Monthly Archives: August 2014

Traveling with bagpipes: Cases, Ivory, and Competition.

I am fortunate to have had the chance to compete with the storied Manchester Pipe Band from Manchester, CT at the North American Pipe Band Championships held on August 2, 2014. The band is celebrating its centenary and invited alumni to come and play with them. While I’m not alumni, Bryan is and he not so subtly suggested that I come along too. We competed in grade 3 with the MSR Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban, Captain Colin Campbell, and The Rejected Suitor. Special thanks to Jared and Jed Otto for allowing me to tag along into the circle and to the rest of the band for the warm welcome. I made some excellent friends during the trip!

My big concern was taking my band pipes, 1950 Hendersons, that are mounted in a white substance that I didn’t want identified as ivory when crossing the border back into the U.S. and have my pipes confiscated. Luckily, I have a set of 1920 Robertsons on loan to me (hear some sound clips below) mounted with black casein projecting mounts and white casein ringcaps and bushes. So, they were my choice pipes to take. They were/are equipped with some old Rocket reeds that I think make them sound really good! Perfectly reliable strike-in (absolute must for band work), excellent volume, and steady tone; what more could you ask for? Of course, I would settle for nothing less!

My next main concern was how to protect someone else’s pipes on the 6 different airplanes I’d have to get on to travel from Lubbock, TX to Hartford, CT. Previous experience with a hard “flight case” pre-9/11 being checked in the pilot’s luggage area sold me on putting the pipes in the smallest carry-on possible ever since (it was going to be gate checked but they made an exception for my pipes, again pre-9/11). The plan is to make absolutely sure whatever you take them in will fit under the seat, because if the case is too big to fit under the seat (even within the specified max dimensions), with any luck a flight attendant will tell you they’ve run out of room in the overhead bins and you’ll have to gate check. In addition to being small enough to fit under the seat, I wanted to find a backpack so that I could carry my pipes around the games with me easily, but one that had padding on all sides just in case it was gate checked.

There are 2 bagpipe specific flight cases I know of. One is the Bagpiper Flight Case (reviewed by Bryan below) but it isn’t a backpack, and it’s ~$260. RG Hardie has a backpack flight case however it is larger (by 2″ in width) than the maximum allowable carry-on in the U.S. You hear horror stories of airline employees requiring you to place your bag in their bag checker cage and requiring a gate check of every bag that’s too big, regardless of the state of the overhead bins. No thanks. Camera cases are outrageously expensive and have tailored compartments that are too small. I eventually figured out that a laptop case might work.  The trick is finding one that probably wouldn’t be too great at holding a laptop, as most have v-shaped compartments that narrow toward the bottom making them totally unsuitable for carrying anything that isn’t thin, but would hold a laptop quite snugly. U.S. maximum carry on baggage dimensions are 22x14x9″, with the one I found coming in at 19x14x9″, smaller than what’s required! I was set.

What I ended up with is a SOLO “Executive Backpack”. The price tag at Office Depot said $79.99 but rang up at $59.99. Amazon had one for ~$70. Unlike most laptop backpacks which will not work, this one has all the right attributes:

1. It zips all the way to the bottom. Most laptop backpacks only unzip half-way.
2. The sides are padded in addition to the top and bottom. Most laptop cases are only padded on top and bottom because laptops are thin.
3. Opens to a flat bottom. Most only open to a v-shaped padded area.

The obvious con when constrained by the carry-on dimensions and bagpipes is that you have to completely disassemble your pipes. Meh.

Pictures here:

front straps open inside2 inside1

Packed for travel on the plane, I wrapped each part in foam pipe insulation, probably overkill as the pipes were never out of my possession, but one can never be too careful when dealing with airline employees. You’d be more in control of that situation with a cattle prod up your ass than an expensive musical instrument in your hand. My “case” worked great and fit under every seat, no problemo. Definitely take reeds out so when the TSA going digging around they don’t pull a chanter cap off or drone bottom out and booger up your reed. Don’t forget to take out razor blades and knives from your pipe maintenance kit before trying to go through security. I took my t-zip lube out too.

Recordings of the pipes produced well after returning from Maxville are here:


Kalabakan and Famous Bridge

Sleep Dearie Sleep, The Congress, MacPherson’s Rant, and The Tourist (last two a la FMM’s medley from a few years ago).

Dugald MacColl’s Farewell to France, Caledonian Society of London, Alick C. McGregor (an MSR I’ve been working on for a drummer)

Bryan’s review of the Bagpipe Flight Case is here:

Maintaining a calm demeanor while subjecting your personal property to 21st century baggage handling restrictions at American airports has become increasingly more challenging.  If you check your luggage at the front, there is the ever present danger that one’s luggage will end up in a more interesting place than you.  If you decide to carry your own luggage on board, there’s all that scanning, poking, prodding, and shaking. So, if you want to transport bagpipes on an airplane, there are two options. The first option was to pack your pipes in with the checked luggage, but I wasn’t too excited about my clothes and expensive bagpipes ending up in Singapore.  The other option was to carry my pipes on board. This option risks having the TSA dissect my pipes and break my reeds. I obviously wanted a safer option that would be airline friendlily, yet still protect my multi-thousand $$ bagpipes.

I decided to go for the the carry-on option.  After all, Federal law dictates that airlines must accommodate musical instruments on the plane, so this is likely the best choice.  Unfortunately, they are only obligated to accommodate instruments…IF THERE IS ROOM.
49 U.S. Code § 41724 – Musical instruments (link make myself feel better about this whole process, I purchased a BAGPIPER Flight Case to transport my Colin-Kyo bagpipes to Maxville.  The flight case is a roller board style case with pre-fitted soft foam forms for the drone tops, and a soft section that can accommodate bulky, grommeted bags with room to spare. There are several extra zippers and other hidden compartments for sundry items. The luggage locks with a TSA approved locking mechanism. The luggage is transparent to X-rays, so the TSA can prod and poke with impunity. The case  includes a capped cardboard tube to transport a chanter. Large, sturdy quick release connectors are located on the outside of the luggage and smaller quick release buckles on the inside to hold everything in place.

If you are certain that you can place your luggage in the overhead bins, then this luggage works great. The BAGPIPER luggage fits in the overhead bins, despite the published size restrictions. The problem is that in today’s over-booked, inter-hub flights, the over head bin space fill up quickly. If you’re unlucky enough to be at the end of the loading, then you have to check your bagpipes. No ifs—and– or  buts.. Yelling and screaming doesn’t work. I’ve tried.

If you have to check your bagpipes at the gate, you should ask for a blue GATE VALET tag.  US AIR/American Airlines should make this available at the gate. This tag is specifically for:
First Class carry-on luggage
Strollers/ car seats
Wheelchairs/assistive devices
Deadhead/Crew baggage
Oversized pictures
Musical Instruments

With this handy blue tag, you can leave your luggage at the end of the jet bridge and the baggage handlers will stow your luggage lovingly in a secure place in the belly of the plane. They will then unload your luggage and make it available at the end of the jet bridge at your destination. Make SURE to pick it up. If you forget, they will send your luggage to some sort of luggage purgatory.

If you want to ensure some overhead storage room, board the plane as early as you can. This will give you more chances to stow your pipes in the cabin. It may even be worth purchasing the early boarding priority that is offered by some airlines. However, if you want to risk it, even if they announce that all of the bins are full, they are often not.

The BAGPIPER Flight Case is a premium piece of luggage. It cannot be re-purposed for anything except transporting a single bagpipe through airports. However, if you want to protect your investment and your instrument, this luggage will take the risk out of your airport experience. Even if you will have to check the luggage, I have no doubt that it will be safe.

This solution is fairly expensive. The luggage that I purchased was approximately $225.00. The other issue I had with this luggage is that it is generously labeled BAGPIPER.  If someone wants to steal something expensive, they’ll have a good idea what to go for. On the other hand, if you want to initiate lots of intra-queue conversations along the lines of, “Do you play the bagpipes? I love the bagpipes… My grandma had bagpipes at her funeral…. My family is Irish, are you Irish?.. Can you play Danny Boy”?

My final advice (1):
invest in real estate
there’s no such thing as a permanent record
always eat breakfast
all the girls on the Internet are actually dudes
you never buy the extended warranty on anything.. EVER!
and…oh yeah.. chicks like it when you tell them they’re pretty, but they also like it when you’re kind of a dick to them. So, mix it up a little.

(1) Quote from Tucker,  Episode 94 “Tucker knows Best”, Red versus Blue.

Editor’s Note: We spent way too much time watching RedvsBlue on Netflix. Also, Bryan’s Bagpiper flight case got gate checked twice due to its size, but the pipes (engraved silver and moose Colin Kyo) were well intact, as was the case, so the case does its job well.