• Ruth

Come Fly with Me... and My Cello!

Getty Image/ iStockphoto

As many of you who read this blog will know I'm a freelance cellist, this can only mean one thing... lots and lots of travelling! Between gigs and auditions I feel as though I'm constantly on the road and with the audition circuit involving most of Europe, like most people I'm flying more this year than ever before (sorry planet).

Airlines cause stress. They just do. We've all seen famous musicians ranting about airlines on Twitter and seen the horror photos of crushed instruments on Facebook. More importantly (or annoyingly) is that every airline has its own policy on what is acceptable and what's not, meaning shockingly that sometimes smaller instruments like violins and bassoons have a tougher time than the cellos.

I recently got a Stevenson case purely as a safety measure, should I end up in the most terrifying situation that the cello can't travel with me, even though I always ALWAYS book a seat.

So earlier this week, whilst sat on hold to KLM booking a seat for my cello, I thought we should try to minimise the stress, even just slightly, so I've created a "Musicians Guide to Airlines"**! All of your answers in one handy post that saves you trolling through loads of really confusing policies to check that you've got all the right information. You are most welcome!

(PS. thank you for those who answered the Instagram poll, your airlines are all here waiting for you)

1. Air Canada

Oki doki, so, Air Canada hit the news in November 2018 for refreshing their policy and discriminating against violists... not a joke I swear.

Since then they seem to have become more inclusive, adding violas to their smaller instrument policy.

Smaller sized instruments:

Size must not exceed 55cm x 23cm x 40cm. There is no weight limit but must be light enough that you can store overhead.

Strings (e.g. guitars, violins and violas) can be carried on board - even if their dimensions slightly exceed Air Canada’s carry-on size requirements - as long as they fit in the overhead bin and there is space available in the cabin at time of boarding, or you have purchased a seat to accommodate them.

Sadly, this rule does not apply for woodwind or brass. They suggest packing your case really well in a protective hard case just in case it has to go under.

Cellos/ extra seat instruments:

"If you wish to purchase a seat for your musical instrument, you will receive a 50% discount on any published fare (including the lowest available fare) to accommodate the instrument in the same cabin you are travelling in."

Now sadly, if you're going to treat yo self! And fly in their signature class or classic pod your cello can't come with you and has to go in Premium Economy... sorry!

More information here

2. Air Baltic

Now these are fun. They have nothing about musical instruments going on as hand luggage. According to their website "Cellos, guitars, other musical instruments and fragile items are accepted for carriage in the cabin if a special ticket has been purchased for their transportation".

Your dimensions are:

Cello and guitar: 35x50x150 cm (Boeing flights, Airbus A220-300 flights) or 35x40x135 cm (Bombardier Q400 flights);

Other items: 43x45x95 cm (Boeing flights, Airbus A220-300 flights) or 42x43x85 cm (Bombardier Q400 flights).

Now more importantly it cheekily says right down at the bottom, that these will only be approved if booked through an airBaltic ticket office or your local travel agency. Tickets booked online for your instrument will not be accepted! Also, to note they have no United Kingdom phone number.

More information here

3. Australian Airlines

Nice and easy this one.

Smaller sized instruments:

Provided your musical instrument does not exceed the carry-on baggage dimensions of 55 x 40 x 23 cm and the weight of 8 kg, you can take it with you without prior notification.

Cellos/ extra seat instruments:

To book our extra seat we have to call an agent and not do it online.

More information here

4. British Airways

Smaller sized instruments:

Instruments such as violins, violas or small wind instruments, can be carried in the cabin as part of, but not in addition to, your free hand baggage allowance, so long as the case is within the dimensions of 80 x 45 x 25cm [31 x 18 x 10in].

This means you can have a small handbag/laptop size bag as well as your smaller musical instrument case, up to 80cm in length, as your second piece of hand baggage

Cellos/ extra seat instruments:

An instrument in its case measuring up to 140 x 50 x 40cm [55 x 20 x 16in], such as a guitar, a larger wind instrument or a cello, can be carried in the cabin if you buy an extra seat for it by contacting us at least 24 hours before your flight - this is subject to seat availability.

This is another call booking for cellists!

More information here

5. Cathays Pacific

Renewing their policy in 2016 specifically to make it easier for us musicians to get on board.

Smaller sized instruments:

Weight must not exceed 7kg (15lbs) including the case.

For all travelling classes, dimensions of hand-carry musical instrument must not exceed 93 x 39 x 24cm or 36 x 15 x 9in (height x width x depth) including the case.

Cellos/ extra seat instruments:

We have to call in again, a minimum of three days before.

Dimensions must not exceed 136 x 48 x 44cm or 54 x 19 x 17in (height, in vertical position x width x depth) including the case.

Weight must not exceed 32kg (70lbs) including the case.

More information here

6. China Eastern

A friend of mine (a cellist) has written in saying she's had an appalling experience with this company and since reading a really unclear awful website I'm not surprised.

"If you wish to carry any musical instrument or diplomatic bag on board that must occupy another passenger seat, it will be charged at 100% of the full one-way adult fare for the travel class you choose between the points of travel"

One really expensive journey whether you’re a cellist or violinist. If you are booking a flight with China Eastern then you need to call their reservation office.

More information here

7. easyJet

Fun Story! I've been told that easyJet had a bassoonist join their ranks as a pilot and it's him we have to thank for their instrument policy overhaul that happened a few years back. I've never actually had any problems with easyJet when I've used them with my cello.

Smaller Musical Instruments:

Musical instruments are permitted for carriage as Hand Baggage provided that the instrument, including its case, does not exceed 30cm x 120cm x 38cm. Violins, violas, piccolos, flutes, clarinets, bugles and trumpets all fall within these dimensions


MR SEAT CELLO. Remember to check in the cello as well as yourself if you're doing it online.

Sadly, if you're a guitarist or fall outside of the hand baggage dimensions, they've said you have to be prepared to put your instrument in the hold.

More information here

8. Etihad

A big stress inducing airline if you're one poor violinist who realised their policy had changed since she booked her flight, the night before she was due to fly. However, I can confirm she managed to get on with no problems.

Smaller Musical Instruments:

Must not exceed 50cm x 40cm x 25cm

Cellos/ extra seat instruments:

Website was unhelpful so had to go to the FIM for help on this one. Apparently, we have to call and book with them directly.

More information here

9. Emirates

There is no special free baggage allowance for the carriage of musical instruments. Musical instruments can be carried on Emirates flights in three different ways:

1. As normal checked baggage, subject to the usual limitations

2. As normal cabin baggage, subject to the usual limitations

3. As cabin baggage on an unoccupied seat in the passenger cabin if the instrument is within the usual size and weight limits for carry-on items, or on a paid-for seat in the passenger cabin if the instrument exceeds those limits.

More information here

10. Finnair

People raving about Finnair on the Instagram Poll!

Smaller Musical Instruments:

You can bring your musical instrument in the cabin when it is packed in a hard case with dimensions no bigger than 125 cm/49 in (width + length + height); the typical size of a violin case. Please place your instrument in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you.

Cellos/ extra seat instruments:

If you want to take your instrument in the cabin but it exceeds the size limit (125 cm/49 in), you can do so by purchasing an extra seat. Please contact their Customer Service by chat or phone to book the extra seat.

They even have a video about what to do!

More information here

11. KLM

I feel like I've spent all week talking to KLM. It took me three days to get through to a person because they refuse to let you stay on hold if the wait time is over 10mins. You then have to wait 24hrs to hear that they cello's been accepted before you can finally pay. I started the process on Sunday and received my tickets on Thursday but thankfully Katrina (my KLM agent) was an angel!


Smaller Musical Instruments:

A smaller musical instrument, such as a violin or smaller instrument, you can bring in the cabin instead of a piece of hand baggage. It needs to fit in the overhead baggage compartment.

Cellos/ extra seat instruments:

Give them a call It was a lot cheaper than booking an extra seat online.

More information here

12. Norwegian

Now a bassoonist I know told me these are quite tricky but a cellist wrote in saying they were great, I can't personally comment but I'd be interested to know what others thought.

Smaller Musical Instruments:

You can bring a small musical instrument on board provided you do not exceed the hand baggage allowance for your fare type. If you're travelling with a larger instrument, such as a violin or viola, then you can bring this instead of a carry-on bag. The instrument can be slightly bigger than a regular carry on bag, but must not exceed 90 x 35 x 20 cm and the carry-on weight limit for your fare type.

Cellos/ extra seat instruments:

We have to contact their contact centre at least 48hrs before departure to book a seat for both ourselves and the cello.

More information here

13. Qatar Airways

Now this company is a complete mixed bag when it comes to travelling with the cello. On my way home from Hong Kong I was treated like royalty Hong Kong to Doha. I was boarded ahead of everyone else; someone carried my hand luggage and they were just incredibly kind and considerate. Doha to Manchester... completely different story. Three different members of crew told me that I would have to put it in the hold, even after producing its ticket. But even when one crew member had strapped it in, I was asked again to put it in the hold, at which point all my neighbouring passengers piped up announcing I'd paid for an extra seat. My top tip... make friends with those travelling around you. Sometimes you need backup!

Smaller Musical Instruments:

Qatar Airways accepts all instruments as hand luggage as long as it doesn't exceed 120cm in length and is packed properly, so no soft cases.

Cellos/ extra seat instruments:

Contact your local office and book through them

More information here

14. Ryanair

This company can really divides people. Some musicians just point-blank refuse to fly with them. Personally, I've flown with them a couple of times and never had a problem.

Saying that I can understand if you play a smaller instrument, you'd be a bit irritated.

Smaller musical items (such as guitars, violins or violas) larger than 40cm x 20cm x 25cm can be carried in the cabin on a seat you have reserved and paid the appropriate fare for. You do not get extra baggage (carry-on or checked-in) for the extra seat.

To book an extra seat for an item, for the passenger’s name type in ‘ITEM SEAT’ as the surname and ‘EXTRA’ as the first name. ‘EXTRA ITEM SEAT’ will then be shown in your booking and on the online boarding pass

So it seems that even with a violin you'll have to pay for extra room.

More information here

15. SAS

Smaller Musical Instruments:

Smaller musical instruments can be brought as carry-on baggage, as long as they fit within our carry-on baggage allowance (55 x 40 x 23 cm and weight 8 kg). The instrument case is considered one piece of carry-on. This means that you cannot bring another piece of carry-on baggage.

Cellos/ extra seat instruments:

The instrument can travel on an extra seat as long as:

The dimensions do not exceed 150 x 50 x 35 cm. On some aircraft types the maximum dimensions may be smaller.

The weight does not exceed 75 kg.

It is carried in a hard case bag or box with handle(s), through which the seat belt can pass to safely secure the instrument against the seat (extensions belts are available on board).

You have to call SAS and book your tickets with them directly.

More information here

16. Virgin Atlantic

Another favourite from the poll.

Smaller Musical Instrument:

Must not exceed 23 x 36 x 56cm

Cellos/ extra seat instruments:

You must book an extra seat for the cello by contacting Virgin Atlantic directly.

More information here

17. Wizz air

Final one on the list.

Smaller Musical Instruments:

You can bring a musical instrument case on board which has a maximum length of 80 cm. Other dimensions of the case must not exceed 40 x 23 cm and the musical instrument can be taken on board only if you have Wizz Priority purchased to your booking.

Cellos/ extra seat instruments:

A reservation can be made online: enter “EXST” in the First Name field and the passenger’s surname in the Last Name field.

More information here

So there we have it. I really hope this has answered some questions for you, or just made it a lot easier to find what you were looking for. But if I'm missing anything, just let me know!

Everyone has their own advice and way to do things when travelling but honestly as a cellist, the best advice I can give is to just be polite and be patient. That person that says "don't you wish you played the flute", could be the person on the other side of security who needs to handle your cello, or the only one tall enough to lift your case into the over head. It costs nothing to be kind... even to a flute comment!

Safe travels people!

Ruth x

** All information was accurate at the time of writing.