I want to share an experience I had traveling with guitars last summer.
I was dropped off late to Toronto Airport to catch a flight to Beijing. I had two acoustic guitars in professional carbon-graphite flight cases as well as a large suitcase. I had planned to check all three pieces as usual, but the airline (a Chinese airline called Hainan) refused to accept the guitars at the ticket counter. Rather, I was told I had to carry them to the gate myself, where the airline would then check them. I had never heard of this before, but they were adamant that they could not check the guitars at the counter.
I was made to fill out a form and charged $160 Canadian for excess baggage and “special handling”.
Without thinking about what was in the cases, I received my boarding pass, watched my suitcase go down the belt and headed for the security line with the guitars.
While standing in the security line I realised that I had a cherished possession in one of the cases – an original Leatherman multi-tool I had purchased in the early 1980’s for $75 – a lot of money back then. I liked to have it with me when traveling. It gave me a comforting feeling of self-sufficiency and preparedness. It had come in handy many times over the years.
Since I always checked my guitars at the ticket counter, it never occurred to me not to keep the Leatherman in the flight case along with spare strings, string-changing tools, picks etc. It had two blades on it and would not be to be allowed through security.
In a panic I headed back through the line and back over to the Hainan desk. There was no one there. The Hainan employees had all gone to the gate. I asked a neighbouring airline employee if there were any way to contact Hainan. They didn’t know.
I spoke to the security employee at the x-ray machine. As I was late and the plane was boarding, there was no time to save the Leatherman by mailing it to myself or finding a friend in the area to keep it for me. I had to give it up.
I was angry at the airline for what ended up costing me a fond (and useful) possession. Confused and distracted by their inexplicable – seemingly paranoid – requirement, as well as being in a rush to make the flight, I had forgotten to think about what was in the cases.
When I arrived at the gate the airline took the flight cases from me and wrapped them in bubble plastic as if they were ultra-fragile items. How ridiculous! I can only think this airline must have been involved in lawsuits about damaged musical instruments…or perhaps they didn’t trust the Toronto airport baggage handlers?
To my surprise, the rest of the journey went well. The flight crew were nice, the food was better than usual, the in-flight movies were decent, and I was wonderfully taken care of by the airline staff at Beijing Airport, meeting me as I got off the plane, escorting me through immigration and customs, and getting me through the airport to the connecting flight to Guangzhou in another terminal.
I can only say I have learned once again to expect the unexpected when traveling by air with guitars. In over four decades of air travel I had never come across a situation like this.
Since that experience, I keep nothing in my flight cases but the guitars.