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Tickets and Bags and Fees, Oh My! - Planning Ahead for the Flying Musician

As Michelle and Jessie so acutely expressed during last week’s podcast, the airport is STRESSFUL and can immediately signal a fight or flight response within even the most well-traveled musicians. Planning ahead and anticipating what your travel day might look like can help to alleviate some of that anxiety, despite the $15 airport chicken caesar wraps.

One of the easiest ways to circumvent some of the stress of traveling is to plan/book in advance if you can. When seeking out airfare, it is tempting to simply book directly with the airline’s website. This is convenient, usually straightforward, and can be one of the better choices if you have a specific airline’s credit card or frequent flier status, particularly since those often come with additional perks like a free checked bag, extra miles, or priority check-in. However, it may be worth your time to peruse a few websites like Skyscanner, Google Flights, Momondo, Hopper, etc. to find the best deal on your route. If you have some room for variability in your schedule, staying later or arriving an extra day early can save you hundreds, sometimes even outweighing the cost of accommodation for the extra time.

After a ticket is booked, we must understand what kind of airline ticket we have acquired. Every airline has a different (and usually tiered) approach to the class of ticket you have purchased. Basic Economy, while inexpensive, may not include a checked or even a carry-on bag and may subject you to change fees if you need to change your itinerary. Main Cabin sometimes offers a better value for only slightly more money (especially if you need to check a bag, want to choose a seat, or need some flexibility in your itinerary). Below, I have included a chart comparing what is included in the cheapest fare categories of some major US airlines*. And yes, snacks are a category because what is a morning flight without Biscoff cookies and coffee? Most offer upgrades like checked baggage for a fee. Bear in mind that these features may change for international travel. My personal preferred airlines are Delta, Alaskaouthwest.

*Accurate at time of posting

However, note that if the airline delays, cancels, or moves your flight, more often than not, you are entitled to ask the airline to get you to your destination as close to on-time as possible. This may involve re-routing you or rebooking you onto a flight to another city with more connections. This should never cost you money, and airline mobile apps will often offer you new route choices should your original flight be delayed or cancelled. For example, I was supposed to be on a non-stop Delta flight in Basic Economy from Kansas City to Boston for an audition. The flight was running several hours behind and eventually cancelled due to weather. The Delta app offered to rebook me on a flight to Atlanta, where I then connected to Boston (at no additional cost to me other than some frayed nerves and a few hours of lost sleep). I arrived only 3 hours late and was able to perform my audition as-scheduled, as opposed to being stuck in Kansas City overnight and missing the audition altogether.

This also underlines the advantages of traveling carry-on only. In fairly common situations like the one above, I would not have had the flexibility to be rebooked so easily if I had checked a bag. Instrumentalists might have an additional challenge if they play a larger instrument that fits in the plane cabin. Since your instrument is likely to be counted as a carry-on, you will need to fit the rest of your essentials in your personal item. But please, if at all possible, make sure that instrument stays in the cabin with you. We don’t want you to become a statistic or a tragic ClassicalFM article!

While packing - and I know this sounds silly - check the weather for your destination! On multiple occasions, I have packed clothing that is too warm or too light, resulting in an unexpected (albeit sometimes enjoyable) shopping trip. Versatility is key, and I usually try to pack a set of clothing that I can mix and match from easily on multi-day trips. After all, space is limited and we don’t want to have to worry about what we’re wearing while not auditioning or performing.

You may also want to consider what kind of bags you are bringing. Heavy backpacks and bags slung across the shoulders could cause some additional back, neck, and shoulder grief that can already be aggravated by uncomfortable plane seats and travel anxiety. One of my favorite bags is a small duffle that has a flap that I can slide over the handle of my carry-on suitcase so it rests on top. This means I only have to carry the duffle on my shoulder for mere minutes throughout the entire travel process.

I hope some of this is helpful to you in some way! What are some of your favorite travel tips? What do you pack to feel confident and comfortable on audition/performance trips? As always, feel free to comment below or reach out to us on social media!

Happy Travels!

- Preston

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