Musicians Have Special Rights On A Plane – But Only If They Prepare Properly To Exercise Them

American Airlines forced a musician to gate check his guitar, not allowing him to bring it on board his flight. They promptly lost the guitar.

Long post ‼️

A week and a half ago (Sunday Aug. 21st 2022) I boarded my flight with @americanair to NY…. Usually I board the plane with my guitar… they may give me a lil push back…————————————#thisisamerica #findaariksguitar #explorepage #fyp #americanairlinessucks pic.twitter.com/mHnvzwYost

— Aarik Duncan (@Duncanman10) August 31, 2022

I got back to RDU airport Tuesday (8.23.2022) and still no guitar. Before i left they showed me a guitar with my tag number on it that didn’t belong to me…… They even called me back up to RDU airport to show me another (different) guitar that wasn’t mine so I then said…

— Aarik Duncan (@Duncanman10) August 31, 2022

“so are you guys just grabbing random guitars and putting my tag number on them???” “How many guitars do y’all have back there???” “God only knows who’s missing a guitar and just didn’t do anything about it”. It is now Wednesday 8.31.2022 and I’ve yet to see my baby…

— Aarik Duncan (@Duncanman10) August 31, 2022

Everyone – musician and airline alike – has known not to check a guitar at least since Sons of Maxwell released a song about their incident on United Airlines.

Musicians do have rights, but they also have the responsibility to be prepared to exercise those rights. Buy an extra seat for the instrument, or ensure you’re boarding early enough that there’s overhead bin space left for your instrument.

Since 2015 the Department of Transportation has required airlines to allow small instruments to be taken on board as carry on bags. The federal rule is even specific to guitars,

This rule requires that carriers must allow a passenger to carry into the cabin and stow a small musical instrument, such a violin or a guitar, in a suitable baggage compartment, such as the overhead bin or under the seats in accordance with FAA safety regulations.

However airlines aren’t required to bump items that other passengers have placed in an overhead bin to accommodate an instrument. DOT even specifically advises passengers to ensure that they board early, including paying a fee to do so, in order to secure overhead bin space for their instruments. If there is no space then the airline doesn’t have to accommodate the item.

Sometimes airlines do violate this rule. For instance last summer a United Express flight attendant declared she didn’t have to follow up.

More frequently – indeed, one of the most common complaints I see in social media across airlines – gate agents instruct passengers to check bags claiming overhead bins are full when plenty of space remains in the bins. They do not want passengers spending time hunting and searching for bin space, or taking time at the last moment to gate check bags, potentially delaying the flight by a few minutes (and reflecting poorly on them).

So if there’s overhead space available and a gate agent refused to allow use of it, I’d document that and file a consumer complaint with DOT because the airline would seem to be in violation of a federal rule (even if well-intentioned or inadvertently). But putting oneself in a position where bins might be full is inadvisable at best.

This passenger felt they should be able to place their instrument in the plane’s closet but closets fill up too and indeed many American Airlines domestic aircraft do not even have closets.

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