This article is copyright 1989 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in the American Federation of Musicians International Musician, Vol. 88, No. 1, July 1989. It is used by permission of the author and, as needed, the publication. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.


Carry-On Luggage: The Musical Facts

by Antonio J. García


The September 1988 issue of the IM included an article by Ken Shirk titled “How I Fooled the Airlines.” The author described a method of carrying his bass trombone into the plane cabin by taking the horn apart, placing the bell section (tuning slides removed) in a shortened gig bag for underseat stowage, and placing the slide in a thin, protective case within a suitbag for closet stowage.

Though helpful, this approach is limited by three variables. First, at least two major airlines allow only one carry-on item. Secondly, certain aircraft have no closet for suitbags. Third and more commonly, any airline accommodating a near-capacity planeload of passengers on a given flight will invoke its right to limit each passenger to one carry-on item. Any of these three variables will force the musician to choose which half of the instrument to subject to the greater risk!

The only “safe” answer is to ensure passage of the entire instrument in one case within the cabin. The FAA is rightly concerned with the nature of carry-on items and has set regulations so as to protect all passengers. But, as quoted frequently in the IM, the FAA’s Federal Register recognizes that “musicians state that they must carry on musical instruments; if checked, the instruments could be seriously damaged. This rule allows the air carriers to make provisions to accommodate travelers with special baggage problems, provided the baggage can be safely stowed. We would expect that carriers would establish procedures to allow passengers to notify the airlines prior to traveling to see if special baggage needs can be accommodated.”

How accommodating are the airlines? In an effort to determine their policies, I sent one-page questionnaires in January to thirteen major airlines: American, Braniff, Continental, Delta, Eastern, Midway, Northwest, Pan American, Piedmont, Southwest, TWA, United, and U.S. Air. All but Eastern (which is undergoing difficulties and could not respond) and Midway (which responded quite late) replied within a month, though many replies were inconclusive and required my follow-up.

On January 1, 1988 a “model” set of maximum dimensions for items stored in overhead bins was agreed to by the Air Transport Association: 36” x 10” x 14.” Given the acceptable example of my own, 36” x 9” x 12” tenor trombone case, built of a light wood of nominal weight, only Delta and Continental replied that my instrument could be carried into the cabin as a matter of policy. To do so on any other airline would require latitude on the part of the gate agents and crew. Only three airlines (Midway, Northwest, and United) consider such discretion in instances of underbooked flights. All other airlines discourage such discretion, meaning that should your attempt to board with the instrument fail, it would be sent below the plane (following your signature on a damage waiver!)

A common misconception exists that gig bags guarantee carry-on access. When the question was re-phrased to consider a soft-sided case of similar dimensions, the airlines’ responses were identical: the construction and appearance of the case is not the issue in their viewpoint.

I must stress that Continental, in accepting the item, reserved its right to refuse it any time at the crew’s discretion. However unlikely, such a statement adds to the occasional risk. Also, anyone attempting the dismantling technique described in the previous article should not try it with Pan Am or United: they usually limit passengers to one carry-on item (two, if quite small). And remember that any airline may do the same at will.

Airlines are quick to suggest that musicians buy an extra seat for their instruments. If you are affluent or desperate enough to do so, be aware that Piedmont’s and Continental’s “seat baggage fare” is 100% of regular fare; Delta, American, Northwest, and Braniff usually approximate 75% of full or coach fare; Southwest, Midway, U.S. Air, Pan Am, and TWA approximate 50% of domestic coach fare; and Pan Am charges 100% of its international fare. No cabin-seat baggage is allowed on “United Express” shuttle flights. Most airlines require a specific location on board; so reservations are important. Piedmont boards without assigned seating; the musician, reservations in hand, should be at the gate early to pre-board.

However, even buying a ticket for your instrument is not a guarantee of cabin passage. I have personally witnessed an occasion when a bassist, tickets bought and instrument strapped in as per regulations, was told by the flight crew that his bass was “annoying” to another passenger (who had complained bitterly) and would have to be removed and checked below, its ticket fare to be refunded. Though other instruments are less likely to “offend,” airlines often print such unpublicized clauses in their regulations. Even if an item meets all other prescribed standards, for example, its status is approved only “when determined acceptable by Piedmont.” Pan Am clearly states it may refuse any otherwise-acceptable item deemed “annoying” to passengers. Of all the airlines surveyed, however, only Continental frankly admitted that the incident with the bass could potentially take place on its flights; all others denied any possible occurrence.

As a professional musician who frequently travels with tenor and/or bass trombones, I attempt to ascertain carry-on policy when purchasing an airline ticket. Often I receive affirmative responses from the airlines’ ticket agents on the phone at point of sale only to be rebuffed at the gate (even when the aircraft size has not changed). All of the airlines queried believe their ticket agents are informed well enough to answer the various carry-on concerns correctly over the phone, and all but Continental believe that those agents can also verify underseat or overhead bin dimensions of a ticketed flight with accuracy. Though this may largely be true, exceptions surface with regularity. Even in written responses to direct questions, officials at two airlines contradicted themselves by supplying printed regulations that differed from the content of their cover letters and/or answers from their telephone ticket agents. Only after I identified the contradictions were corrections offered.

Faced with the raw data that only two airlines surveyed will accept the given, FAA-acceptable item as a carry-on within their policy, one might conclude that the instrument’s protection is not widely available without the added cost of an extra seat ticket (even then subject to imprecise “acceptability”). Musicians playing smaller instruments are now noticing the trend towards banning all hard-sided cases from overhead bins (current on some airlines); yet “gig bags” will not guarantee acceptance of a trombone. The discretionary latitude of the flight crew is spoken of approvingly by only three other airlines.

Finally, I have in the past attempted to get a written guarantee of carry-on passage for overhead stowage of my case. Though several customer relations representatives speak affirmatively of such an agreement, I have yet to receive one in hand. To my fellow musical passengers I can only suggest that the airline industry is not yet accommodating our needs as recommended by the FAA in the June 5, 1987 issue of the Federal Register—over two years ago! I can only recommend that we make those needs known, individually and collectively, to the industry until a satisfactory measure of response is received.

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Antonio J. García is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded a B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music and of Loyola University of the South, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, film, and solo works—instrumental and vocal—including grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Jim Pugh, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Hal Leonard, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, ejazzlines, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ). His scores for independent films have screened across the U.S. and in Italy, Macedonia, Uganda, Australia, Colombia, India, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García serves as the jazz clinician for The Conn-Selmer Institute. He has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins—and has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band and is the bass trombonist on Phil Collins’ CD “A Hot Night in Paris” (Atlantic) and DVD “Phil Collins: Finally...The First Farewell Tour” (Warner Music). An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.

Mr. García is a Research Faculty member at The University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) and the Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network and has served as President’s Advisory Council member and Editorial Advisory Board member. His newest book, Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading (Meredith Music), explores avenues for creating structures that correspond to course objectives. His book Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by NAfME) and authored a chapter within The Jazzer’s Cookbook (published by Meredith Music). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA’s All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association’s 2001 Distinguished Service Award.

Regarding Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading, Darius Brubeck says, "How one grades turns out to be a contentious philosophical problem with a surprisingly wide spectrum of responses. García has produced a lucidly written, probing, analytical, and ultimately practical resource for professional jazz educators, replete with valuable ideas, advice, and copious references." Jamey Aebersold offers, "This book should be mandatory reading for all graduating music ed students." Janis Stockhouse states, "Groundbreaking. The comprehensive amount of material García has gathered from leaders in jazz education is impressive in itself. Plus, the veteran educator then presents his own synthesis of the material into a method of teaching and evaluating jazz improvisation that is fresh, practical, and inspiring!" And Dr. Ron McCurdy suggests, "This method will aid in the quality of teaching and learning of jazz improvisation worldwide."

About Cutting the Changes, saxophonist David Liebman states, “This book is perfect for the beginning to intermediate improviser who may be daunted by the multitude of chord changes found in most standard material. Here is a path through the technical chord-change jungle.” Says vocalist Sunny Wilkinson, “The concept is simple, the explanation detailed, the rewards immediate. It’s very singer-friendly.” Adds jazz-education legend Jamey Aebersold, “Tony’s wealth of jazz knowledge allows you to understand and apply his concepts without having to know a lot of theory and harmony. Cutting the Changes allows music educators to present jazz improvisation to many students who would normally be scared of trying.”

Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: “Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education.” Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: “Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe.” The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García’s “splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing” and cited him as “a nationally noted jazz artist/ of the most prominent young music educators in the country.” Down Beat has recognized his “knowing solo work on trombone” and “first-class writing of special interest.” The Jazz Report has written about the “talented trombonist,” and Cadence noted his “hauntingly lovely” composing as well as CD production “recommended without any qualifications whatsoever.” Phil Collins has said simply, “He can be in my band whenever he wants.” García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.

The Secretary of the Board of The Midwest Clinic, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.’s international management executives. The partnership he created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association’s Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest’s “Midwest Jazz Masters” panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Artist Fellowship in Music Composition” panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of NAfME, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 “Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching” award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year” (one of 434 nationwide). He was recipient of the VCU School of the Arts’ 2015 Faculty Award of Excellence for his teaching, research, and service. Visit his web site at <>.

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