New Airline Rules Could Relegate Instruments to Cargo



Don’t want your instrument in cargo? Start considering alternate means of transportation.

The recent tightening of security at airports across the nation has musicians worried that they may no longer be able to carry fragile instruments into the plane with them.

Airlines have long made their own ambiguous rules regarding passengers traveling with instruments. Sales representatives at Continental and US Airways say in-cabin transportation of musical instruments has not been prohibited as of yet, but instruments must meet carry-on restrictions (i.e. fit into the overhead compartments or underneath the seats). Since the events of September 11, new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations have specified only that passengers must be limited to one carry-on and one personal item such as a purse or briefcase, but dimensions and weight restrictions on those items have not been specified at the FAA level.

Legislation concerning airport security is currently moving through Congress, however, and that could further restrict what items a passenger may carry onto an airplane.

Heather Watts, Director of Government Affairs for the American Symphony Orchestra League, explains, “It’s a very complicated topic because this is one of those problems where it’s not just a legislative issue, it’s also a regulatory issue, so there are at least three layers of policy making that direct how carry-on baggage is restricted.” Congress has the ultimate authority, but the FAA also issues it’s own policy directives, especially in cases of national emergency. Beyond that, airlines are free to write their own rules. At this time, the FAA has issued no specific directives as to how instruments are to be handled. As a result, the treatment of instruments in-cabin differs greatly from airline to airline, from airport to airport, and even from flight to flight.

“We’re looking at a response to whatever new security directive will be issued,” Watts explains, “but we’re also trying to approach a broader problem of getting some continuity.” Though the situation has been problematic for some time now, tighter restrictions on paper that would prohibit the transportation of instruments outright would obviously be harmful to professional musicians.

To hopefully avoid that outcome, Watts says the industry can lobby the FAA to issue a more specific directive. “We want to cooperate with the airlines in this. We know that they have security concerns. They also have space concerns. What we’re asking at this point is to be able to participate in the conversation that will happen within the Department of Transportation. As long as we can be at the table, we can make sure that the concerns of the music industry are represented.

Watts also points out that musicians are not the only professionals concerned about the possibility of new restrictions. Other labor organizations are also lobbying to protect the transportation of work objects. She clarifies that the music industry isn’t seeking “an exception that only applies to us. We could never get one. What we’re looking for is some broad language that makes sure that there are some exceptions for work items given that those items have been properly screened and tagged.”

To lend strength to their cause, the industry is also preparing suggestions for a security plan. “So we’re not just saying we want an exception, we’re saying we’d like some exceptions given the following and here’s some advice on how you could screen instruments and that sort of thing,” Watts says.

So far, the Senate has passed a bill that makes no reference to carry-on items. Of the two House bills currently under debate, only the Democrats‘ version mentions carry-on items and falls in line with current FAA guidelines.

Meanwhile, Watts says, the music industry “is looking for opportunities to insert some language which would require the FAA to consult with affected parties when they start to draft these regulations.”

Realistically, Watts says, “we’re probably not going to be able to do anything to impact the security directives that are issued at a time of national emergency, but we’re hoping that whenever some long-term rule making happens, we’ll be involved in the process.”