The Amazing Perils of Traveling with a Harp

My adventures of taking my harp to unusual locations are fodder for a comedy routine. I take pride in living by the adage, “Have harp, will travel,” even when getting to the location involves some creative logistics.

Take, for example, flying with a harp. How does a harpist get that big thing on a plane?

 You can’t just walk on a plane with a harp, any size harp, and expect the flight crew to welcome you with open arms and a smooth drink for all your troubles. In my happiest dreams, I’d take a team of roadies with me and book a private jet where my harp and me could stretch out in luxurious comfort.

Harpist Anne Roos' Gang of Roadies
I’m grateful for a team of roadies—That’s Peter with my harp, and the gang from the Nevada State Governor’s Mansion (Photo credit: Anne Roos)

Here’s the reality. Traveling by air with a harp takes a good sense of humor, a lot of patience, and the super hero ability to never need to visit a bathroom.

The first time I flew with my harp, a friend built a crate for it. I coughed up the oversized baggage fee and the baggage handlers took it from there. When I arrived at my destination, twang! My harp displayed its anger with me by breaking strings—Not a good thing during performances. After the return flight home, the harp struggled to keep its tune.

What goes on inside the underbelly baggage hold of a plane? I don’t know, but it’s not the place for my harp.

The next time I flew, I bought an extra seat for the instrument. I figured that if I had to pay for oversized baggage, I might as well pay for an extra ticket instead, and the instrument could sit comfortably next to me. Doesn’t that make sense? It didn’t to the airport personnel and flight crews…

As I walked through the airport, every person in a uniform instructed me, “You need to check that thing into baggage.”

“I bought a seat for my harp,” I explained, as I displayed my extra ticket in the name of “Harp Roos”. They reluctantly let me pass with facial expressions of, “Really lady? You’ve got to be kidding.”

At the security check-in, the TSA officers insisted that I place my more than 3-foot-wide instrument onto the conveyor belt. Can you imagine my harp magically fitting through that little tunnel of an x-ray machine? Well, it wouldn’t, although they were eager to try to squeeze it through! I asked them to take the harp off to the side so that they could open up the outer case to examine it.

I often thought the sound box would make for a great storage space for extra protein bars and snacks for the trip, but I know it would flunk the inspection.

I placed my harp on my fold-up cart, rolled it to the gate, and entered the plane with the other pre-boarding passengers. This is the perfect way to send a flight crew into a tizzy: bring a harp on board. They didn’t know what to do with my large, silent friend.

Try wedging a harp onto a plane
Try wedging a harp onto a plane….Not an easy feat.

“Please bring me a seatbelt extension,” I asked, and then I buckled my harp in for the flight. There it stood, like a lone sentinel above the other seated passengers, attached to the window seat.

My harp might have enjoyed the view, but it was doomed to be removed. The flight attendants told me and “Harp Roos” to leave the plane. This happened every time I flew (yes, on United). No reason given other than, “The captain needs you to exit the plane NOW.” Did I take too long buckling in my harp for the journey? Or did someone else covet that window seat?

The airline personnel promised I would be allowed to board the next flight as I watched my original flight take off with my luggage. Then, the waiting began.

What’s worst part of this experience? My harp cannot fit into a bathroom stall. I am not allowed to leave it with airport personnel, so my bladder must be still for a very, very, very long time. Of course, someone always sits next to me, trying to make me laugh and make light of my situation. It’s not fair.

When I was finally in the air on the following flight, curious passengers urged me to play a tune. “It took way too long to attach it to the seat. My harp is sleeping now,” I responded. And in case you are wondering, I never received an extra meal—Airlines don’t serve food to inanimate objects.

After I arrived at my destination, I was left to solve the, “Where is my luggage?” mystery, since my baggage flew in on the earlier flight. My airport transportation came and went hours ago, so I sat with the harp again, saddled with the inability to visit a toilet until my transportation arrived to collect us.

My entire saga is true, and this happened to me prior to 911, repeatedly. Today, airport travel is ever so much more difficult, with or without musical instruments. Just watch Dave Carroll’s experience, chronicled for all to see in this music video:

I wish I could attest that this was an unusual event, but when you talk to enough traveling musicians, you’ll hear similar hair-raising stories.

The Musicians Union (The American Federation of Musicians, or the AFM), along with musician’s rights societies (BMI and ASCAP) lobbied to enforce the rights of traveling musicians. Finally, in 2012, Congress passed a bill standardizing airline rules for musical instrument storage, and then the U.S. Department of Transportation issued their final rule regarding air travel with musical instruments. To make life easier for flying, musicians can refer to the AFM’s handy “Guide to Flying with Musical Instruments”.

For me, I’ll skip it. If I’m not driving, I’ll borrow or rent a harp at my final destination.

No more travel headaches with unhappy airport personnel and flight crews. No extra expenses for additional tickets, oversized baggage, and shipping crates. And blessedly, I can visit the bathroom whenever the need arises. My harp gets to rest, and I get to enjoy the experience of playing a different harp for performance.

When I don’t need to perform, I don’t travel with my harp. It doesn’t join me on vacations.

I traveled last week, and my harp stayed at home. No worries of whether the harp will bake to oblivion in a hot car or be stolen out of my hotel room. I spent carefree, quality time napping on a secluded beach.

Harpist Anne Roos napping on a beach, without her harp
Harpist Anne Roos napping on an undisclosed beach, without her harp

Check out the above photo and the photo at the top of this blog, name the beach in the comment section below, and a free harp album download or CD of your choice is yours!
(Here’s your hint: This beach is in California. Sorry, you can’t cheat and look up the photo online—I don’t post my private vacations on Facebook and Twitter feeds.)


  1. No idea where that beach is! An ex-student of mine used to play a concert harp (the kind they use in symphony orchestras) amd had some enormous box built for it so she could get it home to Europe from Chicago where she bought it.
    She also never travelled with her own harp when doing concerts, Nowadays she’s on a pension after suffering a stroke, and she’s also sold her harp. When playing for the Milano symphony orchestra she used their harp, and practiced on her own one at home. 9 hours a day (!). She says she doesn’t miss those practice hours, but may yet buy a celtic harp. Let’s see.
    I personally only offer to play in places I can reach by car, and preferrably where I can stay the night at friends’ places. My kanteles, guitar, stage clothes and a micro amp (for using when playing for old people with reduced hearing) fit in the boot of my Ford Escort 1988.

    • I prefer to drive to performance locations, too. Much easier, cheaper, and no one telling me I can’t take my harp with me. Your student probably paid a pretty penny to ship her harp from Europe to Chicago. Thanks for commenting, Stani 🙂

  2. I don’t know the beach’s actual name, but it sure looks like the one just off Hwy. 101 between Santa Barbara and Ventura.

    • Very close…I’m going to give it to you–It’s a stretch of residential beach, just South of Ventura Beach, in Oxnard! You win the free CD, Jan! Congratulations! I’ll be sending you an email shortly…

  3. Is that Escondido Beach in Malibu?
    Lovely article, thanks for sharing your experience. I feel less alone now…

    • Hi Marianne! No, it’s north of Malibu…Just south of Ventura Beach in Oxnard! (Jan guessed it above). I’m so glad you liked my article. Many harpists, and instrumentalists, have similar stories to share. What happened when you travelled?

      • Flying with a harp is always a puzzle… I’ve tried everything from (1) repacking the harp in its original shipment case, with a giant “FRAGILE!!!!” sign stuck on it along with a hand-made drawing of a sorry-looking harp… (2) downsizing my harp to a supersmall lapharp that would fit my check-in luggage, (3) supersizing my luggage to the largest ever suitcase available on the market so it could hold a gothic harp, (4) buying a travel-friendly foldable harp in a tube (! and (5) investing in a professional bike travel case that can contain and protect a mid-sized celtic harp…. still experimenting and still learning!!

  4. Somewhere on the Jersey Shore?

    Many years ago, when I was taking lessons from Faith Stenning here in Pittsburgh, our car was in the shop, so I had to take a bus between the Shadyside and Greentree neightborhoods. So I carted my FH-26 Dusty Strings harp, a big bright yellow IKEA bag with my music and harp stool, and my purse, up to the corner bus stop. As you know,, a mi-sized harp like mine, if it doesn’t have legs, needs a stool to set it on. At the time, I didn’t have the little folding plastic one I have now, just a wood-and-rattan footstool that my parents had bought in 1935 and I used to upend and pretend was a raft for my dollsl The thing must’ve weighed about 15 lbs. by itself. Bus came, climbed on, and the driver said, as he looked at the stool, “You didn’t need to bring your own seat!” Uh-huh. Moved to a seat, next to one of several elderly people, all fascinated by this odd-shaped thing in a grey softsided case. My seatmate couldn’t resist asking me what it was. “A Celtic harp,” I said. He turned and bellowed, “Imagine that! She’s Irish and this is a big gold harp! It telescopes up when she takes it out!” ….This is probably why I still want to write a story about a magical harp that changes size, never breaks strings, and never needs to be tuned!

    • Hi Barra! Nope, the hint was that it was in California, and Jan guessed the location above–just south of Ventura Beach…Alas, if only real harps could fold up or deflate, life would be much easier for harpers and harpists 😀

  5. Awful…. Consider a carbon fiber Heartland Infinity, the little model….36 strings, can easily fit a seat or go in a closet if they allow. Weighs 8 pounds.
    It has a drop down leg….but a bit wobbly since it is so light, but a $10 black plastic EZ-Fold stepstool is great with it, the 9″ one. It fits the case pocket, folds flat, weighs little.
    It is the closest to a fold up light harp….and sounds really nice….though yes, I prefer my Sligo Luchair ….but would be agony with the flight case and all. We got the flight case for the Sligo, if my granddaughter ever competes in Ireland….she will play nothing else, but if I ever fly….it’s the Infinity, I am quite comfy enough with it. It’s also been tossed across the floor at a crowded session, survived fine.

    • Hi Iris, If you or your daughter must take your own harp with you, be aware that if the instrument cannot be stored in the overhead bin or under the seat, they will take it off the plane and check it into baggage.
      Take a look at the links to the FAA’s Final Rule Regarding Air Travel with Musical Instruments and the Guide to Flying with Musical Instruments in the article above. You’ve got to investigate the type of airplane before you go, as well, as smaller models have smaller overhead bins.
      Doesn’t matter if it is a carbon fiber harp (I play a 38-string Delight model)–The issue is about it’s size, not just about its weight. They’ll charge you for oversized baggage when you crate it up.
      When you decide to fly with your harp, know about all the regulations and extra fees before you go…And make sure you have plenty of additional insurance coverage for the instrument.

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