I have flown with instruments around the world, spending as much as 30 days per year in actual hours in the air. I've had the full range of experiences, both good and disastrous, with the airlines. Generally, I have found that it is much better to maintain a polite and friendly attitude with airline people. The information and advice on this page may ease your travel experiences with guitars. It is not meant to scare you, just prepare you! Of course, this information is based on my own experiences only, and anything can happen…these tips shouldn't be interpreted as a guarantee against mishaps - just some advice from one traveling musician to another! top
It is nearly impossible to get a guitar in a hard case into the cabin with you these days. 25 years of flying with my precious babies has been an exercise in "letting go" for the duration of the flight.
Standard-issue black hard-shell guitar cases can be checked in baggage with the preparation described below, but will only last for about 20 flights on average. One must be prepared for severe drops on to hard surfaces, as well as other heavy items being dropped onto your guitar. Therefore, if you fly often with your instrument, it is best to invest in a professional-grade guitar case. There are several available; I have been using the extra heavy-duty Calton cases. There are also many "Anvil" type flight cases available, and SKB cases are another alternative.
Regardless of what kind of case you have, the latches and other hardware can be popped open or broken off easily, so every flight I always put a layer of duct tape over each latch. The other common danger point is where the headstock joins the neck. The wood is weakest there naturally due to the grain, and every guitar case I have seen has poor design in this area, just an open space with all the weight resting right on that weak point. As a result, a broken headstock can happen just from the guitar falling over after being leaned against a wall vertically. So, I always put lots of foam rubber or other padding all around the headstock, to cushion any blow.
For all guitars in general, and especially for resonator guitars, it is important to have NO CONTACT between the lid of the case and the bridge area or resonator area, in case of a blow to the arch of the case. To ensure an air space between the center of the case lid and the guitar bridge or resonator, I often will put a 2" square foam strip around the perimeter of the guitar top, thus gently forcing it - on the outer 2" edge of the guitar top only - against the back of the case. I never loosen my strings on resonator guitars, because I don't like to de-stabilize the resonators. Nationals are so stable that I rarely even check the tuning after a flight. I do loosen the strings on wood guitars, simply to minimize any damage if something does happen.
Best of luck and safe travels,