Is a bass clarinet small enough to be a carry on?

Very specific, I know, but I figured maybe someone has experience with this and would see it. DS is flying for an audition in November. He’s auditioning on Bb clarinet, but would like to also play something on his bass clarinet if he can bring it as a carry-on (whereas he’d likely leave it behind rather than check it). Delta gives dimensions for a carry on bag but then says they don’t apply to small musical instruments that can fit under the seat or in overhead storage. I think it will probably fit, but I’m not positive.

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Will it fit in the overhead? Depends on the plane.

Will it fit under the seat? No way.

Will it fit in the sizer? Also no way.


My cousin flew with her trombone. They stuck it in the first class coat closet. That’s not something I’d count on, though. You might want to have a backup plan!


Does he get “brownie points” for also auditioning on bass clarinet? Or, would it be a nice thing to be able to demonstrate, but not definitive in determining admissions vs Sorry?

I ask because I’ve had lots of experience accompanying violin and viola playing offspring to auditions and, in other circumstances, schlepping a violin and/or viola around both domestically and internationally. Both instruments “should” be allowed without question based on the dimensions provided by the airlines(small viola case), but there have been issues at times. I have had airline employee blow back even when traveling Business Class as an elite flyer with early boarding.

I find traveling with an instrument and not knowing how the boarding will go is quite nerve wracking. Probably less so for the kid, but I attribute that to youthful optimism!

My thinking is: if you think there will be enough nerves already in the audition situation with the Bb and no clear advantage to also playing on the bass, perhaps it will be more relaxed for your entire auditioning party to leave the bass behind. But, that is just how I know things would best play out in my family which is not yours!!

By the way, I know many musicians who travel with instruments. Almost everyone has some story ranging from minor irritation to “I didn’t get on the flight”. Totally unpredictable. Even if the particular plane and layout is researched, there are changes of aircraft. (happened to us)


This is my first go round with college auditions, so I really have no idea how important it is that he bring it! His teacher told him he should ask if he can play something on bass for all his auditions, so he seems to think it would be to his advantage. He hasn’t even asked yet if it’s possible to play it at this audition, so they might say no and it wouldn’t be an issue anyway. Thanks for sharing your experiences–lots to think/worry about!

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Also we just travelled with a guitar and were able to buy an extra seat for it, based on advice from this forum. Not ideal but an option to think about.


Unfortunately, I think you’re unlikely to get a confirmed answer in advance. As you probably found,

Your carry-on must easily fit in the overhead bin or other approved storage locations, in the cabin, based on available space at the time of boarding.

You’re pretty much at the mercy of the GA/FA upon boarding.

The typical dimension I see is about 37x11x7, exceeding the standard carry-on limits. So you may have to carry the specific instrument exception with you, just to get past the GA.

Flying a regional jet would make it even more challenging/likely impossible to avoid at least a plane-side check. You can check the expected flights for aircraft type as a first step.

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Thanks everyone–sounds like leaving it behind is probably the best course of action. I’m definitely not paying for a seat for it given that it’s not essential to have. It’s not particularly expensive for a bass clarinet, but it’s expensive enough that we don’t want to chance checking it and having something happen to it. We’ll be driving for most of his auditions, so it won’t be an issue for those at least.

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That’s a reasonable decision, but I would like to suggest another perspective. If your son’s career prospects would be greatly enhanced at the airplane-distance-school and his chances there would be greatly enhanced by having a bass clarinet (this assumes two facts not in evidence), saving a few hundred bucks may be a false economy.

I would also encourage you to think about other options. What do the pros use when they fly? Many use Pelican-type cases. Two trips and its paid for. (I know Protec is trying to nibble away at this market with their less expoensive ABS luggage-like cases. The trumpet ones have a bad rep, but maybe there exists a better option for bass clarinet.)

Or rent. I don’t know the bass clarinet market, but you can rent a student trumpet for a couple of days for $50. The music store is delighted to do this - it’s pure profit. I’ve taken a student trumpet to gigs. Sure, I had to work a little harder, but nobody complained. Nobody in the audience even noticed.

We traveled with my son’s bass clarinet for all his auditions. Some students can opt to play the Eb or bass clarinet as a piece of choice in their audition. My opinion only, it shows their talent on both instruments. Some programs might have a need for a bass clarinetist. It’s best to show what you’ve got!
My son has a Wiseman case which hold his bass & soprano clarinets. It fits in the overhead storage. We never had a problem flying with it. Do a google search “flying with bass clarinet” and a few articles will come up with suggestions.
Good luck! Enjoy the audition season!


It sounds like the best plan is to arrive early and try/hope to be one of the first boarders.

EDIT: Although it seems like @Lobstahluvr89 has more experience with this than most of us.

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Arriving early is not likely to do any good on most airlines with boarding groups frequently assigned. We used to play this game 20 years ago, but find it is generally not possible now. I was on a flight earlier this week. If the OP pushed to the front of the boarding group, probably the bass clarinet would have found a home in the overhead. For whatever reason, there were surprisingly few carry-ons on this particular flight. I don’t know that I would plan on it.

Aside - Is Southwest still an exception to assigned boarding groups? it’s not a carrier I have ever been able to use, but I know it has been a favorite of some musicians in the past for carry-ons.

Maybe @Lobstahluvr89 could give specifics on carrier and airports to help out? So much is dependent on the aircraft involved.