American Airlines Has A New Policy For Where Musical Instruments Can Sit On A Plane

Years ago world famous cellist Lynn Harrell was banned by Delta Air Lines because he would book a seat on his flights for his cello – and credit the miles for that seat to a SkyMiles account in his cello’s name. I appeared on Stephen Colbert defending Delta.

  • You can book a seat on a plane for your musical instrument
  • Your instrument is not entitled to miles when you do

Department of Transportation rules are clear about airlines accommodating musical instruments on board their aircraft. But these rules aren’t often well-understood.

It’s been possible to buy a ticket for a cello, for instance, and not have reservations agents check to make sure they’re in the proper, allowable seats. And then the passengers may be able to fly with the cello unaccosted anyway, or they may not.

Cello On Board American Airlines Airbus A321

American Airlines has updated its policies to become much more flexible traveling with musical instruments.

They used to require that large instruments go in bulkhead rows, but even this varied by aircraft because American doesn’t offer true bulkheads on all aircraft anymore.

Now, according to an internal memo, there’s no more requirement that large instruments have to be seated in a bulkhead. Instead, the rule is simply that the passenger must be seated next to their instrument; cannot be seated in an exit row (because it could block the exit); and must not impede egress of other passengers in an emergency.

Generally if you are a solo traveler with a large instrument, you’ll book the window and middle seat rather than the aisle.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is good news – as someone who has a kid that has travelled with a cello.

    Here’s a less known fact. AA also allows you to use miles to book a seat for a cello.

  2. Joe Bonamassa as on the Adam Carolla pod the other day and he said that whenever he buys a special guitar, he books a seat for it and straps it in next to him. He was dead serious too. If someone wants to pay extra for a seat, let them, particularly if they’re famous. Not the hill an airline should die on imo.

  3. You are.paying for the seat, so why should you not be able to claim miles for.that ticket ? AA is getting the same revenue for that seat as any other seat.and professional musicians are often frequent flyers and therefore good customers.
    Sorry Gary, I think you’re wrong on this issue.

  4. That is just wrong. If I am paying for a seat, it should be allowed to earn miles as well. Whether someone is sitting there or an instrument, the seat is paid for and that is all that should matter.

  5. OMG Gary! You were so funny in that Colbert report!
    That look from the bed behind that Delta book made me laugh so hard!
    Why hasn’t Hollywood called more often?

  6. The irony, on my last AA flight where there was a solo traveler with a cello, the FA was telling the passenger that it *cannot* go in a seat in the bulkhead row because it’s in a middle seat, and the traveler was in an aisle seat.

    The solution – they upgraded the cello to first class for a first class no-show, bypassing the upgrade list.

  7. I wonder if it was my recent flight that caused this change.
    I was flying CLT-LAS in row 5 in Business on an A321 and a customer had a cello behind me in the first row of Coach. They had upgraded 2 passengers to 1 D and 1F after boarding. The male flight attendant got the iPhone out, referenced an FAR, called the gate, and pointed out that it was not at a bulkhead and needed to be moved to Row 1. A disagreement ensued and the pilot came out to discuss as well. The flight attendant won the argument (gate agent was annoyed) and the passenger in 1F was then asked to move BACK to coach and was NOT happy. Cello was strapped to 1F.

  8. Will the cello flying in American Airlines seat 1F get a pre-departure beverage and ramekin of warmed nuts before being served a first-class meal?

  9. Gary, I loved every second of your Stephen Colbert segment. It is hilarious. Thanks for reposting it.

    Passengers bring all sorts and sizes of carry-ons. It is important for airlines to have a uniform policy about this. Thanks for posting this as well. That’s why I read your site.

    Smooth Flying and Best Regards to all View From the Wing readers —

  10. On 28 April, 2023, I made a one way, trip with Qantas in a Boeing 737-800 from Melbourne, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand. Booking a seat for my cello meant a fairly lengthy visit to a local Flight Centre office. The day came and I couldn’t not believe the rudeness of the staff. I was hassled every step of the way on, and after, approaching Melbourne Airport customs and even on boarding the plane, where upon I was told emphatically ‘You cannot bring that on the aircraft, sorry’ even though I was holding two boarding passes. I was also eventually accompanied by an aircraft engineer who was called to fix the cello to a window seat near the rear of the cabin. As the space between rows, especially in economy, seems to becoming less and less these days, there was no room for the cello, in a hard case, to actually sit on the floor of the cabin. The engineer seemed quite clueless to the point I don’t believe he’d ever been called upon to assist in such a situation. I came up with the idea of removing the seat’s cushion so the cello could rest on the seat frame. Even that proved to be only just successful due to the scroll end of the cello being jammed tight against the overhead locker and the seat back could not be reclined. So a full adult fare was paid minus any taxes. No carry on allowed and no meal. And definitely no points! I was pretty upset when I read of the late, great cellist Lynn Harrell’s predicament with his instrument’s SkyMiles. How ignorant and rude was that airline.

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