This article is about how the airline industry makes it difficult for musicians flying with their musical instruments:

Passenger’s R3m violin cabin debacle sees cabin rules changed

2016-02-09 19:00 – Sam Smith

Cape Town – Musicians really are some of the most frequent fliers on the earth. Whether they are touring with their bands, orchestras or ensembles – mobility is essential and flying is often their only option.

One would really think that all airlines would be accommodating – and let their instruments/livelihood fly in the cabin.  

Recently, Norwegian Air denied professional violinist – Ari Vilhjalmsson from the Helsinki Philharmonic – to carry his €200 000 (about R3.6m at R18.03/€) violin in the cabin, even though he has been allowed to carry it as hand luggage in the past, reported The Strad

Vilhjalmsson was forced to miss his flight and book another as he would not let his valuable instrument out of sight, never mind tossed about in the hold. 

The violinist quickly took to Facebook and complained about the incident. 

After some consideration, Norwegian Air responded to the situation and promised to review its instrument policy. It has recently arrived at the following decision: 

‘We understand that sometimes you’ll want to bring your instrument with you on board.”

Instrumentalists may bring a small instrument on board – as long as it does not exceed the hand baggage allowance for your fare type, Norwegian explains.

“If you’re travelling with a larger instrument, such as a violin or viola, then you can bring this instead of a carry-on bag. The instrument can be slightly bigger than a regular carry-on bag, but must not exceed 90 x 35 x 20 cm and the carry-on weight limit for your fare type.”

If you have an instrument bigger than 90 x 350 x 20 like a guitar or cello – and you would like it to travel in the cabin – you must book an extra seat. The booking for both you and your instrument has to be made through our Contact Centre at least 48 hours before departure.’

Double basses may also be checked into the hold providing notice of at least 48 hours is given. Some bass players prefer to not travel with their monstrous instruments and will rather source an instrument at their destination. 

To musicians, their instruments are their livelihood – it is their means to a salary and any unnecessary damage can cost a fortune. 

There are real expensive risks involved

String instruments like the violin,viola, cello and double bass are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions – hot or cold and are simply just a stress to travel with.

If the air pressure is to extreme, a string instrument can come undone at the seams, crack or snap a string, even if the musician has prepared it for the flight. This can also happen if it is not handled with care by the airline. To sum it up – the cargo-hold is the death zone for violins, violas and cellos.

Brass instruments are stronger and provided they are in a hard case and firmly secured, can be put into the hold. 

The only option string players have is to take their instruments as hand luggage and negotiate with other passengers to allow their 1m cases some space in the overhead.

If you are travelling with a musical instrument – you may want to know some of these pro tips to preparing your string instrument for a flight and which airlines allow you to carry musical instruments as hand luggage. 

Check this out – 5 Pro tips for flying with a musical instrument from Norwegian 

1. Always travel with your instrument in a hard case like Bam and strap it down securely so that it does not move around inside. 

2. Label your instrument with your full name, surname, address and phone number. It is also a good idea to keep a detailed photograph of your instrument in case it ever gets lost or stolen. It will help you pinpoint your exact one.

3. Always check that your insurance policy for your is valid and up to date, especially if it is very expensive. 

4. Loosen the pegs of your violin and bow to prevent it from snapping. It is also highly advisable to keep a humidifier in your case

5. Always travel with spare strings in case one snaps. 

5 airlines that make provision for musical instruments: 

South African Airways (SAA)

The total of the three outside dimensions (L plus B plus H) of the instrument must not exceed 115cms.

When a carrying case is used, the dimensions of the carrying case are to be considered. If the instrument or the case has an irregular shape, the largest dimension must be taken to arrive at the overall total.

The shape and size should fit under the seat in front of the passenger or in the overhead lockers. The weight of the instrument inclusive of the carrying case must not exceed 8kgs.

kulula – The low-budget airline explains that they understand that musical instruments require special handling. If you are travelling with one you are advised to call their contact centre 0861 585852 

If you are travelling with a cello or another large instrument – you are required to book a seat for your instrument at the charge equal to an adult fare. 

Emirates – If you are flying with Emirates, musical instruments may be carried in three different ways: As normal checked in baggage, as normal cabin baggage or as cabin baggage on an unoccupied seat in the passenger cabin if the instrument is within the usual size and weight limits for carry-on items or on a paid seat for larger instruments. 

British Airways – Musical instruments can be taken on board as part of your hand luggage but not in addition to it – provided they fit the allowance. 

Large instruments may be carried as part of your free checked baggage or as part of an additional purchase allowance. If your instrument is larger than the standard checked baggage limits – up to 45kg and 190cm x 75xm and 65cm – you will be allowed to check it in, as long as you notify the airline 24 hours before your flights. 

Virgin Atlantic – Virgin Atlantic says that musicians travelling with their instruments should bear in mind that the size of the instrument may not fit in the hand baggage size requirements.

If it is over the limit you will need to check it in and pay an additional fee. When items need to be checked in, you are required to keep it with you until you reach the departure gate, where it will be fetched from you and stored in the hold. 

Travellers also have the option of purchasing an extra seat for the instrument – provided they do not way more than 75kg and do not exceed more than 30cm from the top of the seat.

Share your travel experiences with us at email You can also join us on our FacebookTwitter or Instagram accounts.

Note from Great Musical Instruments: The Airline industry should be more accommodating to musicians flying with their musical instruments – offer special discounts, etc.

We welcome your visit to: for affordable quality and wide selection of musical instruments.