I remember posting this about 2 forums ago
so I'll repost my tips and tricks for all the newbies.
I've been travelling with guitars on planes now for about 8 years. The first time I ever brought one on a plane I checked it in a baggage but I put the guitar in its case and in the shipping box and packed the hell out of it. This was pretty expensive to do because it was considered 'oversized' and I think I paid about $75 both ways. That's the expensive option and I don't recommend it anyway.
The other option is to ship your guitar via UPS to your destination. This will probably be the best option if you are really worried about getting a scratch or ding on your guitar because the option I recommend for bringing the guitar on the plane is not 100% scratch proof.
The best way to go:
First off, try to get an isle seat. Next, put your guitar in a well-padded electric guitar gig bag. Take your trem bar off if you got one on before you put it in the bag, duh. I will usually wrap a hand towel, old (but clean) sock, washrag, or bubblewrap around my headstock for extra protection
. I always check-in two large bags with my non-valuables and carry-on two items which you CAN get away with even though most airlines say no more than 3 bags total. See 'Cool little things to remember #1' below for more info on how to get away with 2 carry-ons and 2 check-ins. Security has never questioned me about my guitar, but I haven't travelled with my guitar since 9/11 so I can't be sure what will happen now.
When boarding the plane look for your seat and when you find it you will need to claim the overhead compartment just to the opposite side of your seat. The most important thing is to wait until the compartment is near-full. Once this is done, there is usually about 2-5 inches of clearance at the top of the compartment. Stick your guitar in this space snug and shut the compartment door. Failure to have snuggness may result in a nasty fall when a bubble-headed blonde stewardess decides to 'find more room' and open the compartment and bam! There goes your guitar. I've also had an incident that took a small chunk from my headstock when the stewardess decided to move around items in the compartment and grabbed my guitar by the gigbag strap and pulled. The guitar was heavier than she thought (it was my 1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom) and BAM on the armrest of the seat. ALWAYS keep your eye on the overhead compartment.
When the plane lands and finished the taxi, rush the compartment like a mad-man AFTER the fasten seat belt sign has been turned off. Grab your goods and go before anyone else has a chance to pull their bag from under your guitar and BOOM! Bye bye guitar.
Cool little things to remember:
1. Women are allowed 2 carry-ons (if they check in 2 bags). Men are allowed 1 carry-on (if they check in two bags). Sexist? Yeah, reason being is that women are allowed to carry on a purse that is considered 'acceptable' as an extra carry-on and fully exempt from the carry-on rules. If you have, oh, lets say a camera bag and a guitar in gig-bag and they give you a hard time just say the camera bag is your purse. It works because they don't want a discrimination lawsuit on their hands. Bottom line: Check in two large bags with non-valuables. Bring your guitar in a gig-bag as your carry-on. Pack a reasonable size (not too big) camera bag or portable computer case and shove all the valuables you don't want to check-in like your cameras, guitar fx, etc. Bring that item in as your 'purse'.
2. I used to carry a screwdriver in my gigbag zipper pocket. DON'T DO THIS! Remove all tools (including alan wrenches and trem bars) from the gigbag pocket if there, or you'll lose them during security check. Check them in with your baggage.
3. TRIM YOUR STRINGS! Loose guitar hair dangleing off the tuners might be considered a weapon. Trim them low.
4. NEVER put your guitar in an overhead compartment where pillows and blankets reside. The compartment will get opened and closed too many times and too many hands will be in there.
5. If you fly first class they can put your guitar in a coat closet. When you fly coach, they will probably never let you do this.
Hope these tips help out.