Latest News (updated periodically)
[April, 2014] I now travel with the carbon fiber cello using an Accord case. I check the cello. I should also add that I fly exclusively on United and get a little special treatment because of the amount of miles I fly every year (they add up!) I think this helps also as my checked luggage gets Priority treatment which seems better to me than before I achieved the Gold status. If you travel a bit I recommend accumulating your miles on one airline so you can leverage the miles into a better traveling experience (upgrades, lounges, seating priority, etc.)
[June 2010] For the last year now I have been traveling with (buying a seat) my Luis & Clark carbon-fiber cello in a Reunion Blues soft case. This has not been any trouble..yet. The only down side is the extra expense. There's a lot on the up side: easy to negotiate city streets/trains/etc. with a padded bag case instead of the hard case; nice to not check anything (!!); the carbon-fiber cello is not super sensitive to heat or cold or humidity or pretty much anything; it sounds good!.
I would like to point everyone to the BEST site for air travel with a cello.
[February, 2009] I have a new case, the BAM Hightech Carbon Look and I now will buy a ticket for the cello to ride with me on the plane. I am looking into carbon fiber cellos also. Perhaps if they sound OK I could use it for gigs where I am more amplified. So far the Luis & Clark look like the only alternative. We'll see.
Best site for info
There are many new travel cases. Check out Cellos2Go.com for all the latest.
Archive - Old Information
I used to use a Kolstein travel case and it worked fine for years. I didn't like the elastic straps with metal couplings that would swing and nick the instrument. I'm sure they've changed their model now as airbags rule the travel case world now. I live in downtown New York City where a guy named David Gage has a bass shop (David Gage String Instruments, 36 Walker St. New York, NY 10013 Phone: 212 274 1322 Fax : 212 274 9634). He designed a travel cello case and I bought one of the first ones. The case uses airbags and it worked great. The new one is lighter and has better wheels, plus the design is slightly altered to allow for easier closing. I've had no problems (knock on wood!) and the cello doesn't even go out of tune in transit, which I still find remarkable.
I always worry and still try hard to have the cello hand carried, or wheeled, in my case, to the baggage area instead of chucked onto the belt where it can get stuck (getting stuck is bad but as the belt keeps moving, the pounding of other bags is worse). 19 out of 20 times when you ask, the check-in person will show you where to put the cello and they will be pleased you didn't expect them to deal with it. Overseas you may be asked to wheel it to a separate check-in area for oversize luggage which is great as then you know it's been processed. If they do ask you to leave it near the check-in area stay around and make sure it gets picked up. Some airlines are less on the ball and it could still be sitting there while you are up in the air. I haven't found any airlines that will let you wheel the cello out to the plane. This used to be the way to insure gentle treatment, but it seems to be a thing of the past.
If you curb-side check-in you're are wasting your time as they will just bring it into the terminal and you will still have to stand on line. Don't waste your money with a major tip as these guys don't bring your cello to the baggage area they just bring it in the door and leave it. If you feel like tipping someone, wait for the guy who comes out to get the cello and give him the money with a little encouragement to keep an eye on your fragile baby. I used to tip and now I assume the case will do its job. I hang around not only to make sure the cello gets picked up but also to educate the baggage guy on how to roll the cello if it looks like he might be prone to an accident.
On a recent tour I did get charged once. Stay away from young check-in clerks if you can. I've found an older man is the best. He's seen everything, he's not worried about his job security and he is more willing to bend the rules. A younger employee is worried about doing the "right" thing, following the rule book and learning new things (like how to charge someone for a cello!) A recent check-in lady exclaimed as I arrived at the counter, "Oh! I've never done one of these." My heart sank, I knew I was in trouble. She ignored my attempts as she paged through pages and pages of 'online' data about what to charge someone for various oversize and over-weight items. It's tricky. Here's what I do.
I never check anything but the cello: I always say, "This is all I'm checking." The Gage case is not heavy and with the cello only weighs 38-40 pounds which is not over weight.
If they do mention charging you don't jump to your defense, take some time, let it hang there. If you jump in their face they are likely to develope a strong dislike for you making it easier to charge you.
Things you can say:
"This is the only thing I'm checking."
"I know it's oversize but it's not heavy, could you let me slide this time?"
"They didn't charge me on the way out." [I've found this rarely works...]
Make some kind of personal connection as you arrive at the counter, their job is a drag and if you can show that you understand this by being friendly, without being phony, it helps.
Try not to pile too many requests one on top of the other when you arrive at the check-in counter. Have your ID ready and your tickets out and wait until after you've made it through the cello problem and then deal with seat choice (aisle, window, etc.), meals, etc.
If they do insist on charging it should only be for the size or "dimensional inches" not the weight. Some international carriers will charge a per mile rate which can really add up make sure you understand it all before you whip out your charge card [this has never happened to me but I've heard about it].