Flying With Your Instrument – Travel Tips and the CFM’s Efforts to Make Things Easier

French version available here

Allistair Elliott, the CFM’s International Representative, has been busy meeting with the Canadian government and major airline councils in Canada on behalf of musicians, many of whom will agree that it can be extremely difficult and frustrating to fly with instruments. Allistair and the CFM are working with these organizations to make things easier on travelling musicians.

He’s sent a report of his progress and some suggestions for travelling musicians.


Currently, each Canadian airline is responsible for its own policy on musical instruments. The airlines don't want these policies to be regulated by the government, and the government doesn't want to regulate them.

The playing field is about to change, however;  in the United States, new legislation concerning air transport on American domestic flights will soon come into effect (see for more details). This law authorizes musical instruments as carry-on baggage onboard U.S. air carriers. It is likely that the Canadian Government will pay attention to the implementation and results of this legislation.

I have met with the Minister of Transport’s office, with representatives from two airline councils (who represent about 90% of airline travel in Canada), and with CATSA, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (the security agency which oversees screening in airports). The CFM is requesting harmonization with the U.S. law from the Minister of Transport regarding musical instruments as carry-on baggage. As much as I would like fast change on this, I understand how many layers of governance there are, both at the airline level and at the government level. Therefore, until such time as we learn how and when these issues can move forward, here are some suggestions for travelling with musical instruments.



1. Research the airline policy of the airline you are travelling on. These are usually found on each airline website. The policies of the major Canadian airlines can be found here:

Air Canada - Musical Instruments

WestJet - Special Items

Porter - Baggage Information

Bearskin Airlines - Baggage Policy

2. If your instrument is not too heavy, and can fit in an overhead locker, take it as your personal item. 

3. If you have a large or overweight/oversized instrument, call ahead and ask for help and guidance. Keep in mind that if your piece gets classified as oversized/overweight luggage, you will most likely be charged accordingly.

4. Respectfully request to check your instrument at the gate and make sure the contents of your instrument case can be taken through security. As long as travelling musicians follow the security guidelines, CATSA does not have any issue with them coming through security with musical instruments. If the instrument doesn't fit through the X-ray tunnel, it can be searched by hand. You can make handling suggestions, but let the security folks be in charge. I am hoping to work on a fact sheet with CATSA to help both travellers as well as security staff understand the complexities of dealing with fragile musical instruments.

5. Try to stay calm and not get stressed, communicate respectfully and be upfront about the fragility of your instrument. If you can convince the gate agent to let you check the instrument at the gate, it should minimize the handling and potential damage.

6. Always carry equipment insurance and an ATA Carnet when travelling with your instruments outside of Canada. For more information about the ATA Carnet, visit the website of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (, which issues the Carnet. For more information about the insurance offered by the CFM, contact Anya Craig (Membership Services Administrator) at

7. Keep in mind that the airlines’ most important priorities are passenger safety and security.

Please feel free to contact me at with any questions or concerns.


Safe travels!

Allistair Elliott, International Representative

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