The last time, actually the last several times, we did extensive or overseas travel I took my little 8 string ukulele to torment my wife with. The ukulele is a cool little instrument, don’t get me wrong, but its not a guitar. And I’m not Israel Kamakawiwo. Actually I’m no Van Morrison either, with the possible exception of temperament, but that’s not the issue here.
I decided, prior to embarking in Auckland 6 weeks ago, that this time I needed to travel with a guitar. I have recently bought a new and rather expensive guitar. But… I didn’t think it appropriate to try and load this new instrument onto a plane. When I bought my new (dreadnought size) guitar I also tested a small Yamaha electric/acoustic travel guitar and was very taken with it and ideas started to germinate.
I told my wife, our navigator, this prior to departure hoping she might suggest that I purchase one of these for our trip. Nope. In fact she used that time tested technique of deflection and delay by suggesting it might be worth looking at something like that when we got back. Clever.
So I found myself in Auckland, for some reason I cant now recall, on my own not long after this disappointing discussion. I also cant now recall why but I also found myself quite nearby a music/instrument shop. I went in for a browse. You know the rest. Its not a Yamaha but an Alvarez. Its guaranteed travel size, well its 88cm rather than the 85cm that airlines categorise as travel size but what do they know? For a small guitar it sounds good and would certainly do so in Van Morrisons hands and it came with its own bag.
I owned up as soon as I got home. As it was fait accompli as they say in France there was relatively little discussion although a degree of surprise expressed.
Air NZ had no issue with me carrying my new acquisition onto the plane and popping it in the overhead for our trip to Tokyo. No problem. The BA ground agent at Narita for our trip to London was a little dubious but a more senior person came to our rescue and the Alvarez traveled to Heathrow in the overhead on that flight as well. All good. Rental cars and trains no problem of course. As we progressed through Europe to the point where it was inevitable that we would be taking short flights rather than trains and travelling near the back of the plane I started to become slightly worried.
SAS to Norway and back no real problem. It helped that I Ive got a Star Alliance gold card and upgraded us to the front of the plane. I had also by then become something of an expert in the rules published on airline websites regarding the carriage of musical instruments and what constitutes “hand baggage” allowed in the cabin.
The little Alvarez travelled in its own seat in our mobile home and had a seat belt even. It got used most nights. I had become attached to it and would hate to see it stranded in some airport somewhere.
The real challenge came after our week in Italy and prior to our Wizz Air flight to Sofia. I could see, based on the website rules and various blogs, that this wasn’t going to go well for us. I had spent several days worrying about it and thinking through all the alternatives. The travel bag it is in is robust but soft so I am not sure how well it would go in the hold on a budget airline. Our Wizz Air seats from Milan to Sofia had cost something like 10 Euros each. I added “Wizz Air Priority” which got us a short cut at security (and just as well), choice of seats, and extra hand baggage allowance (but still only one hold bag each) which added almost another 100 Euros and was still hundreds cheaper than the major airline alternative.
Wizz “Priority” didn’t mean they would necessarily be good with me carrying a small guitar on board as hand baggage though so there was risk. I was reconciled to purchasing an “extra bag” and trying to put the Alvarez through as Checked Baggage despite airlines sometimes refusing to allow this because of the fact that they break them quite regularly and people get all pissy.
Then I wondered to myself…if it had its own seat in the mobile home why couldn’t it have its own seat on a plane? I engaged my brain and did a little bit of research and some checking on seat prices compared with extra bag prices. Long story short…I bought the Alvarez its own seat which was about the same price as buying an extra checked bag on my ticket. With the added advantage of the Alvarez also getting a cabin baggage allowance of its own.
Unfortunately I did this on-line and long after I had bought our tickets and chosen our seats. The website didn’t like that nor the fact that there was no passport number for the guitar but I was able to make up a D.O.B. and the residential address part seemed straightforward. It was all legal but it did create maximum confusion at Milan Bergamo airport as we checked in. This was after an almost detour to Venice compliments of Miss Garmin which already had us rattled and having to line up with the masses. That had us totally confused because that never happens provided we travel Star Alliance. Wizz is so very egalitarian. And cheap. Even for guitars.
It all worked out. It took ages, much gesticulating, many loud phone calls conducted in Italian sprinkled with some English words I recognised, and all the while the lines dwindled to zero people…only us. We had to have our seats changed from the exit row I had selected so that we could sit with the guitar. The weird thing was they put us in 20-something D and F with no-one between us in E and the guitar was over the aisle in 20 something A with no-one in B but someone in C. It just all seemed very odd but quite workable in an Italian Wizz Air kind of a way.
The guitar made it to Sofia, no one asked for a passport, and is now in Greece with us.
The next challenge is BA back to London tomorrow. I have been worrying about this and putting off buying an extra checked bag. I am glad I did because it was expensive and leaving it until the last minute has turned up a much better option…again. We can upgrade to business (a today only special apparently), and get a much more generous baggage allowance, for not much more than the cost of buying an extra checked bag for the guitar. Go figure. I might even get it a nice place in an overhead.