Thursday, April 26, 2012

Travel Tips for the Flutist

It was a dark and stormy morning when my harpist, Anne Sullivan and I set off to play one of the first ever live web concerts in Chicago on radio station WMNT. I stowed my flutes in the overhead compartment and settled in for the flight. After a quick stop at Lyon Healy to pick up a concert harp, we headed it the radio station. All seemed fine until I opened up my double flute case, thought, hmmm, these seem cold. No worries, yet. Started to play. No low register. What?? Looked at the flute. All the right hand keys were visibly not covering. Ok, not to panic, I had a lovely back up flute. What? No low register again! Then it hit me: the flutes were very cold from riding for 4 hours in the overhead compartment. The pads had shrunk. In the moments before the concert, I blew as much hot air (apparently I have lots of it) into my principal flute and after the first piece, had a lovely low register as long as I used the thumb Bb whenever possible,and pressed hard with the right hand. Lesson: never place the flute in the overhead compartment! Especially if you will be playing it shortly after landing. I've learned some other lessons while traveling with my personal flutes (I'll save the stories multiple flutes on business trips for later: don't want to make this too hair raising) Learn to love TSA. They are only doing their job. It's ok if they call your flute an oboe or clarinet. Just smile. Correcting them will just cause further delays. If traveling with more than one flute/piccolo, make sure the cases are not stacked. Laying them flat in a bin will lower the chances of a search. If a TSA agent (remember we love them) says (and it is always LOUDLY) Ooooh! Is that real gold?? Deny it!! Call it copper! Speaking very calmly, of course. If you are traveling with say a gold and silver flute, or a gold head joint/ silver flute, your wonderful agent will need to X-ray the darker colored metal. Smile. Ask that the opened case be placed in a bin. Sometimes they will need to gently rub a white square cloth over the surface of the flute. It's OK. It won't hurt the flute. I can sometimes prevent searches by saying to the agent, "These are musical instruments". This happened today, actually, and the agent said, "I know what this is! I played in high school!" and she mimicked playing the flute. I was not searched. I always travel with my flute in a gig bag or briefcase. There is a very good reason for this. Once Anne Sullivan and I were on tour, and I placed my black flute case in its black case cover on the black parking lot as we loaded the car. Arriving at the hotel 4 hours later, I realized my flute was not in the car. Panic! Sleepless night! Fortunately a professor at the university where we had performed knew it was valuable and turned it in to security. Fed Ex saved the day for the next performance. Ever since then I use a large bag to carry flutes, music and so on. Once dubbed "one helluva handbag" the progression of bags over the years have prevented another disaster. I also always travel with two flutes and simple repair tools: a multi tool (combo screw driver and spring hook) a rubber band ( very useful in case of trill key malfunctions) full cleaning supplies, a set of plugs, and pad cleaners. Now you know why I need a large bag! A few precautions and knowing what to expect can make traveling with your precious flute much less harrowing. If you have a travel story, please either comment to this blog, or email your tale of woe to: I will compile them in a future blog.


  1. Fabulous Post! Would the Wiseman Case be a good investment for this type of traveling? I noticed it on your website as I was browsing through.

  2. Great question, Kristen! The Wiseman case is how I protect my flute. When I use my gig bag (aka one helluva hand bag) I simply remove the shoulder strap and it fits perfectly. Check them out:

  3. Book tours and research provide a lot of travel - too much, I sometimes think, but we do take vacations.
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