Bringing Viola on Long-Haul Flight


Phankao said: Mar 9, 2013
 128 posts

I’ve brought my little one’s violin on the plane before, but it’s really small so quite easy to transport. But later this year, my elder boy is making a 24-hr trip to the USA with his 15.5″ viola. Can that fit in the overhead compartment? I sure hope it doesn’t get too knocked around.

any safety tips or tried/tested experiences to share?

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Mar 9, 2013
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
100 posts

Just make sure that the case fits the total measurement requirements (measure the three dimensions) for carry on bags, and depending on the airline, he may be able to carry one more personal item in addition to that, such as a music bag or messenger bag. Best to check with the rules of the airline you’ll be flying on, and if it’s not clear from their website, call to speak to a representative. If the case is oblong and it won’t fit into the overhead compartment, consider getting a more streamlined case for traveling, like the narrow dart shaped cases, which fit more easily. Good luck!

Wendy Caron Zohar

If we work hard, music may save the world.—S. Suzuki

Phankao said: Mar 9, 2013
 128 posts

Alright. Would need to check the airline that he is going by then. I just roughly checked some online and it seems like it would fit requirements. I just realised he’s going to Berlin for performance too mid-year, so guess he’ll have some experience from there first. He’s never brought either his violin/viola overseas ever before. Learning here. ;D

Rachel said: Mar 10, 2013
 19 posts

Ack, just typed long response, clicked to send and my Internet connection was gone so I lost my message. Will try to recreate. So annoying.

We are an international family, traveling at least four times a year. We always bring my child’s violin on our trips, since he was 4. When the instrument was small it was easy to pack it inside the carry-on luggage like a suitcase or backpack. Now that it is larger (1/2 size) it is trickier. We always have it as carry-on luggage because the luggage compartment below passengers is known to have unregulated extreme pressure and temperature changes, which can compromise the integrity of the instrument. Some helpful tips for how to manage your carry-on instrument? If you are limited by the airline in the number of pieces you can have as carry-on, you might consider using a soft shoulder bag large enough to put the instrument (in its case) upright along with other carry-on items you will want. When you get on board, remove the case and store it by itself in e overhead compartment. If it won’t fit in the overhead bin, ask a flit attendant to store it up front in the coat closet. They are familiar with this type of request and usually have no problem doing it. The shoulder bag, however, must be stored separately, likely underneath the seat in front of you.

If you are not limited by number of carry-on items, it can be helpful to have a backpack strap for the instrument’s case so your hands are free. (Actually useful in general when walking around and visiting the destination).

Specific to international travel, we are often asked to open the case and all it’s compartments to show security and customs what we have. In all the years of travel, only once did we have a hard time where they actually confiscated the tool we use for fixing/changing the chin rest. Apparently the officer thought it was a tool that could be used as a weapon.

Last tip, though not specific to transport of the instrument…bring extra strings!!! It can sometimes be cumbersome, or outright impossible, to obtain strings for your instrument, so come with extra. Especially in tropical countries the strings break, crack etc due to extreme humidity. Oh, that reminds me, be sure to have your strings extra loose during travel, so the pressure during extra long flying time doesn’t pop them. Of course they will be extremely out of tune upon landing.

Good luck and have a great trip. Hope this helps.

Phankao said: Mar 10, 2013
 128 posts

Thanks, Dragonfly2004 for that detailed reply! Those tips would certainly be useful in future as our very youngest who is 4 travels abit with us and we bring his little 1/16 violin. So far, it’s so small and it fits so super nicely between the airplane’s seat legs and no airline staff has ever asked us NOT to put it there! So it’s really snug and safe (for now). When he uses larger violins, I’ll probably think to put it all well sandwiched between clothes or other “stuffings” in a carry-on luggage before putting it in the overhead.

But my question was for my older boy. His Viola is rather large—bigger than full-size violin. And he’s bringing it along for performances in Berlin and NY, so it’d better be in good condition when he arrives. ;P Anyway, I’ve also checked around with a few other violists and they say they have no problem carrying it as a “Handcarry”, so I think we’re set!

Merietta Oviatt said: Mar 10, 2013
Merietta OviattViolin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
107 posts

I am a professional violist and travel a lot. In the past I had some problems, but recently it has become easier and easier. The viola has to go in the overhead compartment—and it will easily fit. If there are other bags in the compartment it may not fit—so try to be in one of the zones that boards first. Here are a few tips:

  • Board first. If you can’t, as soon as you see an open bin where the viola can fit put it in.
  • If the bins are full ask a flight attendant if they could put it in one of their closets (don’t count on this, so get it in a bin).
  • Get the smallest (yet secure) cases you can find. I use a Bobelock crescent case. It is very secure and doesn’t take up a lot of room.
  • It is easier to travel internationally than in the US with instruments. It’s kind of annoying, but they seem to be much more understanding.
  • The law now states that musicians can carry instruments on board. Don’t let them tell you you can’t.

As I said, I travel a lot. I’ve only had a handful of issues and that was mostly in the past. The instrument will fit above, you can carry it on board, you shouldn’t have any issues if you just follow the tips I listed above. I hope this helps!

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
[javascript protected email address]

Kiyoko said: Mar 19, 2013
 95 posts

I’ve traveled internationally with my violin as well, up to full size from the time I was young.

I’ll add:

  • Invest in a good case to protect the instrument, especially if it’s a good instrument. Since you are taking the trouble to transport it, it won’t be worthwhile if it arrives damaged. I like the ones that are specifically designed to cushion the instrument if it gets bumped around or if it (oh, the horror!) gets accidentally dropped,.

  • These days with the carry on luggage mess, I prefer asking the flight attendants first if my instrument can be stored in the coat cabinet. There’s less of a likelihood that your instrument and case will get bumped out of your hands in the scramble to deplane or that the compartment door will be banged into it.

  • If you do store it in an overhead bin, I’d store it as close to your seating as possible, close the door yourself and watch that other people don’t try to overstuff the bin. If you can manage to store other soft items in the same bin with your instrument case, it will help keep the case from sliding around.

  • Lastly, I’d carry insurance on an expensive instrument.

Happy travels!

Barb said: Mar 19, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
685 posts


Unfortunately, this is only applicable within the US:
“The law now states that musicians can carry instruments on board. Don’t let them tell you you can’t.”

Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Phankao said: Mar 19, 2013
 128 posts

His viola is not an expensive one though. Spent only S$1400 (Singapore dollars) on it.

Thanks a lot on the tips on storage and the case!

Kiyoko said: Mar 19, 2013
 95 posts

Actually, having an “expensive” instrument will work in his favor. ($1400 Singapore or roughly $1100 USD isn’t an inexpensive for a kid’s instrument…) Airlines don’t like to take on any extra liability. The one time I recall even the suggestion of checking it being made, as soon as it was explained it was a valuable instrument (not to mention sensitive to atmospheric changes) that was the end of it.

From looking around, I see that others have run into other issues with ticketing agents—part of whose job is to limit carry-ons. I would warn your son to simply tell the ticketing agent that it can always be checked at thd gate if the flight attendants can’t accommodate it—flight attendants whose job is to keep your son happy on the flight. :)

A point I did see is that carrying it on the shoulder does make it less conspicuous. Maybe it is why I haven’t run into issues?

It occurred to me I’m assuming the flights will be on larger aircraft, not small planes with single seats and little storage. If your son is flying on a small plane, you may want to consider an extra seat for that flight or switch flights— it’s not so much the cost of instrument as it is the opportunity cost lost if the instrument is damaged on his tour.

Keep in mind, the plane is not the only traveling your son will end up doing. Bumps and thumps are a normal part of travel.

Glad you found helpful info.

Phankao said: Mar 19, 2013
 128 posts

@Kiyoko: I’m afraid I didn’t quite fully understand your 1st paragraph. So you’re saying it’s better to have a “more expensive” instrument and that my son’s S$1400 is “not that cheap anyway (”not inexpensive”)?

We are doing international travel, so it certainly wouldn’t be small planes. The earlier trip he’s doing is with his school music programme to Europe, so he will not be alone in carrying instruments. I hope he only has to bring his viola and not his violin as well for that one. For New York—certainly big aircraft—24hour flight-time—GROAN. That trip will be with me.

Laura said: Mar 20, 2013
 33 posts

Despite what an airline attendant will try to tell you, full size violin and viola cases fit just fine in overhead compartments, even on smaller planes. The only time I’ve had a problem is on a very small plane (only 3 seats across.)

Insist politely on taking the instrument aboard the plane. It is never advised to put the instrument anywhere but on the plane with you!

There is new legislation in the EU about traveling with instruments, I just received an email about it yesterday, so hopefully there can be a world-wide policy about instrument travel!

Barb said: Mar 20, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
685 posts

I hope so, Laura! Canadian airlines Westjet and Air Canada need to catch up when it comes to cellos! Here’s a CBC news article reprinted on Paul Katz’s blog.

Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Kiyoko said: Mar 22, 2013
 95 posts

So there you are! There is now legislation allows your son to travel with his instrument to both destinations, New York and Berlin. As suggested, you may want to keep copies of the TSA letter and the EU legislation handy in case you run into any unknowing airline agents.

Good luck on the travel!

Phankao said: Mar 23, 2013
 128 posts


MaryLou Roberts said: Mar 23, 2013
MaryLou RobertsTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
SAA Board
Suzuki Association Member
Ann Arbor, MI
316 posts

I hope the EU accepts their proposal, too. I have to go from Cork, Ireland to Melbourne, Australia this summer.

My trick is to be first in your zone to be called. My second trick is to say I would be happy to gate check if there is no room on the plane. This gets me in the door, and once you are in the door, the flight attendants just want to make you happy and get you seated. Of course, there is a good insurance policy through the SAA, so that also helps me feel better.

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