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Flying with US Airline

The US Department of Transport has specific rules for how an air carrier must treat you when you fly with your musical instrument, either as carry-on or checked baggage.

Last updated: 23 January 2024

There are more specific legal details in Section 403 of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorisation Act of 2012, which is available to read in full on the US Department of Transportation’s website.

Bringing a small musical instrument onto the plane

You won’t have to pay extra to bring your instrument on as cabin baggage if it meets the following requirements:

  • The instrument can be stowed safely in a baggage compartment, or under your seat, and
  • There is space for your instrument to be stowed safely at the time that you board.

Space for instruments can be allocated on a first come first served basis, so we recommend taking any early or priority boarding options where possible.

It’s worth noting that although you will not have to pay extra for having a musical instrument, you will still have to pay any standard fees that the air carrier would usually charge for similar carry-on baggage.

Bringing a large musical instrument onto the plane

For larger items that do not fit into the stowage areas, an additional seat must be purchased or the instrument travels as cargo.

You’re also advised to make it clear when you book your tickets that you’re planning to travel with a large instrument.

To be permitted in the cabin, the instrument must also:

  • Be contained in a case or covered in a way that will prevent it from injuring other passengers
  • Weigh less than 75KG, including its case or covering – or meet the aircrafts weight restrictions if these are different
  • Be able to be stowed safely, in accordance to FAA requirements for carry-on baggage
  • Not contain any objects which aren’t permitted to be carried in an aircraft cabin according to US law either in the instrument itself or in the case

The instrument must not be stowed in a way that means other passengers can’t see the onboard safety signs. If this happens the airline must work with you to find a suitable solution.

Travelling with a large musical instrument as checked baggage

If your instrument can’t be carried in the cabin, you can bring it as checked baggage, if:

  • The total length, width and height of the instrument, including the case, is 150 inches or smaller – or it meets the size restrictions of the aircraft if they are different
  • The instrument does not weigh more than 165 pounds – or it meets the weight restrictions of the aircraft if they are different
  • The instrument meets the FAA requirements for cargo

If your instrument is too large you may be charged an oversize fee, in line with what the airline would charge for regular oversize checked baggage.

View further information from the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), including links to all US airline policies and onward information regarding flying with instruments in Canada.