I flew back to Milwaukee for a concert at the University of WI in Kenosha this weekend and I thought I’d tell you a little about packing, checking, and flying with my acoustic cello. My electric cello is small enough that I bring that on board as my carry on. Occasionally, I am able to buy an extra seat for the cello, but most of the time I use the flight case here.
Here is the process I use for flying with my cello:
1. I use the BAM shuttle case because it is a suspension case (meaning the padding keeps all parts of the cello suspended from the exterior for shock absorption whenever the cello might get jarred). The BAM case has molded ABS plastic which is the stuff our car bumpers are made from. So, this thing is a great case for protecting your cello. I have added padding to the back of the case for extra protection.
3. I then secure the bridge with tightly rolled up egg crate foam on either side to help hold the bridge in its position.
5. I then put humidifiers in the cello and cover it with my soft wipe cloth. I don’t think that is necessary, but I like to do it for some reason!
6. Close up the shuttle hard case and then put it inside the BAM Flight Cover case. This is a padded shell with tough canvas exterior designed to go all around the shuttle case. It fits really snugly; so, I have to work it into the cover case one end at a time laid out on the floor.
7. Once I have the hard case in the cover case. I zip it up and whoala- it's ready for flight! My cello is also stylin' with it's own "Road Warrior" id tag.
8. When I check in for my flight, I prepay the $25 dollars for my checking the bag online. I have found this keeps any extra charges for it’s size or it being a musical instrument to a minimum. The size of this case with the cover is right at the limit but it is not over weight. Most of the time, my skycap takes care of me. :-)
A note on TSA: they will almost always inspect the cello. It’s a large case with lots of weird looking things inside when they scan it- I don’t expect them not to want to take a peek!
It’s cool though; because TSA agents are responsible to put that case back the way it was. Mostly, they have an x-ray scanner machine and that might be all they do. If they go through more than that, they will swab the exterior and then the interior. You may request to be present when they inspect it, but you are not allowed to repack the cello after they get it. I have stopped worrying about watching them inspect it. The skycap takes it off at baggage check-in, and whatever they need to do after that is okay. They will pack it back nicely (and if they don’t, I will hunt them down for retribution. Wink!) I have also written a note to the TSA agent in the past asking them to please pack it carefully back and explaining some of the tricky things to be sure to do. That doesn’t seem to matter; so, I stopped a while back. I do still do this when flying internationally with why I’m flying into their country and where we are performing. That makes me more comfortable since international inspections are totally different, and sometimes much more involved than ours.
9. When I arrive at the destination city, I go to the baggage service counter and ask where they bring up the oversized items and tell them about my cello. I ask them to call down to the tar mack and ask them to bring it up on the elevator. The Atlanta airport is so large that they have a separate conveyor belt for the larger items and it is always waiting for you in this special section. Their system for the items is very organized and they don’t stray from it. Other than the Atlanta airport, I’ve only had one other airport that used an oversized conveyor belt at baggage claim. Most airport staff are really careful and bring my cello to me up on the elevator to hand deliver it!
A few things that I always fly with are: an extra bridge just in case the one I have cracks (never had it happen, but I’m prepared), extra strings, humidifiers, and more than one bow ( I do that all the time anyway to make sure I have enough hair to play with). Also, tip your skycaps well, be sure to smile to everyone that you deal with and especially-don't worry, be happy.
Safe Travels, my fellow Flying Cellos!