Air guitar

May 2, 2007 at 12:00 am

Nothing pains a musician more than being separated from his or her instrument at the airport. The hollowness that accompanies watching a guitar case travel away on a conveyor belt is matched only by the anxiety of waiting for it to return — if it returns.

While most airlines lightened up their post 9-11 policies in regard to allowing passengers carry on instruments bigger than a bread box, Delta held fast to its rule of allowing only those items that fit in the "sizing box" at the gate.

"Our members complained about Delta more than any other airline," says Thomas Lee, president of the American Federation of Musicians. "When we looked into the matter, Delta was like, 'Our regulations are our regulations — we expect our people to enforce those regulations.' We couldn't get to first base with them."

After three years of pursuing the airline, along with various air transportation organizations and a number of Washington lobbyists, the AFM — a union that serves more than 100,000 working musicians in North America — announced last week that Delta has officially changed its policy regarding carry-on instruments. The company now permits items as big as guitar cases, which, under most conditions, fit into the overhead bins of larger jetliners.

"We argued that, when you're talking about a violin, you could be talking a $40,000 to $80,000 instrument," says Lee. "With a guitar, you could be talking $20,000. Most baggage handlers wouldn't even want to be responsible for an instrument of that value."

Lee says that Delta did not contact the AFM with the policy change, but that the union was "delighted" to learn of the revision.

This, of course, is great news for traveling musicians like Kurt Marschke of Detroit roots rock outfit the Deadstring Brothers. "You've got to be able to carry your guitar on," he says. "You're only allowed to check two bags per person so, if you check two guitars, where does your luggage go?"

And that's not the worst of it.

"I've sat at the gate and watched the tossers — and they just toss (instruments) around like everything else," he says. "It'll bum you out." Wendy Case is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]