As a touring baritone saxophonist, there are many roadblocks to travelling with my instrument. Airplane flights are the worst, because we have either the option to: 1) check it as luggage and put it under the plane, 2) buy an extra seat for it on the plane or 3) try to bring it on the plane, without the flight attendants noticing and store it in the overhead.
Let's examine the pros and cons of each option, working from #3 to #1:
3) This option is always like playing a game of roulette. it depends on: the size of plane - will the baritone case even fit in the overhead compartment, if you get the chance to try. Also, the demeanor of the flight attendants - are you working with people who are empathetic to the situation or do they just go by the book? You also have to consider that if you get the instrument past one person, there might be another who won't let it fly. Even if you manage to get the case into the overhead, the flight attendants might come down the aisle checking for room for other travellers' items, and ask to put the instrument under the plane to make more room. I have heard some musicians had luck if they get the airplane's baggage policy ahead of time and/or speak with a representative on the phone prior to the flight to use as proof that it is permissible to bring your instrument on as a carry-on item. I have been with some airlines, however, that clearly state the sizes of items that can be brought on and a baritone sax case falls outside of the limit. This option leaves the musician with anxiety in getting on any airplane as to whether or not their instrument will be safe. When the flight attendants do not allow the instrument in the overhead, it must be gate-checked, which could be a big problem if your instrument is not in a proper case to protect it form the roughness of the baggage handlers.
2) This is always a safe bet, however, it will cost you. In the times that I have brought my instrument on flights, I have had the venue or tourinig organization pay for this cost. Depending on the destination, this can be a huge expense to a musician, and is not always a realistic option if the hiring party cannot cover the cost.
1) This option scares me the most. I once checked a baritone saxophone for a trans-atlantic flight. It was a coffin case with a Yamaha inside and I secured it with nylon belts. The instrument was packed in a larger container with other musical instruments for a touring band, which made me think it would be more protected. When I got the instrument back, the belts had all been broken, the case suffered some damage, and the instrument had some cosmetic damage as well. The case was also covered in "homeland security" stickers. Since then, I have heard of many horror stories of baritone saxophones getting wrecked in so-called "flight cases" when they were checked under the plane. I had gotten a BAM hightech case, but after doing so, heard of two incidents in which a baritone sax in a BAM case was smashed in the upper bow area after going through baggage handling. I know that it is possible to get a custom made anvil case for the instrument. The reason why I shy away from these is because they are monster cases. Once you are off the flight, you have to deal with getting around town with a large, heavy and unwieldy case, not to mention your luggage and other musical equipment that you need for performing. One of these cases would most likely require you to pay an extra fee the check it since it would be conbsidered "oversize" baggage.
So my question to the forum is this: does anyone have another option in this situation? Are there any other cases that are a better solution for checking the instrument under the plane that are still small enough to be relatively mobile once off the plane?