Southwest Also Breaks Guitars

Brian hasn’t written a song about it yet, but he tells Consumerist that Southwest Airlines broke his guitar. However, they won’t take responsibility for the situation because the case wasn’t broken

Southwest Airlines broke my guitar. The acoustic guitar was packed in a hard-shell case and left unlocked according to TSA regulations. After the flight the headstock was broken in half, and the case was in fine condition.

After reporting this to the airline I was told they had no liability because the damage was “concealed damage.” The report they wrote stated, “has concealed damage on his guitar… the case itself was not damaged at all.” This explanation supposes that a guitar cannot be damaged unless the case containing it is also damaged. This, of course, is absurd.

Their evasive attitude has sent me chasing a paper trail that will inevitably end in their refusal to take responsibility for the abuse of my property while in their custody.

In essence I paid the airline $50 to break my guitar.

A few weeks later, we asked for an update, and Brian wrote:

I haven’t heard anything back. I mailed Southwest a parcel including all the information regarding my flight and the broken guitar that they require of passengers when making a claim. This was all done within the 21 day time period required.

The parcel was mailed about two and a half weeks ago.

Our favorite alternative way to complain at Southwest is through their Twitter account. Otherwise, what genre of music should Brian record his song about this incident in?

United Breaks Guitars
Did Dave Carroll’s Broken Guitar Videos Cost United $180 Million?
Dave Carroll Says No To Guitar Hush Money From United
Delta Smashed My Bike And Won’t Refund The Baggage Fee
United Loses $12,418.28 Of Famous Rock Climber Steph Davis’s Gear
Sunwing Airlines Also Breaks Guitars – Then Replaces Them


Edit Your Comment

  1. Smiley Massacre says:

    Change your profession from guitarist to Ukuleleist. Problem solved!

  2. edosan says:

    So he’s accusing someone at Southwest of opening the case, snapping the neck on the guitar, and putting it all back in the case again?

    • the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:

      They could have opened the case, checked it, dropped it and broken it then put it back in the case or whoever checked it may have not latched it and someone else picked it up, the case opened, and it fell out, breaking. Guitars in hard shell cases don’t just have their headstocks breaking in half.

      • jjonathany says:

        Actually, the headstock is very susceptible to breaking inside a hardshell case (if the area is not padded well) when traveling with or shipping a guitar…

    • common_sense84 says:

      No. The case is not meant for travel. The customer is 100% at fault. A hard shell case does not protect a guitar enough to ship one in it.

      Southwest is 100% correct here.

      The guitar essentially wobbled around in the hard shell case and broke. Because the case was not padded and not specifically design to fit his guitar.

      The passenger is an idiot.

  3. ShruggingGalt says:

    TSA said to leave a case unlocked????

    WRONG. You can buy a TSA lock.

    • Laura Northrup says:

      My hard shell guitar case doesn’t have anything you could attach a TSA lock to. I don’t think. Now I have to check…

  4. jjonathany says:

    It sounds like he didn’t pad around the neck and headstock of the guitar. The way acoustic guitar cases are designed, you’re basically asking for this kind of damage if you do not pad around the neck/headstock area.

    See more info here:

  5. Zaphâ„¢ says:

    The song should be done in the genre of Speed Metal.

  6. missitnoonan says:

    Um, if the case wasn’t damaged and the guitar was it probably means that he needed a better case to hold the guitar with more stability. If you’re going to check valuable and delicate objects you need the proper hardware.

  7. tedyc03 says:

    The article on the United Breaks Guitars story doesn’t reveal much in the way of how the Taylor guitar was packed. That being said, every time I’ve had something break inside a hard case (suitcase, etc.) there’s been physical damage to the exterior of the case (ding, dent, scratch, scuff).

    I can see why Southwest would be skeptical that the damage wasn’t caused by their actions, if there’s no damage to the case itself, but they should at bare minimum refund this guy’s $50.

    • Big Mama Pain says:

      Well, in the United case, the guy could actually see the baggage handlers throwing the case around as they were loading it on the plane. He had proof that it was being mishandled.

  8. Binaryslyder says:

    Interesting Tip: Last time I flew SOUTHWEST with my guitar, the gate rep encouraged me to unwind all my strings. He said the pressure change can snap the neck and/or headstock even if the guitar doesn’t bounce around.

    Wonder if he wasn’t as lucky to have the same helpful gate rep as me….

    • majortom1981 says:

      IF what they said is true then southwest is not responsable for this.

    • c!tizen says:

      BINGO! It’s a golden rule that when you travel with your guitar or you know you won’t be playing it for a while, you unwind the strings. This goes for any string instrument. That neck is under tremendous pressure when the guitar is tuned and a drop, even in a hard shell case, can most certainly be enough to snap the neck.

    • saturnleia says:

      That’s horrible advice. All major guitar manufacturers ship their guitars with the strings wound to normal tension. There’s an FAQ on the Laravee website that will tell you to make sure your strings are at full tension – if you don’t leave them there, your guitar risks getting warped.

    • saturnleia says:

      That’s horrible advice. All major guitar manufacturers ship their guitars with the strings wound to normal tension. There’s an FAQ on the Laravee website that will tell you to make sure your strings are at full tension – if you don’t leave them there, your guitar risks getting warped.

    • saturnleia says:

      That’s absolutely horrible advice. From Larrivee’s website:

      “Do NOT take tension off the strings when shipping your guitar. This is a dangerous practice as the machine heads and headstock are the heaviest parts of the guitar, and the string tension from proper tuning serves to counteract the stresses these parts place on the instrument. Some people on the internet will tell you that loosening the strings is a good idea – If it was such a good idea, then every manufacturer would do it. Martin, Taylor, Gibson, Larrivee, Collings, etc all ship our guitars new from the factory at full tension – What makes your guitar any different?”

  9. NarcolepticGirl says:

    My ex’s acoustic guitar broke (at the neck) after putting it in a case and traveling from Boston to Virginia. He figured he didn’t pad it enough. It wasn’t exactly the most expensive guitar, so he didn’t care so much – but with the replacement he made sure to pad the hell out of it if he was leaving the house with it.

    So, I wonder how the OP packed it ?

    It’s also possible if he didn’t buy a TSA lock for it, then it could have fallen out when someone picked it up – and they just threw it back in case and kept their mouth shut.

    • NarcolepticGirl says:

      I should mention that my ex was traveling in a van – not on an airline.
      Which, I think makes it even stranger.

  10. NarcolepticGirl says:

    Also, I should mention, from what I’ve seen, most people don’t check in their guitars if it all possible because they don’t want anything to happen to them. Last year, there was a whole ska band carrying all their instruments as carry-ons.

    Perhaps you should go this route next time?

    Since you didn’t do you research this time, do it for next time.

    Here is a great TSA Blog article on flying with musical instruments that explains that you should probably bring stringed instruments as a carry on, the TSA locks, buying a travel molded case, :

    Here are some musicians talking about how they fly with their instruments:

    • saturnleia says:

      You’re often not given a choice – even if airline policy is that you can bring a guitar onboard, I’ve known way too many musicians who had problems with this when they actually tried, even with letters from the airline’s customer service department authorizing them to bring the guitar onboard without checking it.

  11. PupJet says:

    I just LOOOOOOVVVEEE how people are so quick to blame others when it was most likely their fault from the get-go. As many posts have stated AND depending on how he packed/padded it, the neck of the guitar is extremely susceptible to snapping and furthermore, he should have done research on a TSA lock.

    I don’t have a guitar, but when I do travel with something that I KNOW can be easily broken if not padded correctly, I check to see what the rules/regulations are (or *gasp* even call them) to see what can be done to protect it.

  12. josephpr says:

    Ok, so is he actually so dense that this happens once, to a tool critical to his profession, and he then goes and does it again (checks guitar as baggage)? Or could it just possibly a deliberate attempt to get more publicity? I have never had damage to checked luggage, but then, mine has been clothing and other travel gear. I wouldn’t check valuable musical instruments, crystal vases, etc. etc.

    Sorry, his 15 minutes are over.

  13. The Moar You Know says:

    Not Southwest’s fault.

    I used to work for an extremely high-end boutique guitar maker. I’ll leave the specific name out to protect my anonymity, but one of our closest competitors was Collings Guitars in Texas. Same price range (basic models start around $2700), same idea (antique reproductions).

    I learned a lot at that job, and one thing I learned is how to ship an expensive guitar so it doesn’t break. A case alone isn’t going to cut it.

    If you don’t stuff the space behind the headstock in the case with something to ABSOLUTELY PREVENT any movement (we used newspaper, works fine), you will end up with exactly the damage the poster describes – guitar broken at headstock, case fine.

    Under impact, the headstock behaves like your head in a car accident. The neck support, far from helping, makes the problem worse. Imagine what would happen even in a low-speed collision if your neck were clamped in place, but your head was free to move. Get the idea? That’s what happened here.

    Like I said, we used tightly wadded-up newspaper to place behind the headstock. Like a headrest on a car seat, it prevents whiplash and keeps the guitar from getting broken.

    Next time, Brian, pack the guitar properly.

  14. rubicthecube says:

    As someone who worked in the music retail biz and has mailed several guitars, here is the proper way to ship a guitar.

    1) Loosen the strings. The pressure of being in an air craft takes its toll on the neck. the tension
    of the strings can cause the neck to warp and/or break with any little bump. Loosen the strings enough so that you can easily put your hand between the strings and fretboard.

    2) TSA approved flight case. The locks on it are designed so that they can be easily be opened by TSA. Not to mention, some of these are designed to withstand the pressure of being in the air. Unless you’re carrying on (which you probably aren’t), TSA approved flight case is a must.

    3) No empty spaces in the case. Like I mentioned earlier, any little bump in the air can destroy your guitar so dont give it any wiggle room. Balled up newspaper works great.

    4) Fragile stickers up the wazoo.

    5) Have someone at the terminal inspect the guitar and verify in writting that your instrument is fine before you took off.

    6) Bring a box large enough to fit your guitar case to the airport. After being inspected, stick the case in the box and stuff it full of newspaper. You can get a box at your nearest music store, they always have a box that’ll fit.

    That is all.

    • JasonR says:

      Great post with lots of useful information! And on top of that, you didn’t blame the OP, AND you’re a cuber. :)

    • saturnleia says:

      Never loosen the strings. It’s horrible advice.

      • rubicthecube says:

        Loosening the strings is a must. Gibson, Fender, Taylor, even Larivee guitars all come with strings loosened straight out of the factory.I’m not sure why Larivee would say one thing and then do another. All books say to loosen them. I’ve literally shipped hundreds of guitars, all of them have arrived in great shape. Don’t trust me? Go ahead and ship your guitar as is, upon arrival you’ll have some great firewood.

  15. kracken41 says:

    I’ll bet he didn’t loosen his strings (which is 100% his responsibility). The neck easily could have snapped, and it would make total sense that the exterior of the case would be undamaged. I’m with Southwest on this one.

  16. ThomasP says:

    Having had KLM/Northwest absolutely destroy my trombone’s bell without so much as a crack in the hardcase, Brian’s experience rings true to me.

    Anyone who’s tried to travel by air with a large and unwieldy instrument knows you don’t have a choice except to send it under. This isn’t really because of post-9/11 airport security. It started more recently with the airlines cracking down on carry-on luggage to make a buck – or 50.

    I used to be able to sweet talk my horn onto the plane and even be allowed to board early to ensure a place for it. Now if you get past check-in with something “too big” they will gate check it in a heartbeat.

    After I filed my claim, I had to be patient, and threaten involving lawyers to get them to actually pay to replace the bell and not try to give me half as much in flight vouchers. Just be persistent and good luck!

    Maybe the airlines should own up to air freight being the lost and damaged roulette it is and offer insurance. It might shock people at first, but if you’re paying $50 to send something under maybe it’s worth it to know you’ll get paid the full value. People do for UPS and FedEx!

  17. all4jcvette says:

    Small claims court also works well.

  18. common_sense84 says:

    This most certainly was a hard case where the guitar fit loosely inside and had no padding.

    If you pack a glass jar and it shatters because it sits loosely in an empty case, that is not the carriers fault.

    The person’s case was not meant for travel, it did not properly support the guitar and it wasn’t padded.

    Southwest owes this person nothing. And this passenger owes southwest an apology.

  19. mikeytwice says:

    Or, never check your acoustic guitar. Even if airlines say they won’t let you take it on board, they usually will, and they’ll store it in the closet where they hang up suits and all that.

    If you absolutely must check, loosen the strings and pack it in a good hard case, as people have suggested, but I’d be reluctant even then. Wouldn’t the temperature changes in the baggage hold be pretty rough on something made of wood?

    That said, bitch to Southwest until you get something out of them.

  20. saturnleia says:

    That’s horrible advice. All major guitar manufacturers ship their guitars with the strings wound to normal tension. There’s an FAQ on the Laravee website that will tell you to make sure your strings are at full tension – if you don’t leave them there, your guitar risks getting warped.