5 Top Tips: Travelling with my trombone on a train or plane

Travelling with my Trombone

04:30 - leave hotel on a coach

05:35 – check-in at the airport

07:35 – flight scheduled departure time

11:55 – flight actual departure time

15:20 – flight actual arrival time

16:10 – bags finally arrive on the luggage carousel

16:22 – narrowly miss the train into London

16:47 – catch the next train into London

18:49 – arrive at my home train station

19:00 – arrive at my front door after the short walk from the station

19:01 – decide that next time, I won’t fly!

These are the actual timings for a journey that I made recently. It is pretty common for flights to be delayed or even cancelled. ‘Musician’ always sounds like a glamorous or even exciting job to those who work in an office, hospital or undertakers, but many of us spend more time travelling to and from work than we spend actually performing. It’s a tiring and expensive part of what we do.

The performing bit, I could do all day, every day! That’s the bit I love. It’s the bit I trained so hard for.

The thing is, the two bits come hand in hand with each other. I have some things that get me through the worst of the wasted time and keep me calm when the unexpected happens. I’ll share them with you now.

#1: It’s not your fault.

Unless you’ve picked up your spouse’s passport, left your tickets on the breakfast table or booked your flight for the wrong year, (all of these really happened!) any delay or cancellation is out of your control. You might as well order yourself a coffee and read another chapter of your book.

#2: Keep calm.

It rarely helps the situation to get angry, cross or frustrated with staff at check-in, boarding or on the actual aircraft. I have seen musicians turned away from flights because they hold on to their instruments with unbridled passion. I have also seen the outcome of unprotected instruments being placed in the hold of an aircraft – not pretty. I was sitting on the tarmac in an aeroplane with an orchestra – all of the ‘cellos were in identical flight cases as we watched one ‘cello slide from the top of a piled-high luggage truck and land ‘firmly’ on the runway next to the plane. None of the ‘cellists knew whose instrument it was and how bad the damage was – for them, it was an uncomfortable flight to Beijing!

#3: Be prepared.

It’s good to have a few ‘distractions’ at the ready for the inevitable delays. A book is a great one – provided you can dip in and out of it. I also travel with many audiobooks or podcasts – these are perfect because wearing a set of headphones also helps to keep out the rest of the world if needed! It’s worth ensuring that your electronic devices are well charged – especially if you are using e-tickets (yup, I’ve seen that happen too!). Having access to wifi or foreign data is useful as it means that you have instant access to book alternative flights, hotels or even just watch Netflix!

#4: Money, money, money.

You get delayed and arrive at your destination airport at 23:57. The ATM isn’t working, you haven’t eaten since lunchtime and all of the local cafes only take cash! Argh! I always make sure that I have a small amount of local currency before travelling – you never know when you’ll get caught out!

Finally, enjoy the enjoyable bits, put up with the boring bits and relax when something goes wrong. Many things are out of your hands and sometimes, you just need to sit back and let life happen around you!

#5: How do I transport my trombone?

Unfortunately, the days of casually strolling up to the aircraft gate with my trombone on my back and being confident that I’ll be allowed to take it on with me are gone!
Two main options remain:
Book a seat: this is my favourite option - I book (or ask promoters to book) an extra seat for my instrument. The costs increase but it means that I am able to travel with my Fusion gig bag from home to my destination without it leaving my sight. The precious cargo within is safe and secure for the whole trip. 
Check it in: this is my least favourite option. I do have a custom built aluminium flight case which will survive a crash alongside the plane’s black box. However, it is heavy and often costs more to place in the hold due to its size and weight. Also, when I land at the other end, I still have a big, heavy box to wheel around the streets, hotels, theatres etc. Not the comfort of a rucksack gigbag. 


Happy travels.



About the Author

George Bartle

George Bartle is a trombonist, sackbut player and multi-instrumentalist. George trained at the Royal College of Music in London and the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland. Since then he has toured the world extensively as a trombonist and sackbut player with many groups and orchestras including London Philharmonic Orchestra, The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.


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