/experienced a high school orchestra fly out of Raleigh NC (this is a great airport to fly out of with musical instruments BTW.) It was pretty stressful to me just watching how some of the parents responded to this process. They all have invested a lot of time and money in the student and their instrument and when you add the travel stress and horror stories of extra fees and lost or broken luggage/instruments to this mix, it can get overwhelming pretty quick for the first timers.

  13. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Paul, as usual is correct. I just depends on the income of the family. If finances are not that big of a deal then just rent a case and send her bass with her in the cargo hold . It is best for her to have her bass if possible.
    If money is tight rent in LA or borrow from the school. Buying a seat is overkill.
  14. CSBBass


    Sep 21, 2013
    Peter Lloyd is a great guy (and a great teacher--best of luck to your daughter on her audition!) and would probably be very understanding of your predicament. Between him and his entire studio of bassists, I'm almost certain someone would be kind enough to let your daughter play their bass for her audition. Check with him first, and if you do need to rent, do that.

    While JW Manhattan's post is a little overly pessimistic, I agree that the stress and cost of flying with a bass for one audition isn't really worth it. If you can't drive there, borrowing is probably the easiest bet. Depending on getting the bass into a seat is a stretch--apparently some still do, and there are laws that allow for instruments to be taken on if they're in their own seat or small enough to be a carry-on, but dealing with unsure airline personnel, airline-specific policies, and any last minute surprises is, at least to me, more stress than it's worth.

    I completely understand her wanting to take her own bass for the audition--it's familiar, and playing on a new bass can be scary. I was in the same situation when I played my college auditions--to be honest, it's something she's going to need to do at some point, and it's better that she get comfortable with playing new basses sooner than later. I say borrow/rent an instrument--she will live, and I'm certain that Peter Lloyd and anyone else in that audition room will be able to tell the difference between someone whose playing is less than perfect because they're playing an unfamiliar instrument vs someone who just can't play well. If you're borrowing from someone at Colburn, ask for an hour or so with the bass and a practice room, to play some scales and arpeggios and her rep slowly on it and try to get familiar with the feel of the instrument sometime before she actually has to play the audition. Do take her bow--it's easy enough to fly with, and having at least that be something she's used to is a good idea.
    old spice and JeffKissell like this.
  15. You seem to be screaming about something which is, honestly, pretty mundane. You're exaggerating a lot of things. LAX Terminal 1 to Southwest Air Cargo is a 6 minute drive according to Google Maps. Getting a cab is easy if you know what you need (best option: minivan with folding seats). If you know the airline's policies, which aren't so crazy to understand, then you really can just check the thing in. I have done so many times that's it's really become routine. I know it's scary for first timers, but it's not that big of a deal.

    Since you seem so adamant about rental I can only guess that you never fly with your own bass. You haven't filled out your profile, so I have no idea what your experience or background looks like. Because the OP is asking about Colburn, I would assume they're taking this audition pretty seriously. I'm not sure what you mean when you say "EVERYONE", but it doesn't apply to most classical audition-takers I've ever met. If somebody is serious about winning a competitive audition, they will give themselves every conceivable advantage. Tiger Woods wouldn't show up to a tournament and ask to borrow somebody's clubs. I'll be damned if I'm going to put anything to chance in an audition.

    I will occasionally rent for gigs. Never for auditions or trials.

    You're not really addressing OP's question, either.

    wathaet likes this.
  16. I'll answer your questions directly.

    According to FAA regulations, they all should allow them at this point if it weighs less than 165 pounds. This is a relatively new regulation, and every airline has its own policies and prices.

    You should check the instrument as baggage in a hard-sided flight case, such as a Gage or Stevenson. The newer models (made in the last 10-15 years) tend to be lighter and easier to move. Buying a seat is pretty unusual these days, and probably not practical.

    This won't affect the price, but having layovers means the bass might be sitting around outside in bad weather for several hours. It also gives baggage handlers extra opportunities to drop or otherwise abuse the instrument. A direct flight is ideal, but not always possible.

    It's been a few years since I've flown in the US, but my understanding is that Southwest Airlines still has the best policies.

    From the Southwest Airlines webpage:
    • A musical instrument may be checked in substitution of one piece of the free Checked Baggage allowance for each Passenger at no charge on a one-item-for-one-bag basis.
    • Instruments that are transported in a soft-sided case or other packaging that is not strong enough to protect the instrument under normal baggage handling conditions will be subject to limited release, which means that Southwest assumes no liability for any damage sustained to the item during transport.
    • Carrier will not accept any musical instrument if the sum of the length, height, and width of the outside linear dimensions of the instrument (including case or covering) exceeds 150 inches, or the weight of the musical instrument exceeds 165 pounds (including case or covering).
    Please Note: Some musical instruments (e.g. double bass, cello, etc.) cannot be secured in a seat and must be transported as checked baggage. Oversize or overweight charges will apply if the instrument is between 62-150 inches in size (outside length plus width plus height including case or covering) or if the instrument weighs between 51-165 pounds (including case or covering).
    Elsewhere on their page, it's says they charge a flat $75 fee for oversize/overweight items as long as they're under 100 lbs. Most flight cases with the bass inside are usually between 90 and 100 pounds. They still legally have to accept double basses up to 165 pounds, but I'm not sure how their pricing system works in that case. I'd imagine it doesn't come up very often.

    $75 is a pretty reasonable price, and cheaper than buying an extra seat. I pay $400 each way when I fly on Lufthansa, for example. The fact that Southwest's rules and prices are stated clearly on the website sets them apart as a "bass-friendly" airline.

    Can anyone speak about Jet Blue? I've heard good things, and their website makes it sound like it's free to check a double bass as baggage:

    If the instrument is checked-in, it will count as part of the customers baggage allowance based on the fare that was purchased or applicable excess baggage fee(s) may apply. There is no oversize or overweight fee for musical instruments, as long as they do not exceed 150 linear inches, 165 pounds (75 kg) or the applicable size or weight restrictions for the aircraft. We recommend that musical instruments travel in a hard-sided case or container. JetBlue accepts no liability for damage to musical instruments as per our Contract of Carriage.​
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2017
  17. You can find more airline-specific information in this thread. There are written descriptions for most company policies (circa Jan. 2016), and my advice for getting the best results when speaking with airline agents:

  18. Tripletmom


    Nov 4, 2016
    Oh boy - quite a conversation started here, huh?

    Yes - our daughter is very nervous about using another bass. It's an important audition for her and Peter Lloyd's reputation precedes him. She's auditioned a few times here in SC (for States, etc) and she has sent in video auditions to Brevard and Tanglewood but she is very nervous. She needs to learn to get over this - but she's in 10th grade so I'm cutting her some slack.

    So - yesterday I checked the Contract of Carriage for Spirit (I know - they aren't the best airline - but they are cheap) - and also spoke with them. It states that an instrument that doesn't fit in the overhead bin - can be put in a seat as long as it doesn't cover an exit sign and can be securely fastened with a seatbelt or other means. Now - I have no idea if it would cover the exit sign - but I'm assuming it's possible? A seat from Atlanta to LA is only $150 roundtrip so a good option (if it works). Her instructor here in SC offered her a hard case to borrow so we will have that as a back-up (to check it in luggage). I think we will give it a whirl. Maybe we'll buy the bass a seat with more legroom....

    As she gets more experienced and confident - I'm sure she will be fine with borrowing a bass - but for now, I want to help her have a good audition. Yes - I think I deserve bassist mom of the week award, don't you think? :)
  19. ProspectBass


    Jan 19, 2013
    Brooklyn, NY
    How did this turn out?

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