At some point in your career as a cellist, you will probably find yourself needing to travel across the country or internationally with your instrument. Cellos are a unique problem because they are too big to be taken as a carry on, and too fragile to be checked with the rest of the luggage. Below are instructions for how to successfully travel with your cello.
1. Purchase an extra seat - Unless you have a cheap cello that can easily be replaced if it is lost or damaged, you should always take your cello on the plane with you. It's too risky to check a valuable instrument because there are currently no flight cases on the market that are 100% dependable. Because a cello is too large to be a carry on, the only way to ensure its safety is by purchasing an extra seat for it. When purchasing your flight tickets, book the cello under a name that makes it clear that it is not a person (e.g. "Cello" or "CBBG," which is a common abbreviation used for cabin baggage). You should also make sure the seat you purchase for your cello is next to you, in a window seat, and not in an exit row.
2. Call ahead - Because some airlines have restrictions on how a cello seat can be purchased, it is a good idea to hire a travel agent or call the airline in advance to clarify that you are traveling with an instrument. It's especially important to call ahead if you're traveling internationally to ensure that you won't have any issues checking in or boarding.
3. Pre-board - Getting the cello onto the plane can be a challenge, especially if you are traveling alone. Most flights offer the opportunity for people with young children or disabilities to pre-board before the rest of the passengers. I recommend asking if you can pre-board with your instrument so you have time to strap it in without getting in the way of other passengers.
4. Use a seat belt extender - The seat belt on an airplane is too short to fit over a cello. When you have boarded the plane, ask the flight attendant for a seatbelt extender to strap in your cello. This will keep it safe from being tossed around during any turbulence.
5. Be courteous - You will probably receive a lot of confused looks and questions from people when they see you trying to board the plane with a huge instrument in tow. I am almost always approached by someone who insists that my cello cannot go on the place. Though it is temping to respond to these ignorant comments with an eye roll or irritated explanation, it is best to just smile and stay courteous. You are much more likely to ward off concerned passengers and airplane personnel if you always keep your voice calm.