If you've been on the receiving end of an airline's arbitrary enforcement of the Department of Transportation's rules regarding musical instruments, today's announcement from the International Federation of Musicians, via the ever-vigilant Violin Channel's website, is sure to be much welcome news!
"The International Federation of Musicians has today published a 3-tiered rating system – based on how accommodating airlines’ cabin policies are for musicians traveling with instruments.
The study found that at present only 11 airlines globally have set policies that state that they accept all musical instruments on board that fit within the overhead compartments or under a seat."
You can read the entire article at The Violin Channel, here.
While the IFM's ratings do not pertain to checked baggage, it does represent a solid beginning in identifying the airlines that are the friendliest—or potentially the most hostile—towards musicians and sound engineers.
To see how a particular airline rates, here's a direct link to the International Federation of Musicians ratings page.
However, as with everything else involving air travel, there is a disclaimer on the IFM's website that includes this phrase:
"The information that we provide about the airlines’ policies re. musical instruments strictly reflects the information that was available on the airlines’ websites at the time these data were last updated on the FIM website"
Consequently, the information is not anecdotal, but simply reiterates what each airline has posted online regarding instruments vs normal carry-on restrictions. Again, from the IFM's website:
"• Airlines complying with the current US FAA regulation (entered into force in 2015) are rated as GREEN (best grade). These companies accept musical instruments in the cabin, provided they fit in the overhead compartments or under a seat, without specific size limitations.
• Airlines that apply the same size limitations to musical instruments as to regular cabin luggage are rated as RED (lowest grade).
• Airlines that do not comply with the current US FAA regulation but apply size limitations that are more favourable than those applying to regular cabin luggage are rated as AMBER."
The kicker, of course, is the last line. Again, from the IFM's site:
"Please note: irrespective of the airline’s applicable policy, an instrument may only be accepted in the cabin if there is enough space available at the time of boarding (either in the overhead lockers or under the seat in front of you). Be first in line if you want to maximise your chances to keep your instrument with you."
Here is where a musician has little recourse, ultimately: It's easy for someone at the gate to simply decide there is not enough space in the cabin based on, say, a full flight.
How many of us have seen passengers carry on large suitcases or duffle bags that clearly do not fit airline baggage requirements, while someone with a legally compliant wind- or string-instrument case is told to hand over their instrument because "we don't have room"?
Nonetheless, I applaud the International Federation of Musicians for creating this list and I hope that it has the effect of shaming the amber- and red-rated airlines into accommodating the tools of the trade for working musicians, as well as educating the staff in both the Federal guidelines and a cultural awareness of our precious cargo.