Flight of the Naked Dulcimer
General mountain dulcimer or music discussions
Often we hear and tell horror stories about traveling with our music instruments on commercial airlines. But I just had a really pleasant experience and thought I’d share it.
I recently purchased a vintage Jethro Ambergey mountain dulcimer and needed to get it home to Japan from California. I don’t have a case or bag for it and thought over several different packing/wrapping strategies for the trip. But I finally decided to just hand-carry the little thing naked on board with me and see what would happen.
My wife and I were flying economy class on ANA, All Nippon Airways. As we were checking our bags at Los Angeles International Airport, the counter clerk was curious about the dulcimer and had some questions. She also expressed some concern about its safety. I told her I planned to ask a flight attendant for some help stowing it once we were on board.
After going through Security and getting into the Departure area proper, we found our gate and settled in for the wait, taking turns to do a little last-minute shopping. About twenty minutes before boarding time I was startled to hear my name over the P.A. I was asked to please come to the gate counter. I did and gave the woman there my name. She found me on the computer and said, “Oh, you’re the one with the musical instrument. We’re going to have you go on during pre-boarding.”
Seeing my confused look, she continued. “That’s the time before the regular boarding. It’s when people with small children, wheelchairs, or special needs can get on board and get settled. That way you can find a place for your instrument, no problem.”
“That’s great,” I told her, “Can my wife come on board early, too?”
“Oh yes,” she said, “No problem.”
Thanking her, I went back to Miwako to explain what they had said to me. No sooner had I told her what was going on when the woman from the counter came up to explain in more detail the procedure and to look at the dulcimer. She too had questions which I happily answered.
So when they announced pre-boarding we were checked through and after a few minutes allowed to board the plane. Our seats were at the back of the plane. After we stowed our carry-ons and shopping I looked for a place for the dulcimer. At first I wasn’t happy with what I saw. This new 787 Dreamliner may be a miracle aircraft, but the overhead bins are pretty small. I didn’t want to take up one for just the dulcimer and I didn’t want to try to share. But I did find a pretty good dulcimer-sized space. It was on the floor between the last row of seats and the bulkhead behind them. I found a flight attendant in the galley at the back of the plane and got her to come out and hear my plan. She said fine and suggested we wrap the dulcimer up in a blanket, which she supplied. We swaddled the little naked dulcimer and laid it on the floor out of harm’s way for the eleven-hour trip across the Pacific. The flight attendant, too, was curious about the instrument and had questions.
We settled into our seats as the other passengers began coming aboard. My wife was very happy with the early boarding. She said we should always carry a dulcimer with us, if it means getting special treatment.
After boarding was complete, the doors sealed, and we began taxiing towards the runway, another flight attendant came by and offered to put the dulcimer in a nearby closet. I thanked her, but declined. I felt the place we’d found and the blanket wrapping offered as much protection as we could expect or would need. Besides, I liked having its nesting spot close at hand.
The flight to Tokyo was fairly smooth, as was the landing at Narita International Airport. I had found recordings of Hawaiian slack-key guitarist and singer Dennis Kamakahi on the in-flight entertainment system. I continued to listen while the plane taxied to the terminal. Since we were at the back of the plane and would be among the last to disembark, I figured I’d enjoy as much of this wonderful music as I could before gathering our things together. But my wife started tugging at my sleeve and saying something I couldn’t understand. And I saw yet another flight attendant. She had pulled the wrapped dulcimer from behind the seats. I took my earbuds out, a little grumpy at being yanked from Hawaiian bliss to Narita tarmac.
“She wants to make sure the dulcimer is OK,” Miwako said, “And she wants to see it.”
“OK, fine,” I said, taking the instrument from the attendant. I unwrapped it. The bass string peg had been bumped and the string was a little flat. Otherwise the dulcimer was fine. I handed it over to the crew member. She looked it over closely and brushed the strings lightly while we got out of our seats. More questions, more answers. I got our things down from the overhead bin while Miwako and the attendant chatted. The plane emptied while they talked and finally we hustled down the aisle, the last to leave, as the crew finished up. The naked dulcimer had landed, arriving in good condition.
As I said at the top, the bad news, the horror stories and problems get reported. I wanted to share my good experience and praise the ANA staff and cabin crew for their concern and efforts. It is a class operation.