When Airlines Break Guitars: Your Rights When Traveling with Valuables

You may have seen the story about musician Dave Schneider who flew from Buffalo to Detroit on Delta last month only to find his checked vintage Gibson guitar (estimated value $10,000) all smashed up. Now, he says, he’s getting the runaround from the airline over repair bills. UPDATE: After the story hit media/social media, Delta agreed to pay for repairs and the Gibson company is giving Schneider a brand new guitar.

So what are your rights in a situation like this? [Editor’s note: Be sure to see the video below]

Help – Should I Bring My Valuables?

Packing Valuables – The Risks

The short answer is many airlines state they are not responsible for valuables and put this in their contracts of carriage which few travelers bother to read (but are filled with useful information).

American Airlines’ contract, for example, states flatly that it does not accept valuables in checked-baggage. Delta’s contract has a tiny bit of wiggle-room, saying it will not accept as checked-baggage any “fragile, perishable [or] precious” items – in other words, almost anything of value including musical instruments – unless the airline determines it is packed properly or the owner signs a document releasing the airline from responsibility.

13 Secrets Hidden in Airline Contracts

As FareCompare has reported, the term valuables can cover a lot of ground, from antlers (Frontier Airlines) to a Bible (United). It’s not clear if Schneider was offered the opportunity to sign a waiver, but he reportedly did offer to buy a seat for his guitar so it could travel in the cabin with him, but he says he was turned down.

Keep Valuables on Person

Air travel expert Rick Seaney has long counseled travelers to leave valuables at home but he’s also said, “If you must bring them, keep them on your person.” Added Seaney, “If you’ve got to have those diamond studs, wear them, and put the iPod in your pocket, and hand-carry your iPad.”

Pack Carefully

If you must check something delicate like a guitar, some experts say suggest packing it carefully with padding then placing it in a hard shell case (and as extra insurance, consider wrapping a belt around the case in the event it unexpectedly pops open). If possible, ship ahead with a firm you trust and purchase the insurance.

The Social Media Solution

Guitars have been damaged on flights before, none more famously than musician Dave Carroll’s back in 2009. He couldn’t get the airline to pay attention to his claim either so he wrote a song called “United Breaks Guitars,” which immediately went viral (see the video below).

That did the trick – Carroll said after months of getting nowhere, United suddenly contacted him and they came to terms. The singer/songwriter subsequently published a book called, United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media.

If you’re getting the runaround, try Facebook or Twitter. Chances are, at least you’ll get a response – and maybe more.


Published: January 8, 2013