Recently, a well-known flutist who was traveling with 11 flutes made out of various woods had the instruments confiscated and destroyed (allegedly) by a US Customs Agent.
I travel frequently with many instruments, and have yet to experience anything remotely this disastrous, but have certainly had inconveniences and ill-informed TSA agents running across security holding 2/ 14 karat headjoints, exclaiming, “Guess what these are made out of??” True story. More than one time.
Here is what I have learned about domestic travel and traveling abroad with instruments.
First and foremost, your instrument should not travel in checked baggage.
And here is the rest:
Place your instruments in their own bin, one layer deep only. If they are piled up, you will be asked to step over to the exam table and the instruments will be swabbed with a dry cloth. Avoid this if possible. We know TSA is protecting us all. But rarely do they know the proper protocol surrounding opening a flute case.
The X-ray may not be able to “see” inside a wooden case. I will never again travel with any wooden case for flutes or headjoints. It is wise to have a travel case if you have a wooden case as your primary case.
The best solution? Any of the Wiseman cases. Even if they are opened incorrectly your flute will stay securely in place.
As your instrument(s) go through the scanner, let the TSA Agent know that these are musical instruments.
I also do not put a metronome in a case cover or near the flute. Just my own personal precaution.
Avoid stowing your flute in the overhead compartment. It gets very cold up there. Your flute could go out of adjustment very, very fast. This happened to me as I was on my way to do one of the very early Web broadcasts from Chicago. Until I had played the flute for about an hour, I had no low register!
I always carry a gig bag. Here comes another story: I left my flute on a parking lot tarmac one cold and rainy evening at Clarion University in Clarion, PA, while I changed out of my good concert shoes into driving/rain shoes. The next morning, the biology professor turned the flute into security, but only after I had called from each exit of the PA turnpike to inquire about it. Yes, this was 1989, before mobile phones! A gig bag is too large to miss, or at least in my case, this is a mistake I only made once…
To completely ensure the safety of your instruments, and to avoid delays at Customs on either end of the trip, make sure you have filled out the proper paperwork at your local Customs office prior to travel.
The required form is titled “Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad”, Form No. 4457. Before traveling, visit the US Customs Service in your area. Along with the instruments you will be traveling with, bring proof of purchase and your passport. (Flute Pro Shop will be happy to send you a record of any instrument purchased from us.) List your instruments, makers, serial numbers, purchase price. The customs service will stamp it, and you are good to go. I stow this form in my Passport wallet just in case. This service is free, or in some cases a small fee is required.
The link to this form is: forms.cbp.gov/pdf/CBP_Form_4457.pdf
Remember, foreign repairs ARE dutiable. In addition to Form 4457, be prepared to show the receipt of the repair work and proof of payment.
Perhaps most importantly, treat the TSA Agent and/or Customs Agent with respect and politeness, regardless of how you are treated. They may or may not return the favor, but you will no doubt avoid unnecessary delays by behaving with dignity!