I haven’t flown with the bass for a few years. How are things presently and what is your advice? Driving, since I just did it this month, is looking unattractive.

I’m getting a lot of questions about this from both domestic and international travelers.  You want to arrive in Rochester with your beloved bass in one piece.  This is never an easy answer for me.  I’ve heard about bass tragedies from every airline.  Please note, that any recommendations posted here do not guarantee the safety of your bass.  Get it insured.  (ISB offers a great instrument insurance for its members.) There are some airlines, though that appear friendlier than others.

US Domestic / Smaller Airlines:

Southwest Airlines.  Southwest is one of the bass-friendliest airlines in the US.  Their rates are usually lower than most other airlines and they don’t freak out when you bring your bass along.  A really great bonus with them is that you aren’t charged for your regular baggage (up to 2 pieces).  Expect an oversize charge of around $100 for your bass.  Here is their baggage policy. What’s the catch?  Sometimes you have a 12 hour travel day.  I’ve also had my bass end up in Seattle instead of Salt Lake…..  I still prefer them if I have the option within the US.

Jet Blue.  This is another friendly option depending on your travel route. My experiences with them have been congenial and I’ve heard from others that their oversize rates aren’t too crazy.  You get one bag for free (under 50 pounds).  Here is there baggage policy.  Note, that if your bass is your second piece, you can be charged on a few different levels:

  • $40 (2nd item) + overweight ($100) + oversized ($75) = $215  (ouch!)

Sometimes you get all 3 and sometimes they just get you for one thing.  There is no rhyme or reason to it.  Don’t even try to figure it out.  It all depends on your support behind the check in counter.   This isn’t just with Jet Blue.  You can get this on other airlines as well.  It is really important that you read your airlines baggage policy so you can know what to expect.

International & Major Airlines

This can be really tricky with international flights.  There are tighter restrictions on baggage sizes and they can sometimes be downright nasty and inflexible.  I’m hoping that we can have more dialogue about it here so we can find out more from individual countries.  Comments are welcome at the bottom of the page.

In general, it is the dimensions that get us.  Most airlines have a max between 62 – 80 in/157 – 203 cm linear dimension (length, plus width and height).

  • In the US, we’re covered because H.R.658 allows for musical instruments as checked baggage if the linear dimensions of the trunk (length, width and height) do not exceed 150 inches and the weight does not exceed 165 pounds. Click here to download a copy of the national instrument policy.
  • H.R.658 does not apply to flights outside the U.S., but there is a movement led by the International Federation of Musicians for adoption of a uniform worldwide policy for air travel with musical instruments.

That said, I haven’t been busted for it.  I know others who have been given a bad time or extra charges for their large instruments.

***Super important thing to check when you are booking your flight:  Know the size of the plane flying INTO and OUT of Rochester.  You’re cool with Southwest and Jet Blue, but some of the larger airlines fly the smallest planes into town and your bass may not fit.

Your General Comparison Chart:  See below for more details.

Airline Overweight Charge Weight Range First Class Oversize Charge Linear Dimensions Special Notes
American Airlines $60-100 50-70 lbs / 23-32 kg   $150-200 63-126 in/158-320 cm *over 70lbs not allowed in many places
  $200-450 71-100 lbs / 33-45 kg        
Delta $75-90 51-70 lbs / 23-32 kg   $175 63-80 in / 161-203 cm *over 70lbs not allowed in many places
  $175-200 71-100 lbs / 33-45 kg     115 in/292 cm  
United $100-200 50-70 lbs / 23-32 kg   $100-200 62-115 in / 158-292 cm  
  up to $400 70-99.9 lbs / 32-45 kg        
US Airways $90-150 51-70 lbs / 23-32 kg No Charge $175 62–80 in/157–203 cm *over 70lbs not allowed in many places
  $85-175 71-100 lbs / 33-45 kg No Charge      


United  Disclaimer:  I’m biased in favor of United.  I’ve flown a lot with them and I have achieved a certain status that seems to transcend a lot of issues that I had with them before I was “recognized”.  I have it pretty easy with anyone within the Star Alliance family (like SAS, Air Canada, Lufthansa, etc.).  They’ve just instigated new checked baggage policies for travel worldwide as of March 2013.  The link has a baggage “calculator” so you can see what they might charge you.  It is hard for me to tell what the new rate is, but I bet they will be making more money based on when you purchase your ticket and what you’re bringing.  Be sure to check this link out as well for their country details.

Delta  This used to be a bad airline to fly for musicians.  After re-inventing themselves, Delta is looking like a much friendlier airline.  I flew with them back in December (without my bass) from Denmark to Montana.  We enjoyed the service and it was a more pleasant experience than we expected.  Here is their baggage policy page.

It’s important to know that there separate fees for each limitation you exceed: size, weight and quantity. For example, if an extra piece of baggage exceeds the weight and size limits, it will be subject to three fees: one for the extra bag, one for exceeding the weight limit and one for going over the size restriction. Fees are charged for each additional bag, each way.

American Airlines.  Their website even has a special button to click with info, when traveling with your double bass:

If you’re traveling on other airlines, you must contact each airline in your itinerary to check their policy and transportation charges. Find out information for travel on other oneworld partners.

If you’re traveling on an American Airlines operated flight the following rules apply:

  • Double basses are not accepted for transportation on all types of aircraft. Contact American Airlines Reservations for more details

  • Double basses are only accepted in the First Class cabin as carry-on

  • An additional First Class seat must be purchased at the applicable fare and a window bulkhead seat must be available, with the owner in the adjoining seat. This is not possible on certain types of aircraft. Contact American Airlines Reservations for more details

  • Alternatively, double basses can be checked in in line with the applicable baggage allowance. Any excess / overweight / oversize charges will apply

While some of their restrictions look a little daunting, their website has good links to partner airlines and it seems like you should be able to find answers easily regarding travel from your country.

US Airways. They are in the process now of merging with American Airlines.  Here is their baggage policy.

In closing, this is merely a guide to help you in making your choices.  There are no guarantees for  kindness or low rates.  I hope that this makes your travel plans a little easier.  If you have experiences to share, please comment with your positive recommendations.

Your humble ISB servant,
Kristin Korb