[Post authored by FMC Communications Intern Olivia Brown]
When musicians travel with instruments, they often have to gamble with the safety of their most prized possessions. While some airlines are more understanding and allow musicians to purchase extra seats so that they can carry their instruments onboard instead of stowing them with other luggage in the cargo hold, many artists are forced to check their gear — too frequently resulting in damage. And size and weight requirements can be unpredictable.
However, this unfair practice is finally about to change. After more than a decade of lobbying from the American Federation of Musicians and others, Congress included a provision to help traveling musicians in last year’s legislation Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill. The provision states that smaller instruments may be brought onboard as carry-on luggage, and that musicians will be allowed to purchase seats to accommodate larger instruments that are not durable enough to be stored with other checked luggage.
While the groundwork is now set for the FAA to implement a new official policy regarding instruments, new rules have yet to be enacted. The agency has until February 2014 to implement the new standards, and is expected to draft the new rules sometime this year. In the meantime, there is still a quite a bit of guitar shredding going on… not at the fretting hands of the musicians, but at the hands of careless airline employees. Just this month, nearly a year after the legislation was enacted, musician Dave Snyder was forced to check his vintage 1965 Gibson ES-335, valued at about $10,000, on a Delta flight from Buffalo to Detroit. Sure enough, the guitar was damaged while being unloaded after the flight, and required $2,000 in repairs. For musicians like Snyder, the new regulations couldn’t come soon enough.
While all eyes seem to be fixed on high-profile issues such as internet radio royalties and questions about intellectual property in the digital age, the issues that affect working musicians on a daily basis are not all quite so technology-driven. Allowing musicians to travel safely with their instruments may not solve the question of “what do we do about music industry revenues” or “how do we make sure artists are compensated fairly,” but it will make traveling significantly less stressful (and potentially costly) for the many musicians that fly with their instruments on a regular basis.
Though the process has been slow, the American Federation of Musicians’ ten-year effort to make airline travel safer for musical instruments is finally starting to pay off. While the pace of music-related legislative efforts may be a little too “adagio” for the immediate needs of many musicians, we know that slow and steady tends to win the race in Washington. This is one victory that the artist community has gained by keeping at it — we’ll hope and work for more in the years to come.