Historically, it has always been tough for musicians/ DJ’s to travel. Equipment is usually expensive and delicate, and airplane cargo handlers aren’t always sensitive to that.
So can you take DJ equipment on a plane?
Yes, you can- either as carry on or check-in luggage. You should still check with your airline during the time of booking whether your particular piece of equipment fulfills their size requirements for carry on luggage. If nothing else- you can always get the equipment checked in or, as a last resort buy an extra seat for your gear, if you can afford to.
Airline regulations for musicians
The reason for most of the apprehensions in the DJ and wider music community is because until the FAA ruling(sec 203) was established in 2015, airlines were left to do as they saw fit.
The ruling established a national policy regarding musical instruments has carry on and checked baggage on US air Carriers flying domestically and internationally
According to a recent FAA ruling, airlines must accommodate musical instruments as carry on items as long as there is room available in the overhead bin or under seat area at the time of boarding and the instrument is put in a case to avoid injury to other passengers. Otherwise, the instrument must go in the cargo area.
Now, whether DJ equipment qualifies as a musical instrument or electronic, is a matter of interpretation really- but it’s all the same from the point of a travelling DJ- it won’t be an issue in 99.99% cases.
Policies followed by major US airlines
Airlines for America made a handy resource that collates the policies of major US airlines regarding carrying musical instruments on flights.
- Alaska Airlines:
- Standard carry on policy applies and large musical instruments may be placed as cabin seat baggage.
- American Airlines:
- allows musical instruments to be carried on board as the one piece of carry on luggage that is allowable. there is no size restriction on the instrument as long as it is stowable in the overhead Bin.
- Also allows purchase of an extra seat for transporting DJ gear on the flight itself
- Hawaiian Airlines: standard checked in policy applies for DJ gere that you intend to carry as cabin luggage, and also allows purchase of an extra seat for gear/ fragile luggage.
- Southwest Airlines: allows musical instruments as check in luggage as long as they can be safely stowed, regardless of size. also allows purchase of extra seats.
- Jet Blue Airways: allow musical instruments as cabin luggage or Standard check in luggage
- United Airlines: allow musical instruments as cabin luggage, but require that fragile equipment is placed in a hard case before being checked in. Have a few restrictions on carry on luggage- guitar, upright basses, for instance, are not acceptable for cabin seat baggage.
Most DJ Friendly Airlines
According to International Federation Of Musicians, the best airlines for musicians/DJ’s are:
- Adria Airways
- Air Canada
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Brussels Airlines
- EI AI
- Jet Blue
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
How to ensure your equipment stays safe on planes
#1 Board as early as possible
Even if your airline allows you to bring your DJ gear on board, if you board towards the end, you may find that there isn’t adequate space left to stow it in the overhead bin. I was quite surprised to know this- airline staff isn’t going to make space for your stuff either.
They allow passengers to stow their carry on luggage on a first come first serve basis. This is why you should try and board as early as possible.
Another thing I like to do when I’m carrying pretty much anything that’s valuable on flights is to stow it on the overhead bin in the aisle across from me. This why, I can keep an eye on it whenever someone opens the bin and check if it’s being mis-handled by anyone.
#2 Get your gear insured
This is something that you should consider getting done ASAP if you’re a mobile DJ who travels around a lot.
In the event that the airline loses your checked-in DJ equipment, you may or may not be able to claim liability. Some airlines don’t allow you to claim liability at all on domestic trips.
On international trips though, they are prohibited by treaty from doing this and have to dish out some money as damage recovery costs. The exact amount is basis a fixed recovery cost and variable Special Drawing Rights(SDR’s)- an international currency surrogate that is floated daily.
Without getting into the details, you can expect to get about $4500-5000 in damages, which may or may not cover all your gear.
Keep in mind that this is just for international flights though, and if you usually only perform domestic gigs, it probably is a good idea to get your DJ equipment insured.
#3 Get some protection for your DJ equipment
If you’re carrying a controller onboard, consider getting a decksaver cover from Amazon. It’s a polycarbonate cover that will safeguard your deck from spills and dust. This comes in handy even when you’re at home and not using the controller, to keep it clean and spot free.
Additionally, you should be getting a controller carry on bag, which are specifically made for travel. I really liked this one for micro DJ controllers on Amazon
If you’re carrying bigger equipment with you, such as PA speakers, you should get a hard case for it. Reason being you’ll probably have to check it in, and given the indiscriminately rough way cargo handlers toss luggage around, you’ll need it. Ask if you can get some ‘Fragile’ stickers to put on top of the case(or get some from home anyway) so that anyone who handles it, does so accordingly.
Along with the hard case, do put in some soft cushioning on the inside of the case to keep the equipment secure. Putting some thick layers of bubble wrap or styrofoam inside, is a good idea.
Also- request that your equipment goes in the temperature controlled section of the cargo where pets are placed.
#4 Consider booking an extra seat for your equipment
But do notify the airline representatives about it as they may still not allow you to. Reason being that if it blocks view of other passengers of safety guides- exit signs, fasten seat belt sign, etc- that’s a safety hazard.
Secondly, not all airlines allow this practice, so you should double check.
In the list of airline policies I laid out at the start of the article, I did mention a few that allow extra seat booking for musical equipment. Go check it out if you want a quick reference.
Can you be stopped for random checking?
Yes, absolutely. The thing is that, DJ’s carrying large equipment tend to stand out and get called for more ‘random checks’ than others. I read a few accounts online of DJ’s being asked to open up their gear boxes and show their equipment for a bit of inspection, but that’s about it.
In case of a sour experience
Firstly, airlines make their policies available online—you should print it out and carry a copy. The issue is that sometimes, frontline staff aren’t aware of the policies to the T and you may find yourself getting into an argument with them. The best way to show them you’re right is by showing the print out of the airline’s policy on the matter.
If, however, you’re really unlucky and your gear gets misplaced/ isn’t allowed to be checked in, you should file a formal complaint with the airline. DoT requires airlines to acknowledge within 30 days and send a substantive response within 60 days.
Next, you should also submit a copy of your complaint to the DoT here. They monitor such complaints and may take action against the airline as well.
TSA Tips for Flying with Musical Instruments
DOT Flying with Musical Instruments: