PLEASE Be Careful With Your Airline Ukulele Travel Advice

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4 Sep 2017

PLEASE Be Careful With Your Airline Ukulele Travel Advice

I hoped to not have to write this ukulele rant, but the endless discussion doesn't seem to be going away, and people are STILL unwisely advising others on what to do if flying with ukes.

Ukulele on holiday

I suppose it started coming to head again recently when I shared pictures of the two Enya ukuleles broken down with their necks off to fit into cabin baggage. I will come on to why I did that and why it was my ONLY option below. It might have also been todays review of a travel uke which was met with people responding saying 'just get a soprano'.. What irritated me was it led to endless discussions about what you should do if you are flying. And the common answer from people is basically 'I flew with a tenor ukulele in the cabin and it was no problem, so therefore YOU should do the same'.... The issue I have with that kind of 'advice' is how generalised it is and how much bother you could get someone into if their airline carrier has a different policy to yours. And they all DO have different policies, trust me. They really do.

I also didn't want to write this as their cabin allowances change all the time so what is allowed by some today, may not tomorrow and vice versa. That will date this post quickly. But the point is this. I speak from the UK perspective because that is where I live! And in the UK, many, not all, but many airline carriers have cabin baggage limits that mean that even a standard soprano will not meet the measurements when inside a case in the cabin. That is just a simple fact, and it is completely irrelevant if you once flew to Bombay with a Bassoon in the cabin or took a whole brass band to Mombassa. You may have even sweet talked even the most restrictive carriers at the gate and had no trouble. Congratulations. I'm pleased for you. But that is going to be of no relevance at all when some poor sap is at the gate with a ukulele and the crew are refusing it to go into the cabin on policy grounds.

"But this chap on Facebook  said he did it... "

Sorry sir....

"but but but..."

Sorry sir...

What do they then do? Argue? Hold up the flight? Yeah - good luck with that. Good luck with the reaction of fellow passengers wanting to leave, good luck with not getting kicked off the flight. Enjoy your massively stressful start to your trip.

So what do you then do? Put your ukulele in the hold? Good luck with that also if you want it to survive.

No - when we are travelling we want stress free experiences at airports. We are tending to go on relaxing holidays perhaps with family, and as I did with a young child, and don't need hassles or arguments at the gate. We want to meet the rules and know things should be ok. Going armed with 'but this bloke on the internet said it would be ok' is just crazy.

And THIS is why I took the Enya ukes apart as they are designed to.  I recently flew Ryanair and they have a cabin baggage limit currently of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm. A regular soprano without a case would fit in that 'just' because they tend to be about 50cm long. But that means taking NO OTHER cabin baggage, not even an iPad or handbag. Cabin baggage is made specifically for these sort of dimensions but trust me - a regular soprano will NOT fit in one, not even on an angle. Thats because the exterior of the case fits the dimensions, but not the interior.  A concert certainly won't fit regardless of bag and a tenor or baritone - no chance. I wanted to take two sopranos and the just didn't fit the bag. So I took them apart..

ukulele dismantled

And here they are at the other end put back together - they were both in this case with towels, beach wear, shoes etc. This was the ONLY way to get them to meet the cabin baggage limit. In two pieces.

ukuleles in suitcase

Easyjet are a bit more forgiving and will allow larger instruments up to about 100cm long in the cabin, but only if you sacrifice any other cabin baggage also - again no good if you want to take other stuff - the instrument IS your cabin bag. Jet 2 are as restrictive as Ryanair. Many others are too.  Some are better, particularly on long haul - but that's the issue - it VARIES considerably. And even if you DO meet the dimensions they set, the airlines STILL have the power to force your bag into the hold if they are out of space. So either way it's just not as simple as saying you know better... you will not win.

It's really unhelpful and frankly also a bit dangerous to tell people who ask that 'you will be fine' just because you were fine, and without knowing what their carriers rules are. Are you going to take responsibility for an issue they then have at the airport? The ONLY answer to this sort of question  is 'CHECK WITH YOUR OWN CARRIER'. That's it. That's the ONLY correct advice.. If you have a forgiving carrier - great (but do check every leg of your journey and read the small print too) but enjoy your trip... If the rules are clear that they dont fit or are vague in any way - BEWARE.

And if you dont have a uke you can dismantle? Get a smaller uke - get a sopranino. Heck some people I know have even sawn the headstocks of sopranos down to get them to fit.

Rant over.. And remember - this is a UK PERSPECTIVE. You may have different rules and laws where you are. At the time of writing we don't. And me mindful of that when advising others.



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12 comments :

  1. I've taken a 'normal' tenor uke to Australia for the past five years and not had a problem on either Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific. Up until earlier this year I always expected a bit of a discussion when checking in, but soon found that when I said I had a musical instrument and held the case up at check in the person at the desk invariable said 'violin?'. If I just casually said 'yes' then that was the end of it - hand luggage it was. In April this year I was prepared for the same discussion when checking in with SA at Manchester and they didn't care what instrument it was, the size wasn't a problem so again it was hand luggage. I tend not to have a lot of hand luggage so maybe that helps. In terms of official policy then SA don't seem to have anything for other than oversized instruments, i.e. if you pay for an additional seat they don't mind what it is.

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  2. No use if the airline charges a lot for hold baggage, but when I gig abroad I take a uke that is replaceable (not necessarily a cheap one, but one that wouldn't cause massive headaches and a 12 month wait to replace!), put it in a hard case, put that inside a large, sturdy suitcase surrounded by clothes and towels, and check it into the hold.

    Despite what many people seem to get away with, or what various organisations say you can or can't take, there's always a reasonable chance that you'll get a jobsworth at the gate who simply won't let you on. Then (as I have witnessed) you may find that due to a very full flight, people are asked to check their larger items of hand baggage. If you're a little too far back in the queue, even a uke in hand baggage may need to be checked.

    I know that hold baggage can cost, but on my recent flights, not only did I not have to worry about whether I'd check my uke or not (I knew I'd check it, and packed it accordingly), I also had a tiny little shoulder bag and nothing else to cope with on the flight.

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  3. Alan - but that's my point -if you had taken that advice and said to someone 'THIS IS HOW IT WORKS' with understanding what their carriers policy was - it would have been extremely risky

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  4. Thank You Thank You Thank You Barry!

    This advice is valid for many Airline in the United States as well and dedpite my repeated warnings to group members, TO CHECK with your specific carrier BEFORE you try to bring an ukulele on-board, people continue to say "I had No problem"...just be nice to crew or take it out and play a happy song and you'll be fine.

    Ummm...No people!

    I checked with my airline of choice, months in advance of my flight and they had a STRICT! set of measurement guidelines. Nothing over 14" inches under the seat and nothing longer than 22" in overhead bins...NO EXCEPTIONS.

    This means in most cases, you can't take anything bigger than a Soprano and if you do,it'll count as your 1 carry-on and you'll be charged a fee ($18 in my situation).

    People cite the FAA rules as proof that bigger instruments can be accommodated and to carry a copy of ruling with you to show TSA.

    Sorry, but the carrier has FINAL SAY and if they don't have room for Tenors, Baritone's, etc... you either pay full fair price for another seat, let it get destroyed in cargo hold or leave it with whoever dropped you off at airport, because that inspector, doesn't give a Rats A** about your piece of paper citing ruling.

    So, CHECKING with each Carrier, BEFORE EVERY FLIGHT...IS the ONLY correct advice that should be given.

    We both know,people will still try anyways and have to learn the hard way.

    Great Rant and hopefully a few will listen.

    Cheers,Denny

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  5. I always take a Motu Iti with me when I go way. Not much use for performing, too quiet, but great if you just want to practice and noodle away on the beach. Because it's made of marine ply it's nearly indestructible and being flat it can happily go in hold luggage wrapped in a towel. Look at la-case-a-ukes.com (I'm not involved with the business, just a happy customer).

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  6. When travelling domestic in Australia I take my tenor uke in a hard case and put it sideways in the overhead cabin storage. All airlines allow this here. When travelling internationally, I take my specially made 54cm soprano uke in a soft case and put it in the regulation 55 cm carry on luggage bag and store it in the overhead luggage rack end on. Checked luggage? I might as well just jump on it myself. Michael

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  7. Get a hard bag big enough to take gour uke in a gig bag, or don't take it!

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  8. Did you not read the post John? In the UK with many carriers a soprano in a hard case is too big for cabin baggage. Getting a hard bag for one is not the answer. You either need a smaller uke (like a sopranino) or it goes in the hold. The post is about people who tell others 'it will be alright' when they dont have a clue.

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  9. Great advice from both you and Phil Doleman. I fly to Spain a couple of times a year, and I always manage to get a uke, a guitar and a 5 string banjo into the hold. I bought the biggest hard suitcase I could find, so it holds a tenor uke easily. The banjo is a Nechville, which has an easily removable neck, and the guitar is a baby Taylor, which also has a removable neck. I also get enough clothes in there to get a reassuring amount of extra padding. On one trip, I managed a mandolin as well, but went over the weight limit of 20 kg, and so had to pay a little extra. By booking in advance, I get the hold bag in for about £20. It is well worth paying the extra for the peace of mind. Sure, plenty of people have managed to get instruments on board, but it isn't worth taking the risk of being refused. I still have my carry on bag, too, so I can pack
    kazoos, harmonicas, extra socks, etc. Look out Spain!

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  10. I have this problem with my lovely Rajão the size of a tenor uke. I have to go from Brussels to Madeira for a solo concert. I ask first If I can take it with me but it seems to be a problem they just want your money today.

    Brussels Airlines answered "" The measurements for hand luggage should not exceed 55 x 40 x 23 cm, You will be able to purchase an extra seat for the instrument. You can see the info by following"

    the case is 72x15x30 less then 2 kg
    Brussels Madeira and back is not a cheap trip.

    TAP Portugal: same problem. Before I never got such problems.

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    Replies
    1. Good to hear from you Herman and hope you are well. This is exactly why I was compelled to write this. The rules are constantly changing for the worse and people should be very careful with their advice!

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