I recently made an airline trip with my bass in my new Tuff-Lite bass trunk. Overall, the trip was pretty easy (surprisingly). Everyone was nice and my bass was well-cared for by the baggage and airline folks. I've included a few tips from my experiences. Hopefully this blog post will help future travelers with similar endeavors.
Just to give some details, I went from YYC to SFO via SLC and back. I flew Delta. As far as i can tell, the only airlines that are reasonable as far as traveling with a bass are Delta and Northwest. They are in the process of a merger, which I'm not sure is good or bad. We'll see.
I packed my bass in my Tuff-Lite case from the String Emporium. As I expected, I got a lot of odd looks at the airport, particularly from the Delta staff who at first seemed a little unsure as to what to do with the trunk.
TIP #1: DO YOUR HOMEWORK:
Prior to making the trip, I got confirmation from Delta that the bass in its case would make the trip. To do this, I spent roughly 45 minutes on the phone making my reservation and getting all the details ironed out. They asked for the measurements of my case and its weight (84" x 34" x 22" and about 100lbs fully loaded). Although this is in excess of Delta's rules (120 linear inches and 100 lb max), the reservation clerk found out the size of the cargo door on the plane (43" X 22") and told me that "if it fits, we'll take it." The person I dealt with on the phone documented our conversation, including all the measurements, and our conversation was able to be reviewed at the various airports by the Delta staff.
TIP #2: GET THERE EARLY:
Even with this assurance, I was pretty paranoid. At the airport, the Delta staff avoided me, looking past me and asking people after me in line to come up. Finally I asserted myself and asked to be served. They finally checked the bag although they were baffled by how the case would be handled once I cleared customs. The extra time it took to get the trunk cleared and in the hands of the baggage folks was about 40 minutes. Add this as additional time you'll need at the airport.
TIP #3: GET A GREEN CARD FOR YOUR INSTRUMENT:
The folks at US customs (which I cleared in Calgary) asked about the value of my instrument. Once I told them, they asked for a "green card" for the instrument. Apparently, when you're traveling with an expensive instrument, you can obtain a green card for that instrument from your home airport's custom authority. This card indicates that the instrument originated in Canada. In this way, when you return there are no questions regarding where the instrument came from. The Canadian customs people (and those in the US too) are apparently on the lookout for purchases made in the US on which duties and taxes may be owed. The green card avoids these hassles upon return. (Given that I don't have a green card for my bass, I'll deal with this potentiality in a week's time.)
TIP #4: BE NICE TO EVERYONE:
Naturally, when traveling with a bass trunk there is a lot of curiosity on the part of fellow travelers and airport staff. Be nice to all of them. Realize that you're in some sense at their mercy. Given that the bass trunk is over-sized, they can always decide not to take it. Its worth the extra time to talk with them, entertain their inquiries, and open the case again and again (for customs and security checks) with a smile on your face.