Poor Steve Lawson isn’t a very happy man right now, from his blog: “British Airways wrecked my bass :(“. The baggage handlers at one of the airports on his tour did a serious mischief to his much loved Modulus bass (I hope they can help Steve out for his US tour):
Here’s a Video of the damage [warning, this video contains scenes which might be distressing to bass owners who travel]:
I remember when Norm Stockton came over to the UK, I was taken back at the way he had packed his bass. It was in a soft-case, inside of a hard case. I thought that was excessive, but Norm flies quite a bit and that is the method he has settled on.
Aside from the risk of dropping or throwing, flying involves dramatic changes in air pressure and temperature, which can be stressful for a bass. I have heard people suggest loosening the strings to relieve tension on the neck. I don’t know of any bass manufacturers or distributors that do this, so I’ve not been inclined to. What I would recommend is checking your insurance carefully. Will it cover your bass and will it cover it adequately? Check for any conditions about how it should be shipped, and how a claim has to be made.
Before booking I suggest phoning the airline you intend to book with and ask what their policy is for travelling with guitars/basses. My last couple of trips to the US I managed to get my bass on as hand luggage (probably aided by my status as a frequent flyer). Even if the airline say that you can take the bass in to the cabin with you, you may still have to argue your case (no pun intended) when you get to the airport. My last flight the bass went through special handling, which meant I kept hold of it until I boarded the plane, and got it back separately from the normal luggage at the other end.
“You may bring musical instruments as checked baggage as long as they fit within the size and weight limitations of the airline you are taking.”
If you play an upright/accoustic you are very unlikely to be able to keep the bass out of the hold – just a little too big to get on as hand luggage! Some airlines don’t even allow basses at all, apparently. Also watch out for weight restrictions.
Another option – if you use a standard issue bass – is to hire one at your destination. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with that, I did it once and the bass I got was “well used” shall we say. Of course, if you play something exotic, or have a bass that’s a life long friend like Steve’s, then that isn’t going to work for you.
If you are flying with your bass for the first time, hopefully you’re not completely put of. Thousands of basses travel everyday and arrive safe and sound… Do share your experiences and wisdom…