Flying With A Mountain Dulcimer

Musicians have nightmares about flying with their instruments. Though a mountain dulcimer will almost always fit in overhead storage the instrument is technically too long to be considered carry-on baggage by many airlines.

Flying with a dulcimer

I rarely have  trouble carrying-on a dulcimer. Here are a few things I have learned over the years:

I fly with my dulcimer in a gigbag with a shoulder strap.

A gigbag takes up less room than a hard case and looks smaller and more compact when noticed by flight crews. A shoulder strap lets me carry the dulcimer on my back and leaves my hands free to show my ticket when boarding. Since I am carrying my dulcimer with ease it sometimes goes unnoticed. I rarely have trouble bringing a small backpack and dulcimer on board.

If possible I reserve a seat towards the back of the plane.

Usually the rear seats board earlier and many overhead bins are still empty and available.  The flight crews are usually less concerned about this odd-shaped piece of musical luggage taking up space while there is still plenty to go around.

If told my dulcimer will not fit overhead I politely explain that it has always fit in the past.

The flight crew is doing their job. They are people. Be nice to them!

If the flight crew tags my dulcimer to be checked as cargo while boarding a smaller plane I discreetly take the tag off and put it in my pocket .

I have only  done this a few times. I was able to carry on my dulcimer with no problem.

There have been a few times when all the overhead compartments were full or an airline employee’s purpose in life has been to keep me from bringing  my dulcimer on the plane. In 30 years of flying with a dulcimer I have faced these scenarios 3 or 4 times. In these situations the only option was to have my dulcimer hand-placed in cargo. Theoretically this means it is carefully placed in cargo and carefully removed and given to me as I leave the plane.

When this has happened my dulcimer survived. I survived too but the flight was anything but relaxing!

6 thoughts on “Flying With A Mountain Dulcimer

  1. Hi Susan,

    I’m so happy to hear that your daughter got the hammered dulcimer bug! It would be great to see you again. I’m hoping to come out that way sometime and will certainly get in touch when I start planning the trip.

    Years ago I was traveling back from Turkey with a saz as carry on. I had a similar positive experience. The flight crews on 3 different flights were so helpful! I wish it was always like that!

    All the best,


  2. Hi Doug!
    When my daughter was about 4 years old, you played at my Folk Soup series and later she asked me if she could learn to play a hammered dulcimer too. 6 years later we were on our way to Ireland with the hammered dulcimer so she could compete in the Fleadh Cheoil with the dulcimer as carry-on, on Aer Lingus. I was pretty nervous that we wouldn’t be able to take it on, but they were very gracious and just put it in the First Class closet. The Irish “get” music! (She placed 3rd in her category)
    Hope we see you if you come East one day. Maybe we can set up a mini tour?

  3. Hi Priscilla,
    A flight case for a dulcimer should not be very large so it will probably be easy to check it as luggage. There are several companies in North America that make them to order, usually special ordered through a music store. I would try a local music store and see what they can come up with.

    I don;t know what is available outside the USA. Sometimes companies that sell sound reinforcement gear sell flight cases as well.

    I hope this is helpful.

    All the best,


  4. I’ve been playing lap dulcimer for a little while, I flew back from the states with it with no problem, but i’m concerned going from spain (where I’m based) to other european countries. I already have a carry on where I fit my flutes and such, so this is my second hand-luggage. In a gig case it’s impossible i can check it it in, and with a flight case i’m not sure if it could be checked as luggage. Any advice on buying a flight case though? or regarding non usa countries?

  5. Ok, about this Flying with A Dulcimer. Do you have your FAA Dulcimer license? Is your Dulcimer registered properly as an experimental aircraft or is it registered as light aircraft? We have a small local airport not to far from us, so this is very important to us. We don’t want the errant Dulcimer to come crashing in on our house due to poor maintenance or an unqualified pilot.

    Sorry to be such a nudge, but it’s dangerous up there.

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