Have you tried to fly with your bassoon lately? According to a June 10, 2014 article in USA Today, some airlines are cracking down on carry-on dimensions. And there is no shortage of media coverage of instruments damaged during air travel.
This fact sheet published by the Future of Music Coalition explains that the American Federation of Musicians and other groups worked to include language in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 mandating that the FAA draft formal regulations creating uniform standards that all airlines must follow. These regulations would stipulate three things:
1) Airlines must permit passengers “to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage” if the instrument can be safely stowed in overhead bins and if there is room at the time the passenger boards.
2) For instruments that don’t fit in overhead bins (such as cellos), airlines must allow passengers to carry the instrument on board with the purchase of an extra ticket.
3) For larger instruments (still within applicable weight and size requirements), airlines must transport the instruments as checked baggage.
Unfortunately, the FAA has yet to draft the final regulations; therefore the new law cannot be enforced. Even once the law does become enforceable, the words "if the instruments can be safely stowed in overhead bins and if there is room at the time the passenger boards" do not inspire confidence. Some overhead bins are too small to hold a bassoon case (and of course regional jets such as the Embraer 145 require all passengers to gate check carry-ons). Also, if the traveling bassoonist is not lucky enough to be one of the early boarders on a flight, it's entirely possible that the overhead bins could be full. These days, it's common for flights to be booked to capacity.
Surprisingly, I haven't heard of any bassoon-related airline incidents other than my own. Am I the only bassoonist in the world who has actually experienced the horror of being denied the right to carry on my bassoon? It happened a few years ago on a flight out of Columbus. When the airline agents refused to allow the bassoon as my carry-on, I remained polite and calm, and even offered to buy a seat for the bassoon. Yet the airline personnel insisted that if I wanted to take the flight, my bassoon would have to be checked as baggage and placed in cargo!
I was traveling to an audition, and had no time to spare. At the time, it seemed that I had no choice but the unthinkable - allowing my bassoon to be placed in cargo. In retrospect, it's clear that I would have been far better off canceling my trip, despite my non-refundable ticket. The level of stress I experienced from allowing my bassoon in cargo was off the charts, and I was in no condition to perform a successful audition when I arrived (in a state of panic!) at my destination.
I no longer own that bassoon. My new bassoon - a 15,000 series Heckel - will never be placed in an airplane cargo hold! No trip is worth taking such risk with a cherished instrument.