Dear Sir or Madam:

I am doing research for an article that I am writing. The article is to advise professional traveling musicians of what they can expect from the airline company they are considering using. I would like to know your airline’s official policy on gate-checking musical instruments, specifically, instruments that are small enough for one person to easily carry but too large to be carried into the passenger cabin and therefore must ultimately be checked as luggage (e.g., bass trombones - approx. 38”x14”x13” 45 lbs, tubas - approx. 40”x30”x20” 17 lbs).

Due to the fact that musicians’ instruments not only have high sentimental and monetary value but are obviously an indispensable means to their livelihood, musicians always feel uneasy releasing their instrument into the care of a maze of conveyor belts and TSA agents who may be unfamiliar with how to repack a particular instrument after inspection. No matter how reassuring a ticket agent is about the safety of the conveyor system and baggage handlers, experience is a harsh teacher and ticket agents can make no guarantees.

In order to minimize the opportunities for damage, ticket agents have sometimes, if a musician asks, allowed them to take their instrument to the gate to be tagged and checked to its final destination. This allows the musician to, at least, ensure the safe transport of their instrument to the aircraft as well as the safe inspection and repacking of their instrument by TSA agents at passenger screening, making for a happier and more at ease passenger.

In recent months however, there has been great inconsistency regarding ticket agents allowing professional musicians to gate-check their instrument—even when traveling on different days out of the same terminal, gate and flight! I have already questioned several check-in ticket agents, gate agents and customer service counter representatives and have received answers from “No” (even before I finished asking the question) to “I don’t know” to “Sure. We’ve done that—we can do that for you.” The latter answer seems to only come consistently from gate agents, which doesn’t help when the ticket agent before security has already forced one to part with his or her instrument.

I have checked with the TSA (866-289-9673) which reported that it doesn’t matter to the them whether they hand search instruments behind the check-in counter or at the passenger screening area—that their job is “screening passengers and bags for safety and [they] have no restriction on the size of bags going through the passenger screening area.”
I have also checked with the FAA which stated that the FAA does not regulate such procedures.

Please advise me of any restrictions your airline has on gate checking a musical instrument in the manner I have described. If no restrictions exist, please advise me on how to inform an airline ticket agent of this fact.

Thank you for you time and attention.

Kenneth Amis
Amis Musical Circle