Musical Instruments May Soon Need Their Own Passport

There have been numerous reports of late of musicians having a difficult time traveling with their instruments.  Cellos shoved into the baggage hold, violins being “detained” in customs, papers or no papers, and then there’s the infamous smashed Taylor guitar of some years back.  

One of the most recent is the ongoing squabble between cellist Lynn Harrell and Delta Airlines, which stripped him (and his cello) of over a half-million frequent flyer miles and kicked him out of the program.

Now, with the Transportation Safety Administration’s bid to allow small knives back on aircraft, it brings up an interesting point.  If it’s alright to carry a pocketknife onto an aircraft, why are musicians so often hassled about something like a violin?

I can hear it now. “Get Bach!  I have a bow and I’m not afraid to use it!”  ”Stop him, before he trills again!”

With the size of some of what passes for carry on luggage, it can’t be that.  It also can’t be revenue, at least not when a cello is involved.  If a cellist is going to travel with their instrument, they buy a ticket, at least until some airlines discover that Gofriller Bailey is not Zuill Bailey’s wife.

John Thomas is a professor at Quinnipiac University.  When he travels with his vintage 1943 Gibson guitar, it’s easy to run into customs issues because of some of the materials used in the instrument.  Indeed, many musicians may travel with instruments which, while manufactured legally, now contain materials such as exotic woods, old ivory or tortoise shell parts which are now listed as a threatened item.

U.S. delegates have proposed passports for instruments made with such materials because, as it stands now, instruments can be seized if musicians don’t have import and export permits for each country they visit.

I like the idea of the instrument passport for many reasons.  It certainly could smooth the path through customs for those carrying instruments made from exotic materials, once they meet certain guidelines.  However, it seems it would greatly benefit musicians who travel with instruments which have no business being in the hold of an aircraft.

Maybe qualifying for a cello passport, for instance, would require them to carry a special harness designed to attach to the aircraft seat.  If you can buy a special harness to strap your pet into a car, why not your Strad?

There has to be an answer to this dilemma.  So many airlines have so many differing regulations in this area, there must be a solution which would make it easier for those who bring such joy into our lives to safely carry the tools of their trade.

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