Flying with Hang, Hand Pan, or Pantam Drums can be stressful.
The following are 4 options that we have learned over the years from our own experiences as well as the experiences of other handpan players that have traveled domestically and internationally with their instruments.
1. First and foremost, travel with your hand pan in a case!
The most popular and widely used options are the Evatek and Aviotek by Hard Case Technologies. Some builders provide other cases with their instruments. We have also seen some players use Pelican Flight Cases, Namana Musical Instrument Cases and steel drum cases.
We have explored a few options including the Pelican case and designing a case of our own, however we currently use Hard Case Technologies Evatek and Aviotek exclusively as we have found them to be the best and most accessible option currently available.
2. Carry-On Luggage
When possible, it is always best to bring a handpan on the plane as carry-on luggage even though technically the cases are bigger than every airline’s carry-on luggage size limits. These limits seem to be suggestions more than strict regulations as many travelers bring luggage larger than these limits on board.
Most handpan cases will fit through security scanners, however we have heard that some of the largest cases will not always fit. The Evatek, for example, is available in medium and large sizes. The medium will definitely fit through all security scanners that we have seen or heard about.
Security officers will likely want to inspect your handpan, ask you what it is, or ask you to take it out and show them. This is typically a great opportunity to show them their first handpan, play a quick song and provoke a few smiles.
Some players like to play a bit while waiting for boarding in order to create some positive attention, then explain the rarity and fragility of the instrument to the airline attendants while asking if it is possible to board first with families and other people that need extra time. It often works. Some airlines require a small fee to board first which can be well worth it.
It is best to find open storage in an overhead compartment near your seat so you can keep an eye on your instrument. Most medium and large planes have enough room in the overhead storage for a medium Evatek. Additionally, the cases and protective shells offered by Panart, Bellart and Pantheon Steel will typically fit in the overhead storage of these same size planes.
We have been on a few medium sized planes with overhead storage that is slightly too short for an Evatek to fit even though there were rows of three seats on each side of the aisle. Sometimes there are multiple sizes of overhead compartments so it is worth looking around for the biggest one.
Planes that have rows with less than three seats on each side of the aisle often have overhead storage that is too small for a medium Evatek. We have not seen any planes with overhead storage tall enough for a large Evatek, however perhaps it will fit in the overhead of some of the largest international aircraft.
3. Gate Checking and Closet Storage
If you discover that your case will not fit inside of the overhead storage once you are on the plane, another option is to explain to the flight attendant that you have a rare, valuable and irreplaceable musical instrument that will not fit in the overhead storage. Then ask if there is another place to store it such as a coat closet. We have had some flight attendants tell us that this is not possible only to then do it while other flight attendants have immediately offered, especially if the line to get on the plane is backing up because of the situation.
A final option is to gate check the case. This is more and more common now that most airlines are charging for checked bags. Sometimes, flight attendants will want to check the baggage to be received at the final destination. This is typically a bad idea unless the case is designed for being checked in. Instead, ask the flight attendant if you can gate check the bag and pick it up at the door of the plane at your next destination. This is usually an option for other items such as baby strollers. It is worth planning your flights with enough time before and after any connecting flights in order to deal with this situation as it can sometimes take 10-20 minutes for the airport luggage handlers to unload the plane and bring gate checked luggage to the airplane door.
4. Checking in a Handpan Before Security
This can be a bit of a stressful option only because it is out of sight and will be passed through many hands in different places. However, that minor stress may be negated by not having to deal with an oversized carry on luggage as long as you have an adequate flight case like the Aviotek from Hard Case Technologies. We DO NOT recommend checking in a handpan that is only in a bag or even in an Evatek case however strong it may appear. They are not designed for the level of abuse that luggage goes through at airports. Even when checking in an Aviotek hard case, it is sometimes helpful to use wrapping plastic to secure the straps, which can sometimes get caught in conveyer belts. Wrapping plastic is usually available at the airport. If it is not available, it is best to tighten the straps as much as possible so they are securely close to the case as possible.
To deal with the potential of your precious luggage being lost or misplaced by luggage handlers, Hard Case Technologies also carries the LUG LOC Pan Locator. This device uses GPS and a smart phone app to locate your luggage anywhere. With a 15-day battery, it can be very helpful also for airline attendants if when you create a claim for lost baggage, you can also tell them exactly where the luggage is. Other GPS locators can be found online.
Another option that we have used is checking in an instrument in an Evatek or carrying case BUT also placing the instrument and case in a box and packaging it as though we were shipping it. More details about secure packaging can be found HERE.
Fragile stickers are also very often available for luggage at the check in desk. Some airlines have size limits on checked luggage however so it is important to use a box within these limits unless you don’t mind paying more. We have occasionally used boxes that are on the edge of the limit, however we have never seen an airline attendant measure the box. The pelican case that we once traveled with was just over the limit, however it was not measured either. An airline attendant could measure it though and require you to pay an additional fee.
Worst case scenario: your instrument is damaged
We occasionally hear about instrument damage, however it is far less than 1% of the time and the damage is repairable 99.99% of the time. This is of course a sad situation that might require shipping your instrument back to the builder and waiting for the repair.
Always check your instrument and case in the airport after you receive it. If there is any damage to the instrument or case, report it immediately to the airline and explain the situation. Most airlines will cover the cost of having the instrument and case repaired or replaced, however most airlines have a time limit policy on when damage can be reported. This is typically only a few hours from the time of your arrival at your final destination.
The worst story we have heard was a complete disaster, however it had a happy ending. We had one customer whose hard case and Bali Steel were seriously damaged beyond repair by airport luggage handlers. The hinges and straps of the hard case were destroyed by excessive abuse and when his luggage arrived, his Bali Steel came down the conveyor belt before the Polycase. He played it and realized that the instrument had thoroughly been abused in transit. The steel below the welded rim of the bottom shell had cracked open about 40% of the way around the circumference of the instrument. Of course he was devastated! However, he contacted the airline immediately. They asked for a quote for the replacement cost of the case and instrument. Once provided, he was given a full refund for a new instrument and case, which he was then able to order from another builder. It was a sad situation that worked out in his favor in the end as he was able to purchase a higher quality instrument than his damaged one with the refund provided by the airline.
Many insurance companies also offer insurance for rare and valuable musical instruments. These policies typically cover airline travel as well.
We hope these suggestions help to relieve some of the stress of traveling with your handpan so that you can thoroughly enjoy taking your instrument with you where ever you go. More than 99% of people travel without any issues or problems as long as they are prepared and careful with their instruments.