Gate Checking Your Large Musical Instrument (or Case)
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At the airports, the most erratic and uncoordinated answers came from the ticket agents’the agents who check your bags at the front of the airport. Their answers ranged from, “no” to “I don’t know” to “I guess so” and they often claimed that the FAA or TSA would not allow a large musical instrument to be taken through the airport (which my research shows to be incorrect). The gate agents—those agents who scan your boarding pass as you board the aircraft—seemed much more accommodating. Their responses ranged from, “If it can fit down the jetway ladder,” to “Sure, we do that.” The only consistency I received was from TSA agents. The TSA agents I spoke with didn’t have any problem with searching large instruments at the passenger screening area. In fact, they have to do this when people buy a seat for their large instrument anyway.
In order to confirm or refute the ticket agents’ claims that the FAA and TSA restrict the size of baggage a passenger can carry to the gate, I contacted both agencies by phone. The representative at the TSA Contact Center (866-289-9673) stated that the TSA’s only concern is screening and they do not make policy concerning size or weight of baggage moving through the airport. Their only restriction with regard to the passenger screening procedure was that “you may carry one musical instrument in addition to one carry-on and one personal item through the screening checkpoint.” The representative stated that a TSA agent will have to search the item no matter if it gets to the aircraft via passenger screening or via the conveyor belts with the other check baggage; therefore, it really doesn’t matter to them which route it takes.
I first contacted the FAA office for New England (you can find your regional office by clicking here). I eventually spoke with a representative from the FAA Public Affairs Office in New York City who stated that the FAA does not make policy or restrictions on the size of items passengers can carry through an airport. The FAA deals with issues onboard an aircraft via their Advisory Circular, which is an advisory periodical made available to the airlines companies. Armed with this information from the TSA and FAA, I contacted the seven major airline carriers in the US.
It appears that many airline companies have dispensed with a dedicated customer service phone number and only offer an email or snail mail address. Click here to see the letter that I send to them. In some cases it seemed like they sent out a form-response without completely reading my letter. You can judge for yourself the value of their customer service and accommodation by proceeding to the next page to see what their responses were.
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