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Flying with bass tips

Discussion in 'Orchestral Auditions [DB]' started by Matt Medlock, Aug 27, 2012.

  1. Luckily, I haven't had to fly with my bass the past few years, but now I'm a bit out of date on the regulations and tricks/tips on flying with my bass in my Stevenson trunk. Any information or suggestions on airlines would be appreciated.
  2. I flew my bass just a few days ago (I'm an incoming freshman at Peabody). I have a Gage Featherweight case. I checked my bass in at the San Francisco International Airport through United. It cost me one hundred dollars for the oversize. Otherwise, they seemed fine. I asked them to come get me if They needed to open the case. From the looks of it they didn't need to. However, when I arrived in Baltimore, I found the case to have a large dent and several cracks in it. Fortunately, the instrument was fine and I was able to file a claim since they forgot to have me sign a waiver.
  3. BRamos


    Mar 12, 2012
    I recommend SouthWest. $50 for overweight and oversize. After you reserve your ticket, call customer service to have them write a memo on your reservation that you are checking a double bass in a flight case. This does not guarantee anything, but it probably looks to the employee at the check-in counter like your instrument has been pre-approved to get checked. If you are going to use a lock on your case it has to be a TSA lock. United has a reputation for abusing checked instruments, although, different folks have had the opposite experience. Does the Stevenson case suspend your bass away from the sides on the case? Make sure your insurance company approves the kind of case you're using. Send them a description and clear it with them.
  4. paddensg


    Sep 19, 2010
    Southwest all the way. I've flown with them probably 16 times this year (8 round trips or something like that) and it's never really been a hassle, ALTHOUGH I will say that I also own a Stevenson and when it's packed and loaded, it's 12 lbs. over their 100 lb. limit. Most of the time, it's not an issue as they'll sort of look the other way (I always insist that it weighs in at 98 lbs and pray that they won't ask me to weigh it) but the last time I flew, they've were a little fussy and I had to take the soft case out of the flight case. This actually lead to my soft case getting peed on by some kind of animal in the cargo hold (I pray to God that this was a major one-in-a-million fluke), but Southwest was happy to cut me a check to buy a new case for list price right there on the spot at baggage claim. Talk about great customer service.

    As for tips and tricks, just make sure you act like you fly all the time, and ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS make sure that you watch the TSA agents inspect the case. If the gate agent says they don't do that, tell them that you've flown before and that the TSA agents call the process a "firearms inspection." If they're still confused, just maintain that you fly all the time and it's perfectly normal protocol, and don't be afraid to ask to talk to their supervisor.

    Also, don't be a dick.....that one kinda goes without saying, but staying calm and cool with hot-headed ticket agents who are determined to not let you fly will give you a leg up when you're talking to their boss.

    I'd also second BRamos's suggestion that you check with your insurance company about their policy on flying.

    Good luck!
  5. +1 on everything said! Southwest is the best deal no question. I've flown delta before and it was (at 100lbs) $300 each way.

    Don't be a dick (as said before) but hold your ground. Demand that you are there for everything. Be prepared for pics though, I have had workers (including TSA) try and take a picture with my instrument and what not. Be there for that as well!

  6. irbassist


    Jun 17, 2009
    I flew southwest for my college auditions
  7. Thanks for the advice. We ended up going with Airtran since it would have been twice as much on SW from my airport to Boston. But I did call baggage and talk to them and they put a note in my reservation. I don't know if you caught the Paul Katz interview on NPR the other day, but he had some good information on traveling with large instruments and especially cellos. Check out www.cellobello.com
  8. Basspfeifer


    Mar 31, 2009
    I flew JetBlue at JFK a few weeks ago. Went through the whole song and dance about insisting on being present for all security checks. They told me I basically had two choices oversized baggage check or gate check. So I asked what gate check was. What it boiled down to was rolling the bass to the crew security area. I broke the bass down so they could swab it. They let me put it all back together, and then I rolled it to the gate. When I boarded,I rolled it down the ramp to the point just before you step on the plane and two guys were there to take it from me and bring it down to be loaded on the plane. I didn't have to pay on extra cent to fly with the bass!! It was exactly how people check their strollers for babies. This may have been a fluke but I would say ask for a gate check next time.
  9. Yayyemen


    Nov 17, 2010
    I think wed all have a better time if we just reclassified it as a stroller. I move to change the domain to TalkStroller
    Kkarpan likes this.
  10. I fly with the bass in baggage in a Kolstein trunk about 4 or 5 times a year. I have paid all the way from $450 one way on United to $0 on the old Northwest. (the gate check lady had attended my concert the evening before and liked it)

    The issue of the trunk weighing in at 104-110 almost always comes up since 9/11. Supervisors are called, concert clothes softcase, and endpin come out. The trunk now weighs in at 102 lbs. Somehow I always get it there, but that may be about to get a lot easier.

    On January 3rd,2012 Congress passed and the President signed a transportation bill in which the upper weight & size limits for a musical instrument properly packed in a case designed to be used as checked baggage is now 165 lbs. & 150 linear inches!
    See sec 403 on pages 74 &75 of the bill, H.R. 658.
    It's the bass player rule. Finally.

    I carried the pages of the legislation pertaining to this rule with me and last time I flew Southwest they appreciated knowing about it and let me go for $50.

    The letter I got with the law suggests that it will take some time for this to ripple through the airline industry, but it should eventually get into each carrier's baggage rules.
  11. While we all still have to occasionally fight it out with specific airlines when flying with our instruments (until the new weight restrictions go into effect) one important thing I recently discovered was contact numbers for the TSA Customer Support Managers at individual airports.

    Even though it's always a relief when the airline accepts the bass without a fuss, you still often have to worry about what will happen to the bass during TSA inspection--at least, for the airports where they do that behind closed doors. I've heard several horror stories about the TSA repacking a bass terribly, leaving latches or straps undone, and other issues that have caused damage.

    If you call the national TSA number (1-866-289-9673) and select option #5, you can ask to get the name and contact number of the TSA customer support manager at your airport. I've done this before, and told the manager of my situation, and why it's very important that I watch while they inspect the flight trunk. I was very impressed when they went to extra efforts to work out the logistics to make this happen, and it has made going to the airport a much less stressful ordeal. I've done the same thing for the return flights, and so far, I've had good luck (as long as you call a few days ahead so they have time to figure things out.)

    And another perk is that when the TSA manager walks up to the airline counter with you and explains to the desk agent that you've made special arrangements for inspection, they sometimes are so focused on that they forget to charge you oversize fees :bassist:

    Interested to hear if anyone else has had luck with this . . .

  12. My recent flight on Airtran was probably the most pleasant I've ever had. Although the cost was $75 each way for the bass, they were very respectful and helpful. I never got the feeling as I often had they just wanted to be rid of me (which often got my bass on the plane since I wouldn't just go away. I asked to speak with the head baggage handler and also asked to be there when the TSA inspection occurred. When I was told I wouldn't be able to be there for the inspection I asked to speak with the head of the TSA for the airport. He understood my problem and explained how the inspection would happen and if the instrument needed to be removed from the trunk they would call me.
  13. I have not tried that but I do hope that it works!

    Here is another horror story...

    I have flown with my bass more times than I care to keep track and have had my share of troubles with airlines but never with TSA, until…last March.

    On my way back from a Festival in the Dominican Republic I was puzzled when the airline people said that there was no need for inspection by TSA (why even keep a TSA crew in a foreign airport then?). As strange as it seemed I didn’t think much of it.

    Once I landed in Miami and had to re-check my luggage after customs – to my surprise - TSA said the same thing and had me put the bass through the x-ray machine myself and off it went. As I had two more flights before landing home I thought most of the agony was over.

    Later that day at my destination baggage claim area I expected for someone to bring the bass through a side door, where they usually bring over-sized equipment. For my surprise and horror I saw my bass case coming out of the conveyer belt and luckily I was quick enough to get to it before it landed on its head.

    The flight case – a carbon fiber Accord case – was held semi-shut with TSA adhesive tape. There was a three-inch gap between the two halves of the case and the soft case straps were hanging off through the gap.

    The first thing I did was to get my cell phone and record the crime scene and then look for an American Airlines agent. Since it was almost midnight, nobody was present for me to file a formal complaint with. The TSA people were gone and the airline agent was fast to flee the scene once she saw the TSA tape all over the bass.

    By some kind of a miracle my instrument was undamaged but the flight case did not have the same luck. All eight locks had been ripped off the body of the case and for that reason they had to keep it together with tape.

    My flight case did not have the “TSA approved” locks as it was purchased prior to all this non-sense. I was upset with the fact that they declined to inspect my instrument in two different occasions and also did not bother to page me at any of the two airports where all this absurdity took place.

    So, I sent an angry letter to the TSA Customer Support center along with a DVD of the video I took at the airport. Within three days they called me and after much arguing and explaining they agreed to pay for the damages.

    Since then I have avoided this drama as much as I can. I even bought a removable-neck flight case and am in the process of having my main bass “operated” on to see if life becomes any easier.

    Thanks for the invaluable tip Jeremy! You are right, the more we know how to navigate the grey area that is flying with a bass the better our chances of receiving some kind of reasonable treatment at airports as we patiently wait for the long overdue implementation of the new weight restrictions.

    Cheers all and keep them (basses) safe!

    TalHaz likes this.
  14. bassist6


    May 20, 2007
    Carlsbad, CA
    Hi Jeremy,

    I flew my son's (Noah) bass (for the first time) on Southwest from San Diego to Rochester, NY (for the ISB) in June 2013. (Noah and mom flew on a different airline.) I followed your tips, and everything worked out beautifully.

    At both airports, I got the unintentional "perk" of the counter agents not realizing that they hadn't charged me for any fee for the bass! In San Diego, I wasn't allowed in the area where they do the inspection, but the TSA manager looked around the airport until he found me at a restaurant - He wanted to show me his pictures of how the bass was re-packed with all of the straps in order. In Rochester, the TSA manager took me "in back" while I watched the inspection/re-packing.

    Overall, I couldn't have asked for a better experience, and kudos to TSA and Southwest for their accomodations to us.

    Also, thanks to Jeremy for posting his experience, relevant TSA phone number, etc. It was a huge help!

  15. philvanv

    philvanv Gerbil Turds, Kitsap County Turd Core

    Jul 2, 2012
    and at the bottom it says thank you, and now you can shag off
    I've had no problems with Alaska and Delta. I think I paid $35.00 on both airlines. I did get my case scuffed, no worries cause that's what the case is for..
  16. Wabass


    May 28, 2011
  17. BMason


    Oct 1, 2006
    Houston, TX
    Always be considerate at the counter and know the airline's policies. Something that's very important to know is that you have every right to accompany the TSA rep to the inspection room and you can watch the whole inspection and tell them how to re-pack it, etc. A nicer agent will allow you to repack it while they watch (it's actually your right, but from my experience, that's not well-known). If the bass is checked under these conditions, it's highly unlikely that it will be damaged assuming your case is in decent shape.
  18. BRamos


    Mar 12, 2012
    Brandon, do you fly SouthWest out of Hobby? My son and I weren't permitted to go with the bass for the inspection last February after his Shepherd School audition. Maybe we're just wimps and need to push a little harder next time.
  19. I've also been declined access at Hobby. The TSA screening room is underground and way past the restricted zones. Technically I think they still have to let you come with, but sometimes it just isn't worth the bother.
  20. BMason


    Oct 1, 2006
    Houston, TX
    I've only taken a bass to Hobby once, but the guy that came to take it away assured me that they know the drill before I had the chance to ask. I didn't go with it, but there must be at least a couple of basses a day flying out of that airport, so I think it's safe.

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